article photo 1

Paddling on the Merced in Yosemite!

Posted: 03/27/2012
By: Megan Hooker & Paul Martzen

Yosemite National Park is continuing to seek your input as they develop alternatives for their Merced Wild and Scenic River Management Plan. Boating is currently banned throughout most of the Park, and we are pleased to see that it is being considered on additional stretches of the river.  Your comments can help support opening the entire length of the Wild and Scenic Merced River within the Park to canoes, kayaks and rafts.   The latest info is contained in the Preliminary Alternative Concepts Workbook - Spring 2012

Paddling is dealt with briefly in the first two proposed alternatives as follows:

Preliminary Alternative 1
8. Paddling: Private paddling allowed on all stretches of Valley river segments,
including wilderness, by permit; commercial boating prohibited

Preliminary Alternative 2
9. Paddling: Private paddling allowed by permit only on stretches of river within
all segments; commercial boating prohibited.

Boaters can participate in several public meetings and a webinar in the Spring of 2012

Webinar March 27
10 a.m.-noon (PST)
Online at
Workshop March 28
9:30-11:30 a.m.
Yosemite Valley Auditorium
Site Visit March 28
1-3 p.m.
Meet at Yosemite Valley Auditorium
Workshop April 4
5:30-8 p.m.
Golden Gate Room, Fort Mason Center,
San Francisco
Webinar April 11
6:30-8:30 p.m. (PST)
Online at
Site Visit April 12
2-4 p.m.
Meet at El Portal Community Hall
Workshop April 12
5:30-8 p.m.
El Portal Community Hall
Site Visit April 13
10 a.m.-noon
Meet at Wawona Community Hall
Workshop April 13
1-3:30 p.m.
Wawona Community Hall



American Whitewater has been actively involved in the Wild and Scenic Planning process with the goal of bringing boating back to Yosemite.  In 2010, we took Park Service Staff on a trip down the Merced, allowing them to experience this low-impact method of enjoying the Valley. Since that time, we have provided extensive comments to support the Park as they develop their Wild and Scenic Managment Plan, and suggested guidelines and a framework for managing paddling within the Park. You can learn more about our efforts and read our previous comments on our Yosemite Whitewater Project Page.  

While we are extremely pleased to see Yosemite taking steps towards opening the Park's rivers up to boating, we are concerned that the Park will allow boating only on certain stretches but continue to prohibit it on others. Paddling a river is a powerful and widely accepted way of experiencing National Parks, Wilderness Areas, and other federal lands across the country. Paddling is consistent with all other modes of recreation allowed in the Parks, including hiking, backpacking and rock-climbing. 

Your comments are important in this process! Yosemite National Park want to hear from you about a number of management issues in the river corridor. The most important question that the Park asks is how they can improve opportunities for direct connection to the values of the river.

Please send an e-mail to and tell the Park that they can accomplish this by allowing paddling on the entire length of the Wild and Scenic Merced River! Resource values can be protected by managing high use stretches of the river through a permitting system.  

If you'd like to dive into the process a little more, the Park has published the Merced River Wild & Scenice Planning Workbook to help the public assess a variety of park management issues. They also have developed management questions at the end of the workbook for the public to provide their feedback. You can see AW's responses to these questions in the "Documents" box on the upper righthand corner of this page, or see our responses below. AW also has sent a cover letter about the issues, which is also available in the "Documents" box. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

For more general information about the Wild and Scenic Management Plan, visit Yosemite National Park's Merced River Plan page


Yosemite National Park Merced River Plan Workbook Questions and AW's responses


River Management Challenges (page 27 of the workbook)


Ecological and Natural Resource Values

Question: How can we protect and restore free-flowing conditions and hydrologic function?

- Discontinue removing large woody debris from the river in high use areas.  Move it only to the extent necessary to allow for recreational passage and preservation of infrastructure.

Opportunities for Direct Connection to River Values

Question: How can we ensure that people have opportunities to experience quality connections to the river in ways that are protective of the river?  

- Allow people to recreate on the river and experience this amazing place - from the river! Boating should be allowed on the Wild and Scenic Merced River in its entirety.

Visitor Use Management

Question: If the National Park Service were to expand the existing parking inventory, by how much and at which locations would be appropriate? 

- If parking is expanded, it should include areas for boaters to park their vehicles at river access areas.

Question: Would you support bus service along new routes in the park?  If there were such services, would you use them?  Why or why not? 

- Bus service should provide enough room for kayaks, canoes and rafts to be transported.  

Question: Would you support remote parking and shuttle services?  Why or why not? 

- It is preferable that boaters have vehicle access to river access areas.  If remote parking and shuttle services are required for park access, they should provide enough room to transport kayaks, canoes and rafts.  

Question: If day use vehicular access were to be limited, are day use reservations appropriate?  

- Yes.  See our comment letter for more information.  

Question: Would you support the use of a day use parking/vehicle permit?  Does this mean 1) Would you use a day use parking/vehicle permit? OR 2) Would you support a day use parking/vehicle permit system?

- Yes, and we suggest that any permit issued for floating the river also include parking.

Question: What types of recreation are appropriate in the river corridor?  What is needed to support these recreation opportunities? 

- Boating down the river in a kayak, canoe or raft is an appropriate use of the entire river corridor. Lift the ban, build river access in high use areas, and consider permitted use if need be on reaches that exceed user capacity.  

Land Uses and Associated Developments

Question: How can we increase the availability of camping while ensuring that river values are protected?  

- Allow overnight camping in selected areas on the river corridor, requiring Leave No Trace practices and zero additional infrastructure.


Your Top Management Options (page 28 of the workbook)


Segment 1: Merced River Above Nevada Falls

Paddling should be allowed on the entire length of the Wild and Scenic Merced River. Allowing paddling here may improve issue #1 (high encounter rates on Wilderness trails). Some people will be experiencing part of the Merced Wild and Scenic Corridor from the river, reducing the number of people on the trail at any given time. Further, if boaters are allowed to camp in primitive sites along the river using Leave No Trace principles campground use levels may also decline over all. This practice is commonly used on other Wild and Scenic Rivers throughout the country. Paddlers would be subject to the same backcountry permitting requirements as hikers/backpackers. Paddling is a wilderness compliant activity, and opening the river to paddling in this segment and throughout the rest of the Wilderness Area will bring it into compliance with the Wilderness Act.

Segment 2: Yosemite Valley

Regarding issue #18 (Paddling and Floating in Yosemite Valley): We support opening the entire length of the Wild and Scenic Merced River to paddling year-round. However, we support having a permit system on high-use stretches of the river for both private and commercial activity. It should be noted, however, that a variety of factors, including the season, hydrology and weather will limit use in these areas by default. Additionally, in these high use areas, river access points should be built at appropriate locations to prevent erosion and trampling of vegetation. Please see our comment letter for more.  

We support a combined version of alternatives 6A and 6B. Large woody debris does not need to be removed to ensure safety on high use reaches of the river. Instead it can be moved in a way that keeps the integrity of the ecological function of the river intact. Movement of LWD in this manner would only be necessary to allow for recreational passage and protection of infrastructure on high use stretches. Further, removal will only be necessary when movement does not accomplish these goals. We do not support using cables around logs in rivers, as it poses an extreme safety hazard. Additionally, we always think that educating visitors about river use is important, regardless of the situation. Boating should be open on the entire length of the river throughout the year. Closures because of LWD, the season or any other reason is unnecessary. The Park can recommend that boaters stay off the river, and flows will likely create seasonal restrictions to paddling conditions on their own, but paddling should not be prohibited.

Regarding Issue #7: Allow primitive overnight camping in selected areas on the river corridor, requiring Leave No Trace practices and zero additional infrastructure.  These locations should be designated below the mean high water mark to ensure minimal impact.  On other Wild and Scenic Rivers throughout the country, this style of camping is encouraged.

We support alternative 22A, which provides river access at West of Pohono Bridge. This is currently the location with the best river access and provides for the most complete run on the Merced through Yosemite Valley.

Segment 4: El Portal

Boating should be allowed on all stretches of the Wild and Scenic Merced River.

Segments 5, 6, 7 and 8: South Fork Merced River Wawona

Paddling on the South Merced below Wawona is currently allowed. In our view, this provides an an excellent model of how paddling can be managed throughout the park. Paddling is open, there is no management of LWD, there is no specific infrastructure needed for paddlers, and there is no indication that additional management is necessary. This is one of the most popular Class V boating opportunities in the region, and things are working well. As a result, we support management option 31A.


Putting the Pieces Together (page 29 of the workbook)


Ecological and Resource Values: Removing large woody debris from rivers is not necessary for boating safety and is excessive management.  Instead, LWD can be moved in high use stretches only, and be moved in a way that keeps the integrity of the ecological function of the river intact.  Movement of LWD in this manner is only necessary to allow for recreational passage and protection of infrastructure in certain cases on high use reaches.  Removal is only necessary in limited cases when movement does not accomplish these goals.

Opportunities for Direct Connection to River Values: Allow paddling on the entire length of the Wild and Scenic Merced River all year long.  Resource values should be protected, and where there is high visitor use, it should be managed accordingly.  



AW Merced Comments to YNP Nov 2011 (11/23/2011)

Comment letter to Yosemite National Park planning staff regarding Wild and Scenic Merced River Planning.

Associated Rivers

Associated Projects

Yosemite Whitewater (CA)

AW advocates for opportunities to enjoy the unique and spectacular rivers of Yosemite National Park.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!