Hiker Symbol for the Kern River ValleyWild Route to Salmon Creek Falls

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Hike a difficult & remote off-trail route beyond the Rincon Trail for closeup views of the waterfalls. For experienced adventurers only!

Upper Salmon Creek Falls in a storm
Above: Salmon Creek Middle and Upper Falls. Hiking during a huge rain storm for maximum drama!

Right: Celebrating at the top of the "Viewpoint Knob".

THE STATS

  • Miles: 7+ mi roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 3200+ ft
  • Hike: Up & back, on & off-trail
  • Class: 2-4, lots of scrambling
  • Note: route-finding & strong outdoor skills required
  • Rincon Trail: Motorized Multi-Use
  • Wild Route: Brush, Slopes, Granite, Cliffs
  • Elevation: Trailhead 3600 ft; 4500 ft at Bridge; Viewpoint Knob at Upper Falls: 6300
  • Land: Sequoia National Forest
  • Where: Between the Kern River & Kern Plateau
  • Access: Kernville
at the top

 

Salmon Creek Falls

Salmon Creek Wild Route Hiking

Less than 1/2 mile above Rincon Trail.

Click here for a full Description of the 450 foot Salmon Creek Falls and the access via Rincon Trail. This route picks up from the Rincon Trail above the Salmon Creek Bridge and scrambles rough terrain up to the Middle and Upper Falls area.

The highlight is hiking to a "Viewpoint Knob," which sits directly in front of the falls in an amphitheater of huge walls of granite. To the west are wide open views of Ant Canyon and the Greenhorn Mountains.

Note: This is not the USFS named "Salmon Creek Falls Trail," which starts near Horse Meadow and ends above the upper falls. However, they can be linked. That hike is described here.


Adventure Hiking on a Wild Route

Tower Spike

This towering spike rock is a landmark for the final approach.

After hiking part of the Rincon Trail, the sight of these impressive falls might invoke that yearning itch of wanderlust in spirited adventurers.

If so, the full-body cliff-clinger scrambling will be so worth it! Hiking up to the waterfall is an unforgettable but demanding nature experience. Route finding skills are critical to this hike; there is no official trail.

There is an exceptional viewpoint directly in front of the falls, where a steep rock fin juts out of the granite wall on the northwest side of the waterfall and creates a jagged knob.

Getting there requires hiking off trail at least an additional 1,700+ vertical feet in 1.2+ miles. Much of this wild route hike is class 2-3, sometimes with exposure, and requires a short class 4 move to reach the top.

Along the way, there are outstanding viewpoints on rock outcrops, and options to hike over to other slides and waterfalls. Any of these are worthy destinations as well.

Salmon Creek Falls

Upper Salmon Creek Falls. The final approach is between the lit up spike rock (on the left) and the Viewpoint Knob (to the right). Salmon Creek Wall towers above.

The "easiest" route steeply traverses the slope on the northwest side of Salmon Creek, and avoids a mess of extremely brushy hills and endless gulleys closer to the creek.

As of Spring 2019, there is a relatively cleared and cairned route that is extremely helpful to follow. It avoids brush (except for some grass and small ground plants) and is fairly easy to follow for the first half mile. After this, the route encounters more boulders and granite slabs for much of the way.


Preparation

Salmon Creek Middle Falls

Part of the huge slide by Middle Falls.

This is center stage to nature's drama, but this incredible hike to the Knob is for real: sticky rubber shoes, both technical climbing, strong outdoor and route-finding skills, and possibly a small rope, could all be very helpful on the upper sections of the hike. Its also usually much colder at the top with some windy mist in the spring; dress accordingly.

Because of all the scrambling along, through, under, and over rock and log obstacles, it is far more physically demanding than the stats suggest. The steeper exposure in the upper sections deter many people. Considering the remoteness and extreme nature of this hike, prepare accordingly.

Hiking Details

Start on the Rincon Trail, described here, hiking about 2 miles from the trailhead.

Salmon Creek bear cave Ovehang Cave by Salmon Creek

The Boulder Cave. On the left photo: The "trail" comes up the clearing into the cave. Walk through the cave, and the route continues in the direction of the falls, seen in the upper left corner.

The wild route turns off Rincon Trail almost .3 miles past the Salmon Creek Bridge, near a grove of pine trees. Look for a cairn (still there in Spring 2019) and a fainter "trail" leading through the bushes. Photo of here.

Wild Route

Rough Terrain! The hiker is standing in between the two main ledges at the waterfalls/streaked creek. Hiking up to the vantage point of the photographer leads to the chute described. Then a traverse toward the creek is a bit easier.

The route initially weaves through some trees and brush before veering left up a gulley. The route soon turns right up the hillside, and undulates through small ravines. Within about 1/4 mile, it leads directly into a gigantic boulder on the slope that creates a large overhanging cave. On one trip the authors spooked a bear at this cave! From the cave you can see the upper falls.

From inside the cave, the route aims for the falls, drops through a ravine, then turns right and flatly contours the slope for a little bit. Once around the corner, it then start climbing through boulders, which progressively get steeper. It passes down through a few gulleys along its way. The views keep getting better!

Roughly half way up, the route comes to a small creek with waterfalls (during spring melt) or water streaks later in the year. The route brings you to a bouldery spot between to main ledges that create the falls/streaks. Cross here.

There are a few options and hikers seem to scatter here: Going high up the slabs of the south side of the creek is easiest and avoids excess exposure ahead. Scramble up the right side of the creek on granite to a steep narrow chute (with trees). This leads to a small ridge. At this point, one can traverse rough terrain over toward the Middle Falls and continue up some larger granite slabs. Its best to angle up and south toward the creek, avoiding cliffs. A maze of trees and boulders awaits, and there is no perfect route here.

Salmon Creek Falls Hike Scrambling above Rincon

The area near the Middle Falls. A great destination as well.

Lots of steep scrambling and traversing.

The beautiful area near the granite slabs by the Middle Falls is the final destination for many people. The hike steepens from this point on.

Keep climbing up the various granite slopes, occasionally moving in and of the forest to avoid steep rock. The Viewpoint Knob will come into better view and eventually blocks sight of the upper falls. The goal is to hike up a long steep chute of boulders between "The Knob" formation and a striking spike-like tower rock formation on the left (shown in photo above). Go to the top of the boulders and traverse the sloped granite on the right. (There are some options here).

Salmon Salmon Salmon

A granite slab below the boulder chute.

The final steep boulder chute leading straight up. On the final push to the Knob.

The Knob is approachable from the northwest and requires crawling up through one of the rock chimneys to reach the high point. Its easiest to go higher, but still requires a technical move or two with a bit of exposure. Once you make it through, the sudden view that opens up will take your breath away. See it to believe it!

2,000 feet above the Rincon Bridge. Photo taken from "The Knob" viewpoint described below.

If you look closely, there are bolts and quickdraws left from canyoneering adventures on the creek, and an attempted rock climbing route up the huge rock wall on the north side. More climbing info and photos are here.


Options

From the Knob, one can hike the steep slope down to the water on the other side and explore around.

It's also possible to climb to the base of the giant wall, or up the saddle to the north, by continuing up past the long boulder chute. There are some camping options at the top, and one could connect to the USFS Salmon Creek Falls Trail near the upper Teacups.

 

Don't Get Lost!
Kernville Adventure Map

Rincon Trail, Salmon Creek Falls Trail, Packsaddle Trail, and some optional routes are depicted on the Kern River Sierra topo map:

Amazon.com

Buy Locally

Map Details

 

Trailhead & Directions

Drive 10 miles north of Kernville on Mtn 99 to to Ant Canyon. There is a signed 4x4 road that ascends to the trailhead here. However, its best to drive another .8 miles on Mtn 99, and turn right on the aqueduct road that is signed "salmon."

At the first intersection (with the Rincon 4x4 road), make a ridiculously sharp left turn. At the next junction, turn right and follow this road. Look for a road ascending to the left, which leads to a small parking area at the Rincon Trailhead. Most of these roads are signed.

The hike begins with a short climb up an old 4x4 road, and the route soon veers off to the right. Happy Trails.

Exploring the different
vantage points.

Salmon Creek Falls as seen from above the Rincon Trail
Beauty.

Nearby Trails & Activities