Merced - 1) Stables to El Capitan Meadow

Merced, California, US


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
usgs-11264500 200 - 2000 cfs I 01h11m 53 cfs (too low)

River Description

Starting in 2014, new sections of the Merced can be boated.  Register with the park.

Floating on the Merced River is one the nicest ways of viewing 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. During summer, the Curry Company rents small rafts for people to float on the river. During the afternoons the river gets congested. Experienced boaters will tend to prefer spring floats in order to view the waterfalls at their peaks. The rangers will tend to be discouraging at this time of year though. Floating is legal as long as there is enough space for floaters to pass underneath the Sentinal bridge.  

Most of the float is flatwater, but there are sections of swiftwater, especially in the beginning. In spots, when there is higher flow, there can even be modest little waves. 

Casual floaters can float between Stoneman Bridge and Sentinal Beach Picnic area without permits or limits. The Curry Company raft rentals are also limited to this 2.4 mile reach.  This is a beautiful and very popular section and about the right length for most visitors, as it can take a few hours.

Starting in 2014, experienced boaters who obtain a permit and show adequate equipment can float between the stables and El Cap Meadow.  This is a 6 mile section which is a bit more dangerous as there can be log jams and other hazards.  The park service does not allow the removal of natural hazards from the river because logs and such provide habitat benefits.

Put in: The present legal put in is at Stoneman Bridge, on the main connecting road between Yosemite Village and Curry Village. Signs prohibit launching at the stables or anywhere upstream of Stoneman.  The Curry Company rafts all launch on river left, downstream side of the bridge.   There is a heavily erroded trail down to the water.  The park biologists would prefer that people launch from a beach on the river right, downstream side of the bridge, but there is limited parking on that side.

With the rule changes in 2014, private boaters may obtain permits to launch a bit further upstream, probably by the stables. Get specifics when you get your permit.

Take out: Sentinal Beach, on river left is the last legal take out on this section. Floating past this point is very nice, but currently not permitted by the Park.  From the southside road, turn onto the Sentinal Picnic Area road.   Park at the end and walk out to the river.  Northside and Southside drives are one way in most of the valley, so from the put in, take Northside Drive to El Cap Meadows, where you can cross to Southside Drive. 

Starting in 2014, boaters with permits and proper equipment will be allowed to boat further down the river to El Capitan Meadow and even to Pohono bridge.

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 debri play an important part in the river ecosystem and the park service will not move 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 which block the river.  Water temperature will be cold all year long, and in the spring it will be ice cold. 

Other Information Sources:
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Water Activities
CaCreeks River Guide - Merced thru Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Conservancy Webcams    These do not show the river, but do show what the weather is like.
Happy Isles Webcam:   USGS page that shows the river.

Merced & SF Merced Planning Process:
Yosemite National Park released their Merced Wild and Scenic Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, and we're very pleased to announce that the Park Service has improved and enhanced opportunities to enjoy Yosemite via kayak, canoe and raft. The new plan places paddling on equal footing with other activities in the Park by managing visitor numbers similar to hiking and other backcountry uses. The plan considers river segments as "water trails" or backcountry routes.

Comment forms [772 kb PDF]
Submit comments electronically to the Yosemite National Park Service planning team at or

Permit Information

As of 2014, it is possible to get special use permits to boat other sections of the Merced in the park.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-03-25 16:41:56

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
usgs-11264500 200 - 2000 cfs I 01h11m 53 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.


When River/Gauge Subject Level Reporter
Merced [CA] Half Dome, from Merced River 350 cfs Thomas O'Keefe
4y158d18h37m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Floating Past Bridal Veil Falls a good level Dave Steindorf
4y158d21h55m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Sentinal Rock 0 cfs Paul Martzen
4y158d22h40m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Yosemite Falls a good level Dave Steindorf
4y158d23h40m /Merced-Stables to El Cap Meadow [CA] Half Dome from the Merced a good level Dave Steindorf
5y285d14h40m 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 present legal take out.  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

Associated Projects

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