Destinations: Lake Isabella

Visit Lake Isabella, Calif., and ride the Caliente-Bodfish Road, Isabella Walker Pass Road and more.

  • Lake Isabella, Calif.
    Photo by Joe Berk
  • Water levels have been lowered, but Lake Isabella is still a beautiful spot.
    Photo by Joe Berk

What: Lake Isabella, Calif., Caliente-Bodfish Road, Walker Pass and the surrounding areas.
How to Get There: Pick up California SR 58 from either Barstow or Bakersfield, grab the Caliente-Bodfish Road and head north.
Best Kept Secrets: By far, the Caliente-Bodfish Road. It’s one of my all-time favorite rides.
Avoid: Starting without checking road conditions (the Caliente-Bodfish Road sees snow in the winter), or provoking the cattle (this is real ranching country and their horns are sharper than yours).
More Info: MotoFoto and Lake Isabella Online

Formed in 1953 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Kern River, Lake Isabella is 150 miles north of Los Angeles in a breathtakingly beautiful part of California. A half-century after building the dam, the Corps decided it wasn’t adequate for the task. Water levels have since been cut and Lake Isabella is smaller than it used to be. Fixes are being evaluated, but being a federal project, upgrades to the dam may take a decade or more. That’s OK, though. The real excitement here is not just Lake Isabella, it’s the ride to and from the lake — the roads are magnificent.

You can get to Lake Isabella by taking SR 178 east from Bakersfield, but then you would miss the best part of this adventure. From L.A., take I-5 northwest until you meet SR 14 south of Santa Clarita. Follow it until you meet SR 58 near Mojave, and take SR 58 west toward Caliente. Watch carefully for the Caliente sign (it’s a tiny exit, and if you blink you’ll miss it). If the phrase “paved goat trail” lights your fire, you’ll love what’s coming next: Caliente-Bodfish Road. I first learned of this road when I rode with Dave Barr, Motorcycle Hall of Famer and author of Riding the Edge (my all-time favorite moto-adventure book). Take it from me, folks, Caliente-Bodfish Road belongs on every serious motorcyclist’s bucket list.

The next 31 miles on Caliente-Bodfish Road are pure heaven, but first, kick back in Caliente, grab a photo in front of the Caliente post office, and watch the freight trains climb the Tehachapi Loop. Built in the late 1800s, the Tehachapi Loop is a sight in its own right. This Union Pacific railway spirals over itself to lift trains across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some trains are long enough to actually loop over themselves on the climb!

Caliente-Bodfish Road meanders north through the Walker Basin, a slice of California lifted directly from the Old West and an area made famous by fights for water rights, cattle ranching and stunning scenery. Give yourself time to stop for photos; the cemetery, the antique cars and the vistas are magnificent. After climbing into the Walker Basin, Caliente-Bodfish Road descends into the small community of Bodfish (hence the road’s name) just south of Lake Isabella. The descent offers more great photo ops and stunning views. Deer, bobcat, mountain lion and bear frequent the area.

You can stop anyplace for lunch and a photo or two of the lake, but my favorite in Lake Isabella is the Dam Korner restaurant (their country fried steak and eggs are worth the trip). Ask anyone for directions; it’s a local favorite.

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