Author photo

By Mel Makaw
contributing writer 

The Kern Valley Museum

Day Trippin' with Mel


October 29, 2022

Mel Makaw

An old scales and cash register are on display in the Kern River Museum.

Kernville is like a magnet for me – I love making day trips into the whole Lake Isabella area for a variety of reasons, and many of them are in Kernville – and once I get started it's hard to stop.

The town of Kernville is full of history and present-day activities, including river rafting and kayaking, fishing, wading in the river, camping, hiking, and shopping. The small downtown area features a number of antiques shops and gift shops, and of course there are great places to eat and drink as well.

Across the main street are several hotels and bed-and-breakfast places, and equipment rental businesses and outfitters for the plethora of outdoor activities. While river rafting and kayaking may primarily be summer activities, it's good to note that the area typically records warmer temps (and has a longer season) than say the Tehachapi area.

Anyway, just last month I made another trip up that way with a goal of visiting the Kern Valley Museum.

The museum is housed in a building that used to be a doctor's office, according to Charlie Gregory, one of the many volunteers that greet visitors to the museum, and what used to be patient rooms and laboratory are now individual rooms of specific historical significance. There is also a very nice gift shop and an outdoor area in the back with larger displays.

Kernville was established in 1858 as a gold camp, and mostly relocated to its present location in 1954 because the original site was submerged with the building of Lake Isabella. The museum houses artifacts from the area from prehistoric times to current times, including geological and fossil collections as well as farming and ranching items, and gold and mining equipment. The museum also showcases an extensive history of movies and television shows that have been filmed in the area.

I particularly enjoyed the displays of everyday life in Kernville, i.e. old fashioned store displays and layouts, and a current art show by local artist Irene Featherstone. Out back on display is the mud wagon used by John Wayne in the movie "Stagecoach."

I was there on a weekend and, as usual on weekends, so were a lot of other people. Parking can be an issue around the stores and the river park, but never impossible, and especially not now as the weather gets a little cooler. And be warned, Lake Isabella is way down (Charlie says locals now call it "Lake Isapuddle") and boating and other lake activities are limited these days.

If you go up to the Lake Isabella area as often as I do, for whatever reason(s), you might like to take alternative routes to get there. This time may I suggest going out of Tehachapi on the 58 East, where you can catch the 14 North in Mojave. Take that to the 178 turn off (just before you get to the Ridgecrest turn off), which is well marked as the road to Lake Isabella, and take 178 West.

This route is a little longer and a little more out of the way than other more direct routes from Tehachapi, but it is a beautiful drive up through the Southern Sierras and will take you through a Joshua tree forest and by an old cemetery, among other sites. Mountain views on this drive are pretty darned spectacular.

Mel Makaw

Volunteer Charlie Gregory points out some of the geological artifacts at the Kern River Museum.

This route also takes you through the town of Onyx – the Onyx Store is a fun little stop for refreshments – and by the Audubon Society's Kern River Preserve in Weldon, a favorite place of mine to watch the birds that gather around the visitor center cabin and take a little over a mile hike through the woods.

From the 178 take the exit to Kernville (around Lake Isabella), which will take you through Wofford Heights and past several campgrounds and lake access sites, and into Kernville. The museum is located at 49 Big Blue Road; the road is the south side of the downtown greenbelt and the museum is about a block west of the downtown area.

The museum, which is a non-profit run by the Kern River Valley Historical Society, is open Thursdays, Friday, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The phone is (760) 376-6683. Admission is free and masks are optional.

© 2022 Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer and photographer and avid day-tripper; she welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at


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