Merced - 1) Stables to El Capitan Meadow


Merced, California, US

Disclaimer

1) Stables to El Capitan Meadow (Yosemite Valley)

Usual Difficulty I (for normal flows)
Length 6.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 2 fpm

Half Dome from the Merced


Half Dome from the Merced
Photo of Dave Steindorf by Paul Martzen taken 07/16/10 @ a good level

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
MERCED R A HAPPY ISLES BRIDGE NR YOSEMITE CA
usgs-11264500 200 - 2000 cfs I 01h15m 148 cfs (too low)


River Description

Floating the Merced River in Yosemite Valley

In 2014, Yosemite National Park released its Final Merced Wild and Scenic Comprehensive River Management Plan, bringing paddling on the Merced River on equal footing with hiking, climbing and other activities. River segments are considered to be “water trails,” akin to other backcountry routes. Depending on the reach, boaters will be required to secure a backcountry permit or self-register before putting on the river. For the Merced in Yosemite Valley, currently, Yosemite National Park does not require permits for private boaters to paddle or row the recreational sections of the Merced River. However, they will monitor use and associated impacts and may, at a later date, implement a more formal permit system.

It is important for paddlers, and any other visitors to Yosemite Valley, to recognize that this Park receives over 4 million visitors per year. Any impact from an individual, no matter how small, can become significant when multiplied by the number of visitors that come to Yosemite Valley. As on every river, paddlers are responsible for protecting and respecting the natural environment within the Park, and can set a good example of how to recreate on the river and, more generally, throughout the Park.

Aside from the obvious recommendation to exhibit good safe boating practices while on the river, paddlers should also adhere to the following rules and recommendations when paddling through Yosemite Valley:

  • Use only designated put in and take out areas. Currently these areas include, Clarks Bridge, the El Cap cross over Bridge, and between Pohono Bridge and the Highway 120/ 140 Junction.

  • If you stop on the river, only use un-vegetated bars and beaches.

  • Large woody debris (trees) in the river will remain in place as part of the natural ecosystem. If you need to portage, do so in a manner that minimizes any bank erosion.

  • Restrooms within walking distance of the river are located at Swinging Bridge, Sentinel Beach and Cathedral Beach (The last two are only opened seasonally). Please note where the accessible restroom facilities are before you embark on your trip.

Floating on the Merced River is one the nicest ways to view Yosemite Valley. A slow float trip allows one to stare at the cliffs and waterfalls for long periods and appreciate the more subtle aspects. The roads are far enough away that the traffic noise is much reduced; even absent in spots. The river is wide enough and trees are far enough back to allow wonderful views of the valley walls. Experienced boaters will tend to prefer spring floats in order to view the waterfalls at their peaks and to avoid the summer crowds. Floating is legal as long as there is enough space for floaters to pass underneath the Sentinel Bridge (Flow on the Pohono Gauge 7.5 feet on the Sentinel Bridge ).  

While most of the float through Yosemite is flatwater, there are sections of swiftwater, especially in the upper and lower sections of the Valley.

Equipment 

Craft would be required to be in good condition and designed to handle the class of whitewater on a reach. Rafts for reaches with Class II or higher whitewater must be high performance multi-chamber craft or high performance single-chamber pack rafts designed for whitewater. The number of people in any vessel would not be allowed to exceed the manufacturer’s stated capacity.

  •  
  • Each boater must have a serviceable, US Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (PFD) Type I, III, or V. These PFDs must be maintained in good condition in compliance with the USCG standards and must be worn and fastened properly at all times while on the river. All PFDs must have a USCG approved label stating the PFD is designed for whitewater rafting, canoeing, sailing, paddling and/or kayaking.

  • General boating or ski vests are prohibited.

Put in: The recommended put in is at Clark’s Bridge, near the Upper and Lower Pines Campground. The preferred launch is from a beach on the river left, adjacent to the RV dump station, which is upstream of the bridge. This area is for unloading only. Please find area that will not block traffic those wishing to use the dump station. After unloading, it is best to park your vehicle in one of the parking areas near Curry Village.

Take out option 1: For those not wishing to run the Class III / IV section down to Pohono Bridge, takeout will be on the east end of El Cap Meadow, where the bridge crosses the Merced. The best take out location is upstream of the left bridge abutment. There is considerable parking along El Cap Meadow and on the south side of the bridge near the bear boxes. To reach this takeout, take the left hand turn past Pohono Bridge, where the sign points to Highway 41, 120 and 140. Just past the bridge at the west end of El Cap Meadow, the road becomes one way. You may need to loop back down to the west end of the Valley after dropping your shuttle vehicle. In the late spring, there is a shuttle bus that can pick you up here and take you back to Curry Village.

Take out option 2: For those who want to run the Class III / IV section down to Pohono Bridge, the best take-out options are just up from the junction of Highways 120 and 140. There are several pullouts between the junction and Pohono Bridge. Dropping a bike here at the takeout is the best option. It is a 7.4-mile shuttle to Curry Village and Clark’s Bridge.

Directions: As you enter the Valley from Mariposa or Groveland, drop a shuttle vehicle below Pohono Bridge (see take-out options above). Take a left across Pohono Bridge and follow the signs to Yosemite Valley destinations. Follow signs to Curry Village past the Highway 41 junction. Continue past Curry Village and take a left at the next stop sign. Follow signs to Upper and Lower Pines Campground, before you cross the bridge turn into the Upper Pines Campground, the dump station will be on your left. Remember that this area is for unloading only.

 

Parking: There is parking available across from Curry Village, and in the main Village parking area. You will have a ten minute walk back to the put-in.

Hazards:  Logs and strainers are common along the length of this reach. They will change position from year to year during the high flow season. At times logs may completely block the channel. Logs and woody debris play an important part in the river ecosystem and the park service will not manage logs or allow boaters to remove logs. The river will move them on its own from year to year, so be prepared to portage logs that block the river. Water temperature will be cold all year long, and in the spring it will be ice cold. 

River Description

 

Clark Bridge to El Cap Meadow

 

The river from the Clark Bridge to El Cap meadow is Class I and II, with most of the swifter water towards the top of the run. This section of the river has more development than in the west end of the valley. That being said, spectacular views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and other Valley landmarks can be seen from the river.

 

El Cap Meadow to Pohono

 

In addition to stunning views of El Capitan, Sentinel and Bridal Veil Falls, this section contains significant whitewater and should only be run by those with appropriates skills. Also, there is a significant amount of large woody debris in this section. Higher flows significantly change the nature of this run, increasing the difficulty from a Class III/IV to a solid Class IV + with potentially long swims when things go wrong.

 

A gentle sweeping bend around El Cap Meadow drops you straight into the top of Bridal Veil Rapid Class III+/ IV, the longest rapid on the section. The first half of rapid picks its way through a boneyard of rocks and channels. Higher flows offer a more defined line. Half way through the rapid the majority of the river flow starts to shift river left. Look for large rocks on the left bank with stranded timbers. A small series of ledges make up the final third of the rapid. At high flows large powerful hydraulics develop. The exit to the rapid is split into three distinct channels with a large recovery pool at the bottom. The easiest option is to run river right. Scout from is from river right. This rapid can also be scouted as you run your shuttle. Parking at the far end of the Bridal Veil Falls viewing area gives you a great spot to view this rapid.

 

Rapid-The next rapid typically runs river leftand can be bony.

 

Rapid- The following rapid the river funnels right and splits around a small island. Keep your eye open for timber in this section.

 

Rapid-Screaming Left Turn. Look for large amount of timber straight ahead. The rapid funnels left down a rocky chute.

 

Rapid- Bridal Veil Creek comes in left series of small riffles.

 

Rapid- Right Turn. Look for large boulders on left bank and in river. Distinct run along right bank.

 

Rapid - S Turn - Flow moves to river left. Look for a distinct triangular rock in the middle of the channel and an obvious horizon line to the left. There are two routes for this rapid - mid channel left, with a smooth pour over with powerful eddies on the left, and right or run right with a sharp change of direction. The center rock has a rock sieve at high flows. At high flows a significant hydraulic develops across the left side of the river. The eddy line on the left side of the triangular rock is deceptively powerful and has trapped swimmers, violently circulating them in the past

 

Rapid - Bridal Veil View. Look for obvious parking lot and viewing area on river left. There is a restroom across highway. The river widens and shallows on river right with timber marooned mid stream. Look for a tight shoot on river left with over hanging alders. This channel holds the best depth throughout the season, and if you have to drag your boat here the rest of the run is too dry to boat! (around 200cfs)

 

Rapid - Fern Spring Wave. At various levels a small surfing wave comes a little upstream of Fern Spring.

 

Rapid - Pohono Bridge. A small series of waves under the bridge.

 

Rapid - Immediately below Pohono the river splits with bony channels left and right. Stay left at higher flows.

 

Rapid - The Gates. III+ Scout this from the road, it is just upstream from the takeout. Above the rapid look for a long pool with large boulders in midstream. Eddy out on river left to scout from bank. The Gates has a distinct ledge that angles from midstream to river right. The left run (The Gates) enters high on river left and makes a sharp right turn to avoid bow deflecting rocks bordering a narrow channel. A more challenging run on river right has a sharp drop into a large partially submerged rock at medium flows. There is potential to get pinned with this route. At high flows it sets up a large hydraulic adding to the excitement. You can regroup below the rapid at small riffles and eddies.

 

Rapid - Horns Hole. III. Scout from road. At higher flows The Gates and Horn's Hole become one rapid. At lower flows eddy out on river right to scout. The river makes a right turn with a sharp rocky drop. Look for a Room of Doom tucked under the left shore at the bottom of this rapid. At high flows the water pushes right against a steep rock wall. At lower flows a left run is possible through a bony shoot. This rapid has a history of catching large timber and producing significant strainer hazards, so make sure to always scout this rapid for new hazards. This rapid is named after a ranger who made a spectacular capsized run through the boniest parts of the rapid.

 

Take Out - Look for a takeout on river right.

 

Table Rock – The end of this section is marked by a large boulder in the middle of the river. Look for a large retaining wall on river right above the water line. The rapid immediately below Table Rock is the beginning of the Class V+/VI Merced Gorge, which is significantly harder than anything on the Pohono Section. Be sure to scout your take out, to be sure that you do not accidentally run this rapid.

 

Permit Information

As of 2015, it is possible to get special use permits to boat other sections of the Merced in the park.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-03-21 00:43:04

Half Dome, from Merced River

Detail Trip Report  Half Dome, from Merced River  Merced, CA(4.72MB .jpeg)

El Capitan, from Merced

Detail Trip Report  El Capitan, from Merced  Merced, CA(3.47MB .jpeg)

Boating through Yosemite

Detail Trip Report  Boating through Yosemite  Merced, CA(4.80MB .jpeg)

Yosemite Falls

Detail Trip Report  Yosemite Falls  @Merced 1) Stoneman Bridge to Sentinal Meadows Picnic Area, CA(2.20MB .jpeg)

Half Dome from the Merced

Detail Trip Report  Half Dome from the Merced  @Merced 1) Stoneman Bridge to Sentinal Meadows Picnic Area, CA(1.86MB .jpeg)

Floating Past Bridal Veil Falls

Detail Trip Report  Floating Past Bridal Veil Falls  @Merced 1) Stoneman Bridge to Sentinal Meadows Picnic Area, CA(1.31MB .jpeg)

Log Jam

Detail Trip Report  Log Jam  @Merced 1) Stoneman Bridge to Sentinal Meadows Picnic Area, CA(2.50MB .jpeg)

Raft launch area

Detail Trip Report  Raft launch area  @Merced 1) Stoneman Bridge to Sentinal Meadows Picnic Area, CA(2.19MB .jpeg)

El Capitan from the Merced River

Detail Trip Report  El Capitan from the Merced River  @Merced 1) Stoneman Bridge to Sentinal Meadows Picnic Area, CA(1.37MB .jpeg)

Sentinal Rock

Detail Trip Report  Sentinal Rock  @Merced 1) Stoneman Bridge to Sentinal Meadows Picnic Area, CA(6.37MB .jpeg)


Gauge Information

Gauge Description:

Flows in this reach will be just slightly higher than shown at the Happy Isles gauge, as Tenaya Creek comes in below the gauge.. The park service does not allow boating on this section when the river level is too high under the Sentinal bridge.   "Rafting is not permitted whenever the river stage (depth) reads 6.5 feet or higher and the sum of air temperature and water temperature is less than 100°F."  Floating is also limited to the hours between 10 AM and 6 PM.   Yosemite Water Activities

At this time it is not known what level on the Happy Isles gauge corresponds with the level that is closed to boating.  Air tempurature readings can be found on the weather tab.   We are searching for an online source for water tempurature readings.

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
MERCED R A HAPPY ISLES BRIDGE NR YOSEMITE CA
usgs-11264500 200 - 2000 cfs I 01h15m 148 cfs (too low)

RangeWater LevelDifficultyComment
200 -2000 cfs barely runnable-high runnable I

Report - Reports of Merced 1) Stables to El Capitan Meadow and related gauges

Reports give the public a chance to report on river conditions throughout the country as well as log the history of a river.

Reports

When River/Gauge Subject Level Reporter
Merced [CA] Half Dome, from Merced River 350 cfs Thomas O'Keefe
4y279d11h41m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Floating Past Bridal Veil Falls a good level Dave Steindorf
4y279d14h59m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Sentinal Rock 0 cfs Paul Martzen
4y279d15h44m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Yosemite Falls a good level Dave Steindorf
4y279d16h44m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Half Dome from the Merced a good level Dave Steindorf
6y41d07h44m Merced [CA] El Capitan, from Merced 350 cfs Thomas O'Keefe

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Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Stables BridgeN/A
0.7Stoneman BridgeN/APutin
3.5Sentinal Beach Picnic AreaN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Stables Bridge (Class N/A)

Boat launching is no longer allowed at this location or anywhere above Stoneman Bridge.  The river below here is swiftwater with riffles and numerous logs.  The logs are easily recognized and avoided (usually) by boaters with river experience and boat control.

Because of the streamside campgrounds, floaters do continue to launch in this area, despite signs prohibiting floating.  It is also common for the park service to rescue inexperienced floaters from a couple spots where they are prone to washing into logs. 

Park naturalists and biologists want logs to accumulate in the river in a natural fashion as  they create habitat and have many ecological benefits.  Where floaters are common and get in trouble on particular logs, those logs are usually removed or moved.  Thus there is some conflict between the natural ecosystem and river recreation where novices float down the river.  

Yosemite has chosen to limit the section where floaters are allowed on the river, so that logs and woody debris can naturally accumulate on the other sections of the river. 



Stoneman Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 0.7)

Stoneman Bridge is the highest legal launch point in recent years, (2010).    Nearby parking and unloading areas can be difficult to find.   The Curry consession raft rentals all launch on the downstream side of the bridge on river left.   The park river biologists prefer for boaters to launch on the river right, downstream side of the bridge where there is a more gradual slope down to the river.    



Sentinal Beach Picnic Area (Class N/A, Mile 3.5)

This is the mandatory take out for Curry Company rafts and for floaters without whitewater equipment.  During rafting season, a rope with buoys will be strung across the river.   Large signs direct boaters to take out at the large beach on the left.  Curry Company employees make sure that all rental rafts and other floaters take out here. 




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General Nonmember Message

Associated News

Yosemite National Park Releases Final Merced River Plan
February 14, 2014

Paddling in Yosemite–Comments Due April 18th
April 2, 2013

ACTION ALERT–Help to open Yosemite to boating!
February 8, 2013

Paddling on the Merced in Yosemite!
March 27, 2012

Merced River Plan Suggestions Needed by Feb 4, 2010
January 19, 2010


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 1) Stables to El Capitan Meadow, Merced California, US (mobile)