Lake Isabella Beckons California Motorcyclists

California's Kern Valley is a perfect motorcycle travel destination and getting there only adds to the fun. By Art Friedman.

Though we put the ten bikes we compared for our 2000 Big Twins test through the usual routines -- urban cruise nights, local weekend rides, daily commuting and grocery-getting -- we also took the Big Ten out on the road in search of less crowded roads and pretty scenery for the cameras of photographer Kevin Wing and "Motorcyclist TV." Our destination was the Kern Valley of Southern California, long a favorite destination of cruisers. Carved out of the Sequoia National Forest by the Kern River, which was dammed to create Lake Isabella, the centerpiece of the area, the Kern River offers beautiful scenery, fishing and other water-based recreation, camping and so many miles of alluring roads that it can take you days just to ride them all.

Coming from Southern California as we were, you can reach Lake Isabella by riding north on Interstate 5 to route 99, then turning east near Bakersfield on route 178 and following the Kern River to the Lake. If you want a slightly less traveled approach, drop south a few miles from 178 and take Breckinridge Road, which runs parallel to 178. Another approach would take you up route 14 to the Inyokern area, where you turn east on route 178 and ride along Canebrake Creek and the South Fork of the Kern on your way in. This road curves more gently than the other approaches.

We took the third and most meandering route, which also offers the least traffic to those arriving from the south. From I-5 north of Los Angeles, we took Lake Hughes Road across to the Leona Valley, then went east on Lake Elizabeth Road, which pointed us across the Antelope Valley on deserted desert roads. From Rosamond Road, we took Willow Springs Road north, which twists through stands of power-generating windmills, to Tehachapi. There we jumped on Route 58 east for 15 miles past the famous Tehachapi loop, where the railroad makes a 360-degree turn to negotiate the grade. We then turned north on the Caliente-Bodfish road for a scenic, meandering 35-mile ride over the Tehachapi mountains before a final steep run down to the lake. If you'd like to extend your time swooping through the mountains here, the Walker Basin loop to the east will almost double the distance. Any of these routes can get you there from L.A. in time for a late lunch in the town of Lake Isabella.

Lodging in Kernville, at the north end of the lake, is slightly quaint and inexpensive, with none of the lodging chains in evidence. For those who want to camp, the ride up the river to the north offers hundreds of campsites with varying degrees of accommodations. This section of the Kern River is a popular rafting venue but also drowns many unwary would-be floaters.

Heading north from Kernville, the ride up the river offers plenty of scenery to soak up as well as a moderately challenging road. About 20 miles up the river you can turn east across Sherman Pass (which is closed by snow much of the year) for the beautiful 70-mile run over to US-395. From there you could turn south and make a loop using 178 back to the lake or head north into the Owens Valley and the eastern Sierras. If you stay on the main road instead of going east, you can either make up a variety of loops through beautiful mountain scenery and swing back to the Lake Isabella area or set out north along the foothills of the western Sierras for further adventures.

Lake Isabella makes a great motorcycling weekend but can also be turned into a week of fun. It gets mildly cold in the winter and is often quite warm in summer. Spring and fall are the best times to visit the area, which may be crowded on holiday weekends.

For more descriptions of our favorite motorcycle rides and destinations, visit the Rides and Destinations section of

If you are riding from the south or west, the Caliente-Bodfish Road and the Walker Loop are reason enough to make the trip. Map by Eiko Friedman.
Sunset on Caliente-Bodfish Road. Photo by Kevin Wing.