Camping at Sandy Flat Campground – Sequoia National Forest, CA

Sandy Flat Campground Directions:

From Highway 99 take Highway 178 east to 4 miles west of Lake Isabella. Turn right on Borel Road then right on to the Old Canyon Road. Approximately two miles turn right into Sandy Flats Campground.

Sandy Flats Campground Details:

Campground reservations must be made 3 days in advance, though sites are also available for first come first serve- don’t expect to be able to find those any time in Spring or Summer. There are 14 campsites available for tent camping (this place is not RV friendly). Six people and two cars are allowed at each site, which are equipped with picnic tables and a fire ring. They cost $18.00 per night and there is a $2.00 extra fee per day for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends.

Dogs are allowed here, but they must leashed at all times. There are no showers or flush toilets here, nor did I see potable water sources, though you’ll be just a short walk from a small stream, and a short drive from the Kern River itself. Most people use this campground for it’s easy access to Lake Isabella or the Kern River rafting and floating launching points nearby at Hobo Campground. Fishing in the area is also highly popular.

The photos in this post were taken during a camping trip to Sequoia National Forest, where I spent two nights at Sandy Flat Campground, just off the banks of the Kern River, near Isabella Lake.

Our trip immediately preceded one of the largest storms that California has seen in years- unleashing cold, wind, rain, and even heavy snow in many parts of Southern CA. There were also big weather related events like mudslide evacuations, a helicopter assisted rescue of a dog from the swollen LA river, and even tornado warnings in parts of Orange County. Fortunately, the two days we spent in Sequoia National Forest offered up blue skies and sunshine.

Light Rapids Along The Kern River - Sequoia National Forest

Light Rapids Along The Kern River – Sequoia National Forest

Driving from Southern CA, we entered the National Park on Highway 178, just East of Fresno. Deep into the drive on 178, which winds along the Kern River, I lost our only form of directions (electronic- on my phone). I lost reception at about the same time, preventing me from retrieving them with Google Maps.

Neither of us could remember the next step, but we were fairly confident that were just a few miles from our destination: Sandy Flat Campground. The next fork in the road was with “Kern Canyon Road”, which houses a large and official looking building- though I can’t remember what it was. We also found a big glass display case containing a detailed map of the region, which for some reason lacked the names of roads and campgrounds.

The Kern River Winding Through Sequoia National Forest

The Kern River Winding Through Sequoia National Forest

We decided to continue on the main road- down 178, soon finding a junction with Borel Road, which Sean decided to take. Right after turning on Borel I regained cell reception, pulled up the directions, and saw that he was right. I thought of Jung’s “Synchronicity”. Nice memory though Sean!

It was only another mile to Sandy Flat Campground, where we quickly managed to find friends who had arrived a few hours earlier and set up at a site. I was surprised that they were the only campers in the entire place, as I had been expecting the area to be relatively crowded. Our campsite was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at while car camping, and I would definitely consider a return trip. The Kern River was only a couple hundred feet from our tents and we had nice vista-like views of the surrounding hillsides.

Greenery Alongside the Kern River - Seqoia National Forest

Greenery Alongside the Kern River – Seqoia National Forest

Saturday afternoon we took a decent hike near Lake Isabella, which provided all the photos in this post. It was a beautiful area, though I wasn’t impressed by the 4 mile loop trail- not nearly long enough for a good backpacking trip, but definitely sufficient for a day hike.

Hiking Along the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest

Hiking Along the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest

Returning to our campsite darkness set in quickly, and with it came biting cold. Donning headgear and gloves, we huddled around the camp fire for a couple hours of interesting conversation. I spent much of the night playing fire-marshal, manipulating the logs in an attempt to create interesting patterns for my second series of Fire Photography. I destroyed my expensive Circular Polarizer in the process, and learned a valuable lesson that I won’t soon forget- sensitive photography equipment should not be placed near extreme heat.

On Sunday morning we visited Hobo Campground, finding much of it closed. The part we were able to explore appeared to be a river access portal for the popular white water rafting and kayaking that is the main draw of this region. We did manage to find a small, though somewhat secluded area with a couple of potential campsites right on the banks of the Kern, but I’d guess those are only viable during the winter while no one else is around. We tested out what appeared to be a small hiking trail on the southern end of the dirt parking lot, but it led directly into the river within a couple hundred feet, leaving much to be desired.

Kern River Rapids in Sequoia National Forest

Bridge Along The Kern River – Sequoia National Forest

Returning to Sandy Flat, we ate lunch and took naps, waking up to what looked like gigantic thunderheads rolling in directly over our location. We packed up and left quickly, getting out of there just in time. As I put my last load of gear into the car, it started to drizzle. By the time we reached Bodfish to stop for lunch, it was raining pretty heavily. And during the ride home we witnessed some heavy downpours.

I hope the campground survived this week’s intense weather, because I’d love to return in the near future.

Bridge Along the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest
This entry was posted in California, Camping, Featured Posts, Fishing, National Forests, Sequoia National Forest, Southern California, Trip Reports, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Camping at Sandy Flat Campground – Sequoia National Forest, CA

  1. Sean says:

    Great write up! Although, you left out the part about the sorceress (which is not the word I would use to describe her – a sorceress in my mind is sexy, seductive, and powerful; this probably doesn’t coincide with Don Juan’s description though). Everything was going great at the random hole in the wall mexican restaurant in the middle of nowhere until this “sorceress” walked in. I didn’t think I would ever know what an interesting mixture of aromas piss and chorizo create. Or the sound of death hacking up a lung.

    That being said the food was delicious – so delicious I had the leftovers for breakfast the next day!

  2. Tim says:

    Hah! Thanks for the addendum Sean. I was going to add that last part in, but decided against it for reasons I now can’t remember. Well put though. And I still say she was a sorceress… they’re not all hot.

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  4. awnastasha says:

    Hey there, appreciate your whole description! Thanks for sharing.

    My family and I are really thinking about heading up there in a couple weeks, but I was wondering if you had any pictures of the campground? And would you mind telling me how easy/difficult access to the lake and river is? Also, we have two young kiddos, is there anything you do/don’t reccommend etc.?

    Also, did you notice if people really have there dogs on a leash at all times?

    Thanks for all your time in advance!

    -anastasia

  5. Sean says:

    @awnastasha – if you want to be by the river, I would recommend camping at Hobo campground. It’s immediately adjacent to Sandy Flat campground and every site there is right up against the river – I haven’t been there in the summer, but my understanding is that it is super kid friendly and there are tons of families up there.

    I’m almost positive you can bring dogs to this park as long as they’re leashed.

    Sandy Flat is nice and the campgrounds offer more privacy – so I would prefer it, but there are fewer sites right up against the lake (I think there are four).

    Hope this helps.

  6. Tim says:

    Sean’s right – Hobo is probably best for river access. It’s right on the Kern, while Sandy Flats Campground is next to a much smaller tributary, and only a few sites are actually ON the river itself.

    I don’t remember how far it was from Sandy to Hobo, or the Lake, but here’s a Google Maps image of the area, with all the campgrounds they know of highlighted. You should be able to figure it out from this:


    View Larger Map

  7. Rebecca says:

    I was just on the public lands information website and they say that Sandy Flats does not take reservations. This info is contrary to what you say above. Howdo you make reservations 3 days before?

    Thank you

  8. Tim says:

    Looks like I did get that wrong. I checked with my friends and they said we actually didn’t have reservations – I apologize for the confusion!

  9. Oneflyrt says:

    Go to recreation.org for all reservations

  10. Jason says:

    Just got back from camping here and it was pretty terrible.  The sites wwere extremely crowded with 2-3 carloads of people per site.  Babies crying at all hours, people blaring country music all day.  It’s like a combination of living in an apartment without any walls and a refuge camp.  I kept waiting for NATO to drop some supplies, but they never came.  The site could be awesome, but there were just way too many people (obnoxious people that is).  We drove up to HOBO camp and it too was filled to capacity.  If you are looking to get away from the crowds i would have to say keep looking.  We were here in August, it was over 100oF so maybe that made people want to just come hang by the river, but for me, def not worth the 3hr drive to camp.

  11. Bobby says:

    The place is a no go. Do not waste your time. People tweeking and digging through the trash cans, music to the wee hours, and illegals with 20 people per site. The bathrooms are like a war zone.

  12. Chayacitra says:

    This is really a shame. Sandy Flat used to be a great spot during the right time of year, but it sounds like it’s gone completely to hell. Hobo was already a nightmare, but now it looks like the Southern Kern River is entirely a no-go. Sorry to hear your trip was such a disaster.

  13. Dave says:

    About a year and a half ago, we stumbled across Sandy Flatts and fell in love with everything that it had to offer and have never seen or run across any problems at all. Bob, the camp host was always friendly and helpful. The current posts that I have read concern me enough to question the status of the site now. We were looking to go in the next couple of weeks and now I’m not so sure. Has anyone had a positive experience in the last 5-6 months?

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