Lake Isabella Overview
Lake Isabella is nirvana for Central California sailors once summer fog shrouds the coast. The lake is located in the foothills east of Bakersfield. The lake has over 11,000 acres of surface area and nearly 40 miles of shoreline. In summer, good thermals develop as early as May. In the spring and summer, reliable 10 to 15 knot winds prevail punctuated with good 18 to 25 knot days and occasional stronger day. When the North Pacific High builds along the coast and the forecast is for strong NW wind at Jalama or Arroyo Laguna, you'll see good wind (from the South) at Lake Isabella.
There is now a fee for camping, but it is still moderate: *approximately* $10/day OR one can purchase a Southern Sierra Pass from the forest service which allows annual access for $60.
The afternoon wind is best when the following combination presents itself: on-shore flow at the coast, a cooling trend in Bakersfield, and warm desert temps. In the Spring, storm fronts and clearing wind northerly winds can hit Isabella.
For information on Lake Isabella and Kern Valley in general, be sure to check out this great online resource: http://www.kernvalleywindsurfing.com , which includes local lodging directories for those who don't want to camp, and dining directories.
Beginner and early intermediates find gentler conditions at the auxilliary dam main beach where the prevailing southerly wind parallels a mile-long sandy beach. If you launch here, be prepared for easy rigging, parking, camping, and sailing. Intermediate and advanced sailors usually launch further north at "the ghetto" when the wind flows westerly. The preferred launch is at the boat launch at the marina north of "the ghetto".
If beginners find the conditions too windy, head for Wofford Heights on the northwest shore. A point here shelters the water and makes for good learning conditions.
Bring everything you've got. In one weekend you can sometimes sail a 100 liter board with a 7.0 sail, and then the next day sail an 80 liter board with a 4.0.
The lake is popular and it is common for several hundred sailors to flock to the lake on summer weekends. Fortunately, the lake is big and can handle the crowds. Watch out for jet skis / boats on weekends Be aware that there is a sailboard registration fee of *approximately* $20 per board. This is enforced.
For northern California sailors, the lake's warm air temperatures (70 to 100 degrees) and summer water temperatures (over 70 degrees) are a treat. In the spring, water temperatures in the 50's make a wetsuit mandatory. A bathing suit will suffice in the summer. Isabella depends upon Sierra snowmelt for its water. In dry years, the lake level will be low. However the sailing is fine unless the water level drops significantly below one-third capacity. Be sure to pick the best path from the beach out before driving out as it is very easy to get stuck in soft sand.
Kiters, usually the Auxilliary dam area is great for launching when the RV's and crowds are gone. Otherwise the Ghetto or 2nd exit past Aux dam is best. Check with the local windsurfers and safely launch down wind from them and head up wind from there for the safest and best sailing. LI is not the best spot for learning, please respect others on the lake. Lake Isabella is a great place but can be very gusty. Usually a 6 to 12 meter is all you need. The best kiting is between the Aux dam and the Ghetto. Stay upwind from the windsurfers and give caution as you come in to land your Kite. This is a great place for sailing but the winds can pick up quickly so be careful. Recommend advance/expert + sailers only. Have fun and be nice and safe around the locals.
The lake abounds with recreational fun. There is ample camping with over 100 undeveloped campsites and 620 developed sites for tents and RVs. There are marinas with boat rentals near French Gulch and Kern Valley. The Kern river offers white water rafting. Canoeing, jet skiing, and water-skiing are available. There are areas for biking, motorcycling, hunting, and trap shooting. For you RV'ers, there is a Disposal station. There is a golf course near Kernville and the lakeside towns offer facilities ranging from shopping to movie theatres.
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