Ultimate Base Camp: Kernville, Calif. mountain bike destination guide

Cannell Plunge and Just Outstanding top list of area’s trail tonnage

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UBC Kernville Cover

This article is part of Mtbr’s Ultimate Base Camp feature. See all the stories in this special section here.

Testing shiny new outdoor gear is a tough, tough job. No, really it is. Initially we got familiar with the equipment for the Ultimate Base Camp in backyard camp sessions. But because we’re duty-bound to give our readers comprehensive, real world feedback, we hit the hard roads and trails of California to pressure-test our initial impressions. All three of our test destinations—Kernville, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz—are each road trip worthy. As you read through our destination guides, we think you’ll see why.

Crushing Kernville

UBC Map Kernville

The hard-working town of Bakersfield, Calif. is perhaps best known for oil production, agriculture, and the “Bakersfield sound,” a rough-hewn variant of country music from Dust Bowl refugees like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. What’s not-so-well-known is its gateway status to some of the best all-mountain riding in the state.

Situated a twisty hour-and-a-half drive east sits the tiny town of Kernville, near where the Sierra Nevada mountain range comes to its southern terminus. The berg is ground-zero for the Cannell Plunge, an epic, advanced-level, downhill-tilting route featuring nearly 30 miles of roller coaster topography punctuated by rocky chutes, ribbons of buff singletrack, the occasional uphill grunt, and enough picture perfect scenery to start a postcard factory.

A few miles south, the aptly named Just Outstanding trail bobs, weaves, and tunnels like a bobsled run from the Alta Sierra Ski Resort back to the picturesque Isabella Lake basin near the town of Wofford Heights. Together, the pair of rides make the perfect itinerary for a weekend trip and serve as an appetizer to the area’s mountain biking tonnage. That inventory includes trails used for the long-running Keyseville Classic Race and several others.

UBC Kernville Cannell Plunge OH

Ride 1: The Cannell Plunge

Ride Snapshot:

The epic Cannell Plunge winds from a start at the 9,200-foot saddle of Sherman Pass and flows for nearly 30 miles through the Sequoia National Forest’s tree-lined tracts and alpine meadows dropping some 8,000 feet to its conclusion in the Kern River Valley. Though the mostly-singletrack route features a distinct downhill orientation, including The Plunge itself–the route’s mind-blowing drop of 5,000 feet over the final eight miles–it requires true all-mountain fitness and a bike to match. You’re gonna have fun on this one, but you’re gonna earn it, despite the long shuttle ride to the top.

And while The Plunge may be the cherry on top of this tasty mountain bike sundae, to overlook its preamble is to forget about the ice cream, whipped cream, bananas and hot chocolate topping. Like a good sundae, the Cannell Plunge’s whole is greater than its parts, but each part is pretty damn tasty on its own. From pump track-like flow sections to rocky, technical chutes to barely-more-than-tire-wide singletrack the Cannell Plunge feels like five or six rides-in-one and deserves inclusion in any “California’s Best” conversations.

UBC Kernville Island

Riders get treated to both amazing riding and awesome scenery on the Cannell Plunge route near Kernville, Calif. Photo by Don Palermini

Ride Level:

The Cannell Plunge requires advanced-intermediate to expert technical abilities, excellent fitness, and the ability to be self-sufficient in the event of mishap or mechanical malfunction. The route is long and strenuous, and some parts are quite remote with no cell phone coverage. Light armor recommended, large hydration pack required.

UBC Kernville Cannell Push

Though the Plunge is mostly downhill, it does have a couple gut-busting climbs, but they’re short and well worth the effort. Photo by Don Palermini

Seasonality:

The spring and fall are best for riding Cannell, though the summer is doable if you can take the heat. Our first trip to Kernville in June saw high temperatures of 111 degrees, making even carbon handlebars hot to the touch. On the other end of the spectrum, snow on the ride’s upper reaches is not uncommon for the early spring and late fall. A lower shuttle drop-off at the 7,500 foot Horse Meadow serves as an alternate start point when Sherman Pass is snowed-in. Temperature swings of 20-30 degrees between the start and finish are commonplace any time, so bring layers and make sure you can carry it all. The folks at Mountain and River Adventures (800-861-6553) can usually give you an idea of what to expect if you give them a call a few days before you arrive.

UBC Kernville Cannell Plunge

On this particular ride temperatures were as high as 111-degrees. It’s also been known to snow at the ride’s high-elevation start. Photo by Don Palermini

Continue to Page 2 for more on Kernville and full photo gallery »
About the author: Don Palermini

Chicago-born editorial director Don Palermini became a cycling-based life-form in the sixth grade after completing a family road bike tour of his home state. Three years later he bought his first mountain bike to help mitigate the city's pothole-strewn streets, and began exploring the region's unpaved roads and trails. Those rides sparked a much larger journey which includes all manner of bike racing, commuting, on- and off-road bike advocacy, and a 20-plus-year marketing career in the cycling industry. Now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area and pedaling for Mtbr, his four favorite words in the English language are "breakfast served all day," together in that order.


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  • Jeremy H says:

    Did Just Outstanding get burned at all by the recent fires up there?

    • Erik says:

      Yes it did. It has been closed off due to an ongoing investigation to determine the cause of the fire.

      • Dave says:

        Just Outstanding did not get burned in the Shirley Fire. The upper part of Waggy Ridge (not part of JO) did however. Just Outstanding trail is open for riding as of over a week ago.

    • Dongoose says:

      We heard there was a fire in the area, but were unaware JO had been effected. A bummer to be sure.

  • Mtbr says:

    Thanks for the updates guys…we’ll reach out to Mountain and River tomorrow and see if they have any further info.

  • John Logan says:

    How long would you estimate Cannell Plunge takes from getting on the shuttle to getting back into town?

    And for Just Outstanding?

    • Paul Sylvester says:

      John Cannell can take quite a long time, or not. My first ride down it took over 6 hours. It takes even longer for some. I now do it in under 3. Keep in mind you start at 9,200 ft and climb up as high as 9400. Most of the ride is over 7500. There is around 2000 ft of climbing. Shuttle leaves at 8:30. You start the ride close to 10. Very few get back before 3:30 many 4:30-5:30. I’m now done around 1 and we often do another shuttle or two after.

      JO is a different story. Time on it will vary depending on how you do it. The single track at the top is about 6.5 miles long. After that it is fire road. Total distance around 17 miles The normal route is climb up Wagy Ridge Road to the Old State Hwy and back down to Wofford Heights. If you leave a car at the Post Office you won’t have to ride the highway back to Kernville in the heat. Another route after the single track is down Sawmill Road but that puts you closer to the damn. Without a car there you will have to ride on the main highway back to Wofford Heights and Kernville. There is a single track down Wagy Ridge but it just burned partially and it will drop you onto Sawmill Road. It is a lot of work because it was made by motorcycles.

  • agmtb says:

    Between these great trails and dancing at Buck Owns Crystal Palace in Bakersfield I have a plan for the autumn that even my non riding girlfriend will love.

  • John M.Stallone says:

    Thanks for the great write-up on Cannel trail and Just Outstanding (JO) and our business/ campground. As the owner of Mountain & River Adventures we are proud to serve folks to the Cannell and JO trails, and many others on request as well. Such a awesome area to ride. Our permit covers the whole SNFfor tours and shuttles, so we have groups that request Camp Nelson, Mill Creek, Kern Canyon trail as well as Cannel and JO shuttles and we get them there. Bye the way in the article you knew that the trail name had been changed from Potato patch to Just Outstanding. Well I was that someone who road it back in 86′ and falling in love with it and as I finished I made that quote that that was “Just Outstanding”.. years later even the USFS liked it and it stuck. I have been riding these mtns for almost 30 years and giving tours and shuttles as well and still enjoy the area and what is has to offer all riders. This fall is approaching and we look forward a super fun fall shuttle season. Call us and well get you there! 1 800.861.6553 http://www.mtnriver.com Cheers and ride on. Shuttle fest Oct 17-19

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