Take the Plunge on the Canell and Just Outstanding Trails
Nearly 20 years ago, I lived a year in the high Mojave Desert town of Ridgecrest. While there, I learned from locals about a tiny adventure town along the Kern River: Kernville. World class whitewater is there, along with hiking opportunities in the mountains above town. Rock climbing can be found, as well as fly fishing. But what I go for mostly is the single track that often starts up high and ends down low, usually requiring the assistance of a shuttle. Since moving to San Diego six years ago, Kernville has become an annual extended-weekend mountain biking road trip.
Take the Plunge
The Cannell Plunge is probably the most famous of the downhill rides, a 32 mile journey that starts in the pines of the southern Sierra and drops into what feels like a desert landscape in the khaki foothills. Along the way there is technical rock riding and cruise control riding through meadows. The Plunge comes towards the end, where the trail drops five thousand feet in about eight miles. Arguably perhaps, you cannot find a better ride anywhere.
Over by Greenhorn Summit, southwest of town, there is Portuguese Pass, a ripper of a downhill. It can be earned by climbing the forest road to the top, after parking in the vicinity of the shed that holds all of the salt for winter’s roads. From the same parking area, you could cross over the hard road/Route 155 and continue up to Unal Trail. Unal Trail is a loop that when ridden counter clockwise will punch you in the gut at the start, reward you with a spectacular long view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains looking north, and then double reward you with a fun romp back down to where you began.
Flow the J.O.
In that same area is Just Outstanding trail. JO really does live up to its name. Flow, flow, and more flow on a loamy ribbon through the green trees and then on through the manzanita tunnels, will have you smiling the entire time. When you drop out, continue left and ride the gravel road on to Wagy Ridge to Rocky Gulch. There is a ton of technical rocky, slabby, decomposed granite trail and dirt, a mixed bag of trail surfaces good for keeping you focused, i.e. not for beginner riders.
Instead of going left, you could go on down to Granite and Dutch Flat, getting in some chunky cross-country and steep, technical, downhill riding when added together. Better yet, after Wagy and Rocky Gulch, connect to Granite and Dutch for a longer ride. Generally speaking, whichever way you go you will end up down Season along Route 155 south of Wofford Heights.
Summer can be very hot along the Kern River. If you are camping, the river is your cool down from temperatures that can reach triple digits. Trails up high are usually cooler spots. For Cannell, the pass is snowed in during the winter, so check online to see when the road opens up in the spring before making your plans. Mountain and River Adventures is a good resource to get the status.
Check in with the Mountain and River Adventures to see if they are running shuttles when you are going to be in town. If not, they may have suggestions on how to set up shuttles. They also have the annual Shuttle Fest in October, a 3-day event. Sign up early to get your spot on the shuttles.
For grub and drink, stop by the Kern River Brewing Company, home to world class, award winning beer. Have a pint of Just Outstanding, an IPA named for the trail. Cheryl’s Diner has all the home cooking you might want or need, and The Cracked Egg is a great little breakfast spot. A Mexican restaurant and a pizza shop are both good to grab a bite. The grocery store in town has gas, as well as all of the things you forgot to bring. Get your fire permit there, even if there is a fire ban in place. Technically you need a fire permit to operate your camping stove. The general store and deli farther up the river might be closer for a quick run, depending on where you are staying.
There are a handful of motel and hotel options in town, and you could always rent houses and cabins through your favorite rental site.
You can read more from James Murren’s travels on his website, jamesmurren.com.