Walker's Pass (No. 99 California Historical Landmark)

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

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.

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Latitude: 35.662817 Longitude: -118.02685 Elevation: 5266 ft

About this Establishment

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

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Time Period Represented



It is a nice marker and Mr. Walker seemed to be a cool dude. I am also amazed how they had a chance to explore, for I am a big chicken who will not cross a road. Amazing man in amazingly hard times!

Maria, 6/4/2013

I know of Walkers Pass from a trip to a friends home with my sister, our nana’s sister, my aunt and our dearest friend. We had a car malfunction on our way up to the mountains. We had to pull into the side of a cliff in order for the car to stop. Everything in the engine had failed, lots of smoke bellowing from the engine. Not a good thing to happen at anytime. We were all safe so the tale is good. My nana and aunt both around 73 and 74 years of age were in the boiling heat of the desert sun. Our aunt and dear friend panicked about what to do. Our worries were soon washed away when a very kind cowboy called John Walker of Walkers Pass Family rescued us all and took us safely to his Ranch. He left us to have drinks while going out to get the car which was taken to a garage. This is a true and honest experience. John Walker then took us on to our dear friends home and made sure we were all ok. The very next day we got our car sorted out and it was back with us. Brought my cousin up to the place where we stayed to swap the car for a pickup truck so we had a safe ride back to Fountain Valley, California before returning to Liverpool in the UK. John’s actions live with us today, over 30 years ago. My only way of saying thanks is still to pay forward the kindness and care that was shown to us.

Clare McDonnell UK, 12/11/2014

walkers pass is a one of a kind place . I live in Joshua tree about 4 hours from walkers pass . I travel from Joshua tree to Kernville ,Wofford heights ,lake Isabella to see my grand parents and go through walkers pass to get there . Coming from long stretch of nothing but mostly bare desert it really starts to change going in walkers pass You wouldn't expect to out of the blue see Joshua trees that were not in Joshua tree but more than the first half of the pass is full of Joshua trees ,not really as tall as the ones in the town of Joshua tree ,and the ones in the pass seem to be a little fuller ,kind of shorter stalky Joshua trees then it turns from that to pine trees . the road is very twisted and dangerous so be careful but enjoy

nola garcia, 2/19/2017

Joseph Rutherford Walker and I are 6th cousins through our Walker lineage which originates in Scotland. It is my intention to ride (pedal) my bicycle through Walker Pass this fall! (2018) The kinship is important to me of course, but more so is the admiration for his many exploits of which I have read about and which so fascinate me! If anyone is knowledgeable as to the “average” gradients of the pass or might have any other information to share I would welcome a communication with you! I love California........

John Dawson....stuck in Ohio, 6/24/2018

First I'd like to thank Prof. Myers, R. down at Los Angeles Pacific University. I would have never know about this Historic California Landmark without her. To know that this pass hasn't changed much since the early 1800s makes this place extra special. It was like taking a step back in time. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for early settlers coming to California for the first time. Awesome site.

Thomas. H. , 8/24/2018

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