Hiker Symbol for the Kern River ValleyRincon Trail to Salmon Creek beyond


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Hike beyond the Salmon Creek Bridge to gain views of the waterfalls. The adventuresome may want to go all the way up!

Upper Salmon Creek Falls in Kernville, Kern River
Salmon Creek Middle and Upper Falls.


  • 4 mi+ roundtrip.
  • 1100+ feet of climbing.
  • Up & back trail.
  • Elevation: Trailhead 3600 ft; 4500ft at Bridge.
  • Other hiking options (including hiking the Wild Route to the Upper Falls: see below).


Rincon Trailhead
The southern Rincon Trailhead.


Salmon Creek Falls

Upper Salmon Creek Falls on the Kern River near Kernville

The mystifying Salmon Creek.

This hike showcases one of the great natural features of the Southern Sierra, Salmon Creek Falls!

Above the trail, white ribbons of water pour over the edge of a massive wall of granite and then flow through a series of nonstop slides and waterfalls before merging with the Kern River.

According to Ruby Jenkins "Exploring the Southern Sierra: East Side" Salmon Creek Falls is the highest waterfall in the Southern Sierra. This Yosemitesque creek has inspired adventure and exploration for years. See more on Salmon Creek's canyoneering, rock climbing and EcoChallenge history and the Salmon Creek Falls Trail, which leads to teacupped pools above the waterfalls on the Kern Plateau.

This 450 foot waterfall is sometimes called "Upper Salmon Creek Falls," to distinguish it from the "Lower Salmon Creek Falls" below.

Hiking Rincon Trail

The Upper Falls up close

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

The Rincon Trail, (33E23), follows the Rincon Fault

Rincon Trail

On Rincon Trail looking south.

north for 20 miles, until it ends at the Golden Trout Wilderness boundary near the Forks of the Kern.

The hike described here is on the southern end of the trail, near Ant Canyon on the upper Kern River.

Since Rincon Trail is a multi-use motorcycle trail, you may see an occasional dirt bike passing through.

The trail is hiked year-round, but the initial climb is rather exposed and hot in the summer. After soaking up the wide open views on the 1.6 mile hike up, the oak-shaded terrace near Salmon Creek is always a revitalizing spot to cool off.

There are several informal campsites near the Salmon Creek Bridge.

Salmon Creek at Bridge
The creek at the Rincon Bridge during Spring melt.
Salmon Creek Bridge at Rincon Trail
The shaded Rincon Trail bridge
over Salmon Creek.

To see trailside views of Salmon Creek Falls, hike another 0.3 miles+ beyond the bridge on the Rincon Trail. The views improve as you trek higher!

The creek flows year round, but the waterfalls are certainly most exciting in the Spring.

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

Adventure Hiking on a Wild Route

Salmon Creek Falls in Kernville, CA

Beyond the Rincon Trail. The "Viewpoint Knob" is seen to the left of the falls.

At this point, 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.

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 an additional 1,550 vertical feet in 1.2 miles. Much of this wild route hike is class 3, sometimes with exposure, and requires a class 4 move to reach the top. Considering the remoteness and extreme nature of this hike, prepare accordingly.

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.

Ovehang Cave by Salmon Creek

The "Bear Cave."

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

As of Spring 2017, there is a relatively clear cairned route that is extremely helpful to follow. It avoids brush (except for grass and small ground plants) and sticks to granite slabs and boulders most of the way.

Salmon Creek up close Scrambling above Rincon Salmon Creek Falls Hike

Above the bridge.

Lots of steep scrambling and traversing to the Knob. The large granite slab near Middle Falls.

The class 3 wild route described starts off Rincon Trail 0.3 miles past the Salmon Creek Bridge, near a grove of pine trees. Look for a clearing and a cairn (if its still there). The partially cleared route initially weaves through some trees and brush and veers left up a gulley. The route turns right up the hillside and leads to a gigantic boulder on the slope that creates a large overhanging cave. (On one trip we spooked a bear at this cave!)

Middle Falls.

From this point, the route contours the slope and then start climbing through boulders and up several granite slabs, which progressively get steeper.

More than half way up, the route comes to a small creek with waterfalls (during spring melt). There are several options, but going high to cross the creek seems easiest. Climbing the granite to a steep chute leads to a small ridge. At this point, one can traverse over toward the Middle Falls and continue up some larger granite slabs.

The Viewpoint Knob will come into better view and eventually blocks sight of the upper falls. Keep climbing up granite and a long steep chute of boulders. The Knob is approachable from the northwest and requires crawling up through one of the rock chimneys. Once you make that move, the sudden view that opens up will take your breath away. See it to believe it!

This is center stage to nature's drama, but this incredible hike to the Knob is for real: sticky rubber shoes, both technical climbing and route-finding skills, and possibly a small rope, could all be very helpful on the upper sections of the hike.

Enroute. In the final chute Knob by Salmon Creek Falls
Enroute. The final granite slab. On cliff-sided Knob.

Rincon to Packsaddle Trail Hike

Another hiking possibility is to keep trekking up the Rincon Trail and connect with the Packsaddle Trail. Setting up shuttle makes this almost an eight mile semi-loop with about 2,000 feet of ascent.

Other Hiking/Exploring Options

Salmon Creek Falls as seen from above the Rincon Trail


Less than a mile up the Rincon Trail, a rough and bushy cairned use-trail veers off to the right. This unobvious trail leads to the difficult scramble up to the south-facing granite walls towering above the trail, known to some rock climbers as "The Rincon."

[Trail History Note]: Over a hundred years ago, a piece of this trail continued south at this point to Gold Ledge Creek and through part of The Old Flume Trail.

More impressively, this rugged old trail continued northeast all the way up to the top of Salmon Creek Falls (on the south side of the creek) and connected with the Upper Salmon Creek Falls Trail. Check it out on this 1908 USGS Topo Map.

Nearby Trails

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.

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

Dont Get Lost!
Kernville Adventure Map

Rincon Trail, Salmon Creek Falls Trail, Packsaddle Trail, and some optional routes are depicted on the local adventure map:


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Map Details