We made a last minute decision to rent a cabin near Lake Isabella, CA for Christmas 2010. This area is very popular in the summer for whitewater rafting on the Kern River and for boating on Lake Isabella. The mountains aren’t quite as high as the Sierra Nevadas to the North but are close enough to Los Angeles that they make for a great weekend getaway. The benefits of going in winter are the very light traffic and number of people.
We chose the Cannell Trail to have get some decent elevation in, as the trail climbs quickly from the trailhead just two miles north of Kernville on State Mountain 99. There are horse corrals just before the small parking area It begins in grassy meadows but after a mile enters an area that burned sometime in the recent past. This is not a shady trail for the first several miles and if you decide to go in summer, I would avoid the hot part of the day and bring plenty of water, as it looked as though the streams we saw were very seasonal.
While it is very popular with mountain bikers (taking it from north to south is known as the “Cannell Plunge”) we saw very few hikers on Christmas Day. This isn’t a particularly challenging climb, though the Park Service refers to it as strenuous. It is a very steady climb for the several miles that we followed. There are great view, however, of both the Kern River Valley and also of the areas to the east as you climb higher.
It was great to hike in snow as we reached the highest point of our hike near Cannell Meadows. The dogs haven’t spent a great deal of time on snow, so there were a few hours of sniffing and sliding around before the dogs calmed down. It was a gray day that took away some of the normal California style of the hike, but it was otherwise a great way to get exercise on another day that most people spend indoors.