The South Fork Wildlife Area (SFWA) is a 1271-acre unit of the Sequoia National Forest along the western edge of the South Fork of the Kern River between the western boundary of the privately owned Audubon Kern River Preserve and the eastern shore of the Isabella Reservoir.
The area consists of Valley Foothill Riparian Habitat dominated by cottonwood and willow trees. It is excellent habitat for birds with over 200 species utilizing the wildlife area. Many of the birds are neotropical migrants nesting and foraging in the riparian woodlands during summer before flying to Central and South America for the winter. Birders can also find birds of prey (hawks, eagles, osprey), hummingbirds, and shore and water birds (herons, egrets, waterfowl) in and around the boundary of the wildlife area especially when the reservoir water level is high.
Recreation in the South Fork Wildlife Area is abundant and includes hiking, fishing, birding, butterfly watching, nature observation, photography, canoeing, and kayaking.
In 2014, Sequoia National Forest crews cleared a one-mile loop trail accessed from the Sierra Way trail head, 2 miles west of Hwy 178.
In high water years, it is possible to kayak through the forest while quietly observing the wildlife or fishing (please remove any snagged mono-filament so wildlife is not harmed). In summer, wildlife trails can be an adventure to follow. Watch for ticks and check yourself after visiting the area. Both dog and deer ticks are found in this area. In normal years the South Fork of the Kern River will flow through the center of the wildlife area so plan on stopping at the water's edge or getting wet. The river is highest when the mountain snows are melting April through early June. In summer it normally braids to a meandering stream until upstream water diversions stop the flow entirely by late July. The dry river is normally replenished in late November depending on rain and snow fall.
Wildlife viewing opportunities are best at dawn and dusk. Birds of grassland, open water, riparian, and shoreline habitats can be found. Species to look for include wintering populations of Bald Eagle and other raptors; year round populations of Western Grebe, Clark’s Grebe, American White Pelican, Osprey, Red-shoulder Hawk and Western Bluebird; and spring to summer populations of Tree Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Tricolored Blackbird, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch can be found. Mammals include mule deer, beaver, coyotes, gray fox, bobcat, striped skunk, wood rats, desert cottontail and raccoons.
Accessible year round. The area is subject to flooding during years of high run-off. Flooding completely inundates it every 7 years or so, at which time it can be accessed by boat.
Directions: Parking lots for South Fork Wildlife Area are on the south and north side of the wildlife area. Access to the southern parking is directly off of Highway 178 just east of South Lake and 1 mile west of Sierra Way. Drive down a dirt road (Patterson Lane) about 1/4 mile, the entrance to the wildlife area is on your right. Park and walk in.
To access the northern parking area, drive 11 miles east of town of Lake Isabella on Highway 178 to Sierra Way. Turn north on Sierra Way. The parking lot is directly off of Sierra Way, 3/4 of a mile north of the Sierra Way bridge over the South Fork of the Kern River. This part of the wildlife area is may be flooded from November to June. (The land around the Sierra Way bridge is privately owned by the National Audubon Society and not part of the publicly owned wildlife area.)