Lake Isabella (formerly, Isabella and Kernvale) is a census-designated place (CDP) in Kern County, California, United States, located near Lake Isabella. Lake Isabella is located 35 miles (56 km) east-northeast of Bakersfield, at an elevation of 2513 feet (766 m). The population was 3,315 at the 2000 census.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 22.1 square miles (57.2 km²), all of it land.
Lake Isabella is at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Kern River. These rivers are 'wild', in that they are not controlled by any dam upstream. Upstream on the North Fork white water enthusiasts play in the spring and early summer. The famous Golden Trout originate in these rivers in the high country to the north.
When the Europeans first explored this area they found it populated mostly by a couple of Indian tribes, the Tubatulabals and by a few Paiute-Shoshone. The Tubatulabals were a happy, friendly people. The name, "Tubatulabal" means "those who go out and gather Pinyon nuts". They were referred to by other Indians as the 'happy talkers' because their language was lilting and full of laughter. The Paiutes were from the deserts to the north east across the Sierras. The two tribes were fairly closely related by marriage ties. 'Paiute' is taken from an Indian word meaning 'fly eaters'. An important part of the Paiute diet was a flour made from dried ground up brine-fly larva. These larva swarm thickly in the salt lakes of the desert basins.
The Tubatulabals coexisted peacefully with the white settlers for the most part. In 1863 there was a massacre of the Tubatulabals and some Paiutes by the U.S. Cavalry. A casual researcher will find differing accounts of this massacre. One account is found in the Handbook of North Americans - California Volume 8, 1978. Another is in one of local historian Bob Powers earlier books on Kern Valley. The accounts differ considerably.
The area east of the lake, along the South Fork, was settled first by cattle ranchers in the early 1850s. As the ranching operations grew and prospered, they began to raise hay in the lower, temperate valley to feed the cattle in the winter. From spring till fall the cowboys would tend the cattle up in the high country of the Sierras. In this dry mountain area there are many lush jewels of mountain meadows, of heart-tugging beauty in every direction from Lake Isabella. The Kern Plateau is directly NE of Lake Isabella and varies from 7,000 feet (2,100 m) to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) elevation. It has tall timber, many streams and much vegatation useful for cattle graze. The cattlemen ran cattle in the desert areas beyond Walkers Pass also. Having grown up in the area, it was not unusual to see the school bus slow to a walk through a crowded herd of cattle being driven down the highway. A student might open the bus window and shout, "Hi Mom!" or "Hi Dad!" to the cowperson driving the cattle.
In 1857 a gold rush to the Whiskey Flat area in the early 1850s brought a flood of new faces to the lower North Fork area, and in the mountains and canyons nearby. Lake Isabella was created by a dam on the Kern River in 1953 forcing the town to move about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of the original site. This inundated Kernville a later name for Whiskey Flat. Most of Kernville was relocated to higher ground nearby.
This area is a mecca for hikers, boaters, water skiers, fishermen, birders, hunters, wind surfers, kayakers, etc. Tourist trade is a major part of the economy hereabouts.
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,315 people, 1,526 households, and 877 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 150.0 people per square mile (57.9/km²). There were 2,168 housing units at an average density of 98.1/sq mi (37.9/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 90.44% White, 0.06% Black or African American, 1.90% Native American, 0.81% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 2.50% from other races, and 4.22% from two or more races. 6.76% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 1,526 households out of which 21.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.9% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.5% were non-families. 37.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 22.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.17 and the average family size was 2.83.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 23.0% under the age of 18, 6.0% from 18 to 24, 19.7% from 25 to 44, 23.5% from 45 to 64, and 27.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 89.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.4 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $19,813, and the median income for a family was $24,800. Males had a median income of $24,896 versus $18,523 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $11,452. About 18.2% of families and 20.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.2% of those under age 18 and 13.8% of those age 65 or over.
In July 2008, the town of Lake Isabella experienced a series of flash floods. The flooding was primarily caused by the Piute Fire on June 28, 2008. On the second day of flooding, an 8 feet (2.4 m) tall wall of water flowed through town. Then, on the third day of flooding, Kern County officials issued an evacuation notice for the low lying areas on either side of Erskine Creek Canyon to the Kern River.