View from below of large tree in Sequoia National Park, California.

Best Day Trips From Bakersfield To Take This Summer

When a summer vacation isn't enough, a weekend provides the perfect opportunity to escape the city for a day trip. Surrounded by natural wonders, beautiful views, and national parks and forests, Bakersfield is just a stone's throw away from epic adventures in the Golden State. With something for every taste, from ghost towns to thriving communities, outdoor lovers can enjoy a nature-centric getaway.

The locals have many favorite day trips for nature and culture lovers. Avoid burnout and beat the heat on a single-day trip to a beautiful river-fed reservoir or an entire lakeside recreation area. Like any place, being stuck for too long can give you the blues. Get a jolt from the violin that plucks itself in Silver City, or stretch your legs at Sequoia National Forest, a playground for exploration full of discoveries and tranquility with a picnic area, a barbecue grill, and public toilets.

Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Sign for Tthe Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge lies west of Maricopa, CA in Kern County.
Tthe Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge lies west of Maricopa, CA in Kern County. Image credit Greg L. Jones via Shutterstock.

Find your next adventure in the foothills of the southwestern San Joaquin Valley in Kern County, just an hour southwest of downtown Bakersfield. Bitter Creek NWR, an intact and functioning ecosystem between the east and west coastal mountain ranges, encompasses much of the historical California condor range. The initiative to protect this essential foraging habitat for California condors began in the early 1980s. The present-day boundary of 23,572 acres of rolling plains comprises two-thirds open grassland for condors. As an important wildlife corridor for populations of native ungulates, raptors, condors, and more, the movements extend beyond refuge boundaries.

Home to thriving animals, rare wildlife, and plant species alongside Native American cultural resources and remnants of 19th-century homesteads, visitors can access the best views of the protected habitat along Hudson Ranch Rd. at the sign outlook area. Hiking within the refuge is only allowed during specially guided tours a few times per year, but you can view and photograph California condors and other wildlife from several public platforms outside this huge refuge. From mountain views and seasonal wildflowers to chance vultures and charismatic animals like bunnies, Bitter Creek NWR is a hub of condor activity, as well as other types of birds.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Carrizo Plain National Monument, California
Carrizo Plain National Monument, California

Three hundred years in the making, the Carrizo Plain National Monument is the remnant of the wild and windswept Central Valley in California. Once the grazing grassland for antelope, it is traversed by the "subtle" San Andreas Fault that carved valleys, ravines, and dry ponds, creating and shifting mountains. Nestled conveniently amid urban and agricultural development, just an hour and a half west of the city, this remote monument is one of the state's best-kept secrets, offering a rare opportunity to be truly alone with nature. Still home to diverse wildlife and various plant species, some threatened or endangered, the area is also culturally significant to Native Americans.

Even if you don't make it for the springtime wildflower display—short-lived and breathtaking—a summertime visit promises to be just as vibrant along the vast open grasslands in a broad plain rimmed by mountains, where you can "hear the silence." From the Painted Rock to a soda lake, visitors can hunt around with a camera and relax along the sprawling white alkali flats centered around a dry salt lake. Named after the concentrated salts—the sulfate and carbonate deposits that look like baking soda since the water evaporated—Soda Lake is the largest remaining natural alkali wetland within the only closed basin near coastal mountains.

Lake Evans, Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area

View of park around Lake Evans
View of park around Lake Evans

Completed in 1973, Buena Vista, an artificial site of 6,800 acres of water, encompasses Lake Evans and the much larger, elongated Lake Webb of 873 acres. Just 25 miles southwest of Bakersfield, the recreational area is a perfect summertime day trip destination for watersport lovers. From boating to jet skiing and fishing, including an additional 125 acres for jet skiing, it is a dream for fans of this sport. At the same time, for a longer getaway, visitors can utilize the horseshoe-shaped spit, a mid-lake projection with 112 campsites. The nearby Lake Evans, a serene 86-acre artificial lake, offers tranquility, with languid sailing, boating, and fishing along the banks.

Just over 30 minutes southwest of the city, the family-friendly recreation area features three boat launching sites, with 300 fishing boats and 125 jet-skis at a time. Never overcrowded on a weekday, visitors can also utilize scenic picnic areas throughout the park, cycling trails, a basketball court, and a soccer field for easy-going recreation. From several attractive installations of children's play equipment to two concession buildings, plus additional covered picnic areas for larger groups of up to 400, there's something for every taste and group to unwind by the waters and hit a refresh on a quick escape from the city.

Lake Isabella

Scenic view of Lake Isabella in California.
Scenic view of Lake Isabella in California.

Lake Isabella, a perfectly swimmable reservoir for this summer, is about 40-some miles or 50 minutes northeast of Bakersfield to the heart of the Kern River Valley. As California’s best-kept secret, both the lake and the eponymous town offer a crownless getaway for visitors from the city along the southern end of the Sierra Nevada range. With plenty to do on a summertime day trip, like fishing, hiking, and windsurfing, find Isabella Peak Trail along the western edge for a good workout hike with great views, or relax in the serene views of low mountain views at an elevation of approximately 2,500 feet.

The “Wild & Scenic” Kern River flows into and out of Isabella Lake for double the water fun, strolls, and banks with amazing sights over fresh air recreation. Make a day out of the French Gulch Marina along the highway or explore the pet-friendly Keyesville SRMA nature area around the lake's southwestern edge, with rocky views of the tumbling river before the lake or on the way home. From camping to wintertime skiing down the family-friendly slopes, the four-day "Whiskey Flat Days" in February is one of California’s largest wild west celebrations, while anglers may be interested in attending the springtime Isabella Lake Fishing Derby, one of the largest trout derbies in the US.


Sunset view of downtown Lancaster, California, USA.
Sunset view of downtown Lancaster, California, USA.

After the San Fernando Valley became too full of commercialism, the City and County of Los Angeles looked to expand into the Antelope Valley. Once a stop on the railroad and hub for local farming, Lancaster is still a generous rest stop for many en route to the Eastern Sierra, but few know about its local attractions worthy of a great summertime day trip. Serving as the center for Los Angeles County expansion, with its freeways and Metro Link railroad, visitors from Bakersfield can experience the spirit of LA at the meeting point with Antelope Valley and the Mojave Desert. Nestled between two mountain ranges, Lancaster offers vast expanses of untouched land, leaving plenty of space for expansion or, in this case, outdoor adventures in natural beauty.

From modern art to the up-and-coming restaurant scene, visitors can also tour new wineries and vineyards and discover Native American museums—the remnants of the Valley's past. Just an hour and a half southeast of where atmosphere change is most palpable with experiences in and around the city, like at Quail Run Ostrich Ranch. Home to felines from many countries, some on the border of extinction, ostriches, the largest flightless birds, and the third fastest for distance and long period of time, reaching a speed of up to 40 miles an hour, are quite photogenic, may we add? The family-friendly events include the imminent BLVD Market and the Cool Summer Nights series, Summer Bash and Hollywood Chills in August.

Sequoia National Park

Tourists walking among the giant Sequoia tree of the Sequoia National Park, California.
Tourists walking among the giant Sequoia tree of the Sequoia National Park, California.

Ancient trees and deep canyons under towering mountains, where the air is cool, and each breath comes easy. This tempting and seemingly unreal natural amphitheater is under two hours northeast of Bakersfield; pay $35 for a vehicle pass at the "gates" of the otherworldly Sequoia National Park. Home to the largest tree on Earth and Mount Whitney—the highest peak in the Lower 48 states at a staggering 14,494 feet—the park's forested outreaches are even closer. The Sequoia National Forest is a vast, iconic mountain wilderness known for its conserved giant Sequoia tree groves and trails. From hiking to rock climbing, it offers a natural immersion that is family- and pet-friendly, with wheelchair-accessible parking and entrance.

What more do you need for a day trip with your kids than picnic tables with a barbecue grill and public toilets? The sprawling park with immense Sequoia trees, canyons, valleys, waterfalls, and peaks ranging at a remarkable 13,100 feet inspires a playground for exploration, discoveries, and tranquility. Visitors can take a scenic drive to some of the most majestic sights in the whole world, including the "Fallen Giant," an opening in the Tunnel Log—the remains of a 275-foot tree that tumbled down in 1937. Craving more? Easily reached via a short paved trail in Giant Forest, the General Sherman Tree, the biggest on the planet, with its stout, 36-foot-diameter base, is 275 feet tall, while the two-mile Congress Trail leads to the stately President Tree.

Silver City Ghost Town

View of Silver City Ghost Town.

Home to twenty historic buildings, Silver City Ghost Town began when the Dave and Arvilla Mills family collected and hauled historic local Kern Valley structures, many slated for destruction, from local frontiers like the mining camps of Keyesville, Whiskey Flat, and old Isabella. Shortly after the Corlew family purchase in 1990, Silver City was modernized from a state of disrepair into an "arrested decay" policy, capturing the old west spirit of the valley in present-day Bodfish. California's Kern River Valley, as delightful as it is for a summertime visit with nature at the nearby Lake Isabella, the intriguing visualization of an abandoned local gold outpost after the depletion of the gold mine attracts history and Wild West fans. Offering a long and colorful living history, visitors can view thousands of artifacts throughout the property, with posted information.

From the original Isabella jail where gunslinger Newt Walker was locked up in 1905 to period miner’s cabins, a post office, a general store, and a rustic church, visitors can enjoy the Apalatea/Burlando House, the valley's oldest standing structure, over a drink at the saloon with a country store. This non-commercial, open-air museum has starred in numerous film and video shoots, including Warner Chappell Music, A & E, The History Channel, and a Nissan commercial. Listed in the “National Directory of Haunted Places,” many believe Silver City to be haunted by spirits from the mining past. Did the ghosts move in because it felt like home? From a heavy pail flying across a room to floating bottles, the infamous violin in front of the general store that sometimes plucks itself is considered the most haunted site in Kern County.

When craving a breather in nature or as a source of inspiration, Bakersfield’s central location makes it easy for day trippers to explore nearby. You can hear the silence at Carrizo Plain National Monument, home to the largest remaining natural alkali wetland within the only closed basin near the coastal mountains.

How about something easygoing, like a scenic drive through ancient Sequoias or a viewing platform for condors? Lancaster is a vibrant city to discover with its Quail Run Ostrich Ranch, home to the largest flightless birds and the third fastest for distance and longevity. These seven-day trip ideas within an hour and a half from the greater Bakersfield area will leave memories lasting a lifetime.

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