During the Gold Rush of 1848–1855, Walker’s Pass led hundreds of pioneers into California. This trail followed down the Owens River Valley, through western Inyo County, passing by Owens Lake, and through Walker’s Pass to the South Fork of the Kern River. It then traveled to the junction of the South and the North Forks at Lake Isabella, where the trail split off into several different directions.
Years prior to the Gold Rush, Captain Joseph R. Walker—an experienced mountain man and trailblazer—learned of this route from local Native Americans. Leading an exploration party in 1834, Walker left the San Joaquin Valley via this route and passed through the now-called Walker’s Pass. He followed the same trail back into California in 1843 while leading the Chiles emigrant party, the second wagon train to ever enter the state from the east.
In 1845, Joseph Walker accompanied the famous explorer, Captain John C. Frémont on his third expedition into California. Frémont ordered his main party—which included Walker—to travel this route, while he and a few others left to cross the Sierra at Donner Pass. Frémont named the pass that Walker led his party through Walker Pass. Accompanying Walker was topographer Edward Kern, who at that time mapped the Kern River. Later, Frémont named the river after him. Kern’s Campsite—at the junction of the South and North Forks of the Kern River—now sits at the base of Lake Isabella. A monument for the site, however, was placed on Highway 178 (on the east side of the lake).
Commemorative plaques for Walker’s Pass were placed at Freeman Junction, the point at which several Indian trails—also used by Walker—crossed. Plaques are located at the summit on Highway 178, 8.4 miles northwest of Freeman Jct (Highway 14).
Kern County was named after the Kern River, which Captain John C. Frémont had named in honor of Edward Kern (a topographer who traveled with him throughout the west during his 1845-46 expedition). Established in 1866 from parts of Los Angeles and Tulare Counties, this county is known for its early explorers and trailblazers and its historical travel routes. Important routes such as the Grapevine, the Butterfield Overland Route, Walker’s Pass, the Tejon and Tehachapi Passes are all a part of this county.