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. Put-in: 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.Boof.com 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
Yosemite National ParkYosemite 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or http://parkplanning.nps.gov/documentsOpenForReview.cfm?parkId=347&projectId=18982
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.
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 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.
See the official CDEC gage site for further technical information about the gauge. The season tends to be from late winter into early summer. In wet years the flows can be too high for much of the season. As the season ends, flows tend to drop out quickly.
There are many tributaries that come in below Wawona, so actual flows will be much higher shortly into the run. Look at the take out to guesstimate flows there. Flows of 1000 to 1300 at the take out is reported to be excellent. Low flows reveal much mank and dangerous seives, so high flows are considered better than low.
Flows can vary tremendously and quickly overnight, or with rain or changes in temperature. When camping, pull boats up high above the river so they don't get swept away. The online gauge shown below came online in September of 2007. In late winter and early spring, flow in the SF Merced is often greater than the flow in the Main Merced. See dreamflows.com for those readings. Gauging Rock: In Wawona, there is a distinctive rock that may be useful for judging flow level. View the Gauge Rock closeup image. This rock is on river left, by the Wawona store, just upstream of the highway 41 bridge. This downstream view from rock shows the location in relation to the highway bridge. The new online gauge appears to be located downstream of the highway bridge but this author does not know if there is a staff gauge there.
Permits are not required for this reach.
From the take out on the main Merced, drive up highway 140 into Yosemite Valley. Once into the Valley, look for the Highway 41 junction and turn right towards Wawona. The drive takes about an hour.
Highway 41 bridge from Gauge Rock
Gauge Rock at Wawona-2
Gauge Rock at Wawona
Super Slide, South Fork Merced
Little Slide, SF Merced
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Yosemite National Park is starting fresh with a new river planning process for the Wild and Scenic Merced River and tributaries. The public can tell the park what they want studied in the plan by submitting comments before February 4, 2010. Yosemite severely limits whitewater boating in the park, so this is your chance to ask the planners to increase whitewater boating opportunities.
Yosemite National Park is currently seeking your input as they develop alternatives for the 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! Participate in public workshops and/or log in to a Webinar an April 11, from 6:30 to 8:30 (Pacific time) at yose.webex.com
Thanks to everyone who submitted comments for the Tuolumne River Plan last month! Now is your chance to weigh in on how the Wild and Scenic Merced River in Yosemite National Park will be managed in the future–comments are due April 18th. With your help, we can advocate more effectively for opening this stunning and amazing river to the public!
Earlier today, Yosemite National Park released their Merced Wild and Scenic Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. The new plan places paddling on equal footing with other activities in the Park, and we're very pleased to announce that the Park Service has improved and enhanced opportunities to enjoy Yosemite via kayak, canoe and raft.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!