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Boondocking in Lake Isabella, CA

We took the scenic route through the mountains and stay a few lovely nights boondocking on the shores of Lake Isabella! This reservoir is formed by the Kern River and is famous for windsurfing. When we arrived, the water level was rising for the first time in years from the spring snowmelt and the Kern River was raging.​ ​

Travel Stage: After Alabama Hills, before Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Park
Date Range: May 1 – 5, 2017

From Lone Pine, we need to get back over to the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to enter Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park. The weather forecast said HOT for the next few days, so we looked for water.

We found Lake Isabella along a “shortcut” through the bottom of the mountain range that followed the Kern River to Bakersfield. It turned out to be surrounded by BLM, National Forest and Recreational land. This provided some amazing boondocking right on Lake Isabella and gorgeous days at the beach!

boondocking lake isabella mortons on the move

The Shortcut

​I was able to talk to someone about California 178 – the road that connected 395 with Bakersfield – and they confirmed that it was doable in a large RV. It also would get us off the interstates and major highways into some a new area we’d never heard of. 

As we started to climb into the pass, we were delighted to see Joshua Trees covering the foothills and slopes. The terrain was beautiful! Once we crested the pass, we descended into a lush valley of farms and cattle ranches. In time we found Lake Isabella and drove along it for a while.

Boondocking in Lake Isabella

​We were heading for Keyesville SRMA (Special Recreation Management Area) based on a recommendation by a fellow RVer. After over an hour of scouting, we decided it wasn’t going to work for us due to the steep narrow drive down to the ideal spots (I think we would have scraped up against some boulders). Luckily, we then found the most amazing spot right on the lake.

boondocking lake isabella

We found this place when we drove by and saw campers parked at the lake’s edge, which looked amazing! This campground was the Auxiliary Dam Campground and was free after payment of the entry fee, and the entry fee was covered by our Interagency National Park Pass!

This is the only time this has ever happened. Because the water level of Lake Isabella was so low, the designated campsites were hundreds of feet from the water. So roads had been made to get down closer to the water, and once on the beach, you picked your boondocking spot.

boondocking lake isabella

Weekend on Lake Isabella

​The weather did what was predicted and got HOT! We worked in the morning so we could relax and play in the water in the heat of the afternoon. ​Office with a view!

work remote and rv

Mocha was especially pleased with this “lake out our front door” situation and had to be forcibly removed from the water more than once. The water was cold and she’d stand in it shivering for hours waiting for someone to throw something for her to chase.

rv dog fifthwheel
boondocking lake isabella fifth wheel

This blue water in contrast to the surrounding area was so spectacular.  

We absolutely loved having the beautiful lake so close…but then we woke up in the morning and realized it had gotten closer!! Water was getting a little close! ​

Lake Isabella had been so low all winter that when the massive snow load started melting in the spring, the lake began to fill – fast! The Reservoir Dam was also releasing a lot of water to create huge whitewater rapids downriver. 

Kern River flowing out of Lake Isabella

The lake next to us had risen several inches, meaning it got several feet closer to our parked house. This inspired a move further up and away from the edge. Even with that, by the end of our stay, we had to maneuver the truck to pull out without driving through the water.

Down the shore from us, a couple of RVs had been left unattended that the lake reached, and one had water all the way up to the steps! We hoped it was rescued soon! The water got all the way up to the wheels of these RVs by the time we left!

RVs boondocking too close to Lake Isabella

Driving to Bakersfield – Kern River

​While the drive to get to Lake Isabella hadn’t been bad, the drive from Lake Isabella to Bakersfield was a bit stressful. Not just because it was a winding narrow road, but that the raging Kern River tumbled and churned below every cliff edge you drove upon. 

  ​We stopped at a turnout to get more up close with the river – with extreme caution mind you. This water was no joke – people had already be swept away and drowned that spring. The sound was deafening and the spray gave the air a whispy glow in the sun.   

  ​The waterfalls at the bottom of the gorge were pretty cool, too.   


When we got to Bakersfield we saw people out fishing in the river, something we learned later hadn’t been done or seen in many years. Usually, all the water from the Kern was used up or dried up by the time it reached Bakersfield.

We learned this from our wonderful Boondockers Welcome hosts who we stayed with several days to get some work done on the truck (replaced the water pump and the differential pinion seal).   

It truly is amazing how bad the drought is going on in California. As optimistic as the spring of 2017 was, it wasn’t the end of the drought. The California wildfires continued to rage in California here in late 2017.

We are truly saddened knowing that the lush areas and full reservoirs we saw are now different. Our thoughts are with all those affected by the fires. We feel so grateful that we were able to see California without running into the fire.

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Saturday 16th of March 2019

This is fantastic -- we'll be following this route to Lake Isabella soon and had been planning to stay at the SRMA you mentioned, but your spot by the water looked amazing. I think we'll aim for that! Cheers guys, thanks for the great details