Merced, S. Fork - 1) Wawona to Main Merced

Merced, S. Fork, California, US


1) Wawona to Main Merced

Usual Difficulty V+ (for normal flows)
Length 23 Miles
Avg. Gradient 110 fpm
Max Gradient 210 fpm

Super Slide, South Fork Merced

Super Slide, South Fork Merced
Photo of Jamie Simon by Brett Valle

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
cdec-SMW 350 - 900 cfs V+ 00h51m 53 cfs (too low)

River Description

The South Fork Merced drains the south west portion of Yosemite National Park. Its headwaters drain peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation. The river runs roughly west to Wawona (4,000 feet elevation) where it is crossed by highway 41. From Wawona the river runs roughly north west for 23 miles to the Main Merced (1410 feet elevation).


The section from Wawona to the Main Merced was the first of the major multiday Sierra class 5 trips done by the Billygoat boaters.   Because of its easy access (no hiking) and fantastic rapids, this section has become very popular over the years.  


This river also provides ample carnage every year to boaters who make small mistakes or are not quite up to the challenge.    Besides getting stuck in holes, boaters have been pinned, flushed through seives and had their boats swept away by rising water in the night.   Many boaters have hiked/crawled/bushwacked their way out of this canyon after getting spanked or loosing their boats.   Hillsides thick with manzanita, buck brush, poison oak and other thick or prickly flora make cross country travel almost impossible.  There is a trail near the half way point, but hikers will have to travel at river level to get to it or get back upstream to Wawona.

Getting There:
Take Out:
From Yosemite Valley drive west on Highway 140 to the bridge across the SF Merced at Savage's Trading Post. About 40 minutes drive.   The take out is outside of Yosemite National Park.

Drive back east on highway 140 into Yosemite Valley then turn south on Highway 41 to Wawona.  A bridge crosses the SF Merced and there is ample parking in the vicinity of the river.   This put in is within Yosemite National Park.

Fees:  There is a per car fee to enter Yosemite National Park.   A single use permit is good for 7 days.   Go to the Yosemite website to see the current fee options. 


Hiking Trail access and escape:   Topo maps show hiking trails along several sections of the river.  The condition of these trails is unknown to this author and probably vary in quality and usability.   A trail comes down on river left at about mile 5.   This trail follows the river downstream but up high till mile 7 where it crosses and then follows the river downstream on river right to near mile 10 where it ends.  At mile 7, a branch trail climbs to highway 41.   At mile 13.5, a trail from Peachtree Bar starts downstream on river right.  This trail crosses to river left just before Snyder Gulch and goes up that to the Hite Cove road.   The Hite Cove 4 wheel drive road comes down to the river at about mile 17.

Other Information Sources:
The Best Whitewater in California (3rd ed.), by Lars Holbek and Chuck Stanley, 1998.

David Maurier has a good description of the run, plus some nice pictures. often has recent info on this and many other runs in the Sierras.
NickyB Blog Short trip report and Video
Epic report by Shanna

Photos by Nate Hunkapiller.

Other sections of the SF Merced that can be boated are:
Headwaters to Wawona,
Wawona roadside, a moderate 4 mile section.
Merced, S. Fork— 2) Snyder Gulch to Main Merced, a 7 mile class 3 to 4 section

Also see:

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Water Activities


Merced & SF Merced Planning Process:
The Merced River Plan process is still accepting public comments. Boaters should write comments about which sections of the river and tributaries that they like to boat on and want to boat on. Describe what the experience is like and how it fits into your appreciation and understanding of Yosemite.
Merced River Plan- Public scoping open! till Feb 4, 2010
Merced & South Fork Merced River Draft Outstandingly Remarkable Values Report (1.3 MB, PDF file)

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

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2010-01-19 18:29:43

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
5.0Hiking Trail AccessN/AAccess
7.8Hiking trail accessN/AAccess
15.6Snyder GulchN/AAccess

Rapid Descriptions

Hiking Trail Access (Class N/A, Mile 5.0)

A trail comes down on river left to near the river.   This trail starts from roads near Iron Creek.   The distance from the river to the trail head is about 1.5 miles.   The road to the trail head probably has no traffic and might be closed in the winter.

Hiking trail access (Class N/A, Mile 7.8)

A pack trail comes down from Highway 41 near Alder Creek and crosses the river near Bishop Creek.  The trail also branches, with one fork going downstream on the east side of the river to Snyder Gulch.  The other fork goes upstream on the west side of  the river for a ways before climbing to a trail head near Iron Creek.   The trails appear to be high above the river in most areas, but if reached would likely afford easier escape than at river level.

Snyder Gulch (Class N/A, Mile 15.6)

Snyder Gulch comes in from the left.  A trail also reaches the river here.   The rapids are class 4  or easier from here to Hite Cove and then easier from there to the end.

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Associated Projects

  • Yosemite Whitewater (CA)
    AW advocates for opportunities to enjoy the unique and spectacular rivers of Yosemite National Park.