At just over 7,500 feet, Breckenridge Mountain — 11 miles southwest of Lake Isabella — isn’t Kern County’s highest summit, but it is a favored vacation getaway for locals and home to a manned fire lookout, the Spotted Owl, a variety of flora and television transmitters of KERO and KBAK.
Situated on the southern boundary of the Kern River Valley and part of the Sequoia National Forest, Breckenridge is just south of the Greenhorn Mountains and on transitional land between the southwestern Sierra Nevada range and the Tehachapi Mountains.
The summit was first named Canon Mountain by a Pacific Railroad survey. It was later renamed Cross Mountain, after the Cross Brothers Lumber Mill. Soon after, at the time of the Civil War, it became known as Breckenridge Mountain after the Breckinridge sawmill on Lucas Creek — which provided much of the lumber used in the development of Bakersfield — and Confederate General John Cabell Breckinridge, who enjoyed support from Southern sympathizers.
Despite the misspellings, Breckenridge with an “e” remained. John C. Breckinridge, a lawyer and senator from Kentucky, became the 14th vice president of the United States — and youngest to date — serving with President James Buchanan. The popular Colorado town and ski resort were also named after Breckinridge.
In 1912, a “crow’s nest” of a lookout was built on Breckenridge on the top of an 87-foot tree. In 1931, a wooden tower lookout was built nearby but replaced in 1942 with a structure that still stands today, along with the tree.
During World War II, the Breckenridge lookout was used by the Aircraft Warning Service to watch for enemy aircraft, and it is now on the National Historic Lookout Register.
The manned fire lookout is open to the public during the summer and fall months and offers unparalleled views for as far as the eye can see. It is also a favored day trip for hikers, an easy Class 2 cross-country, three-mile hike to the top.