Big Creek - The Middle Gorge Section

Big Creek, California, US


The Middle Gorge Section

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 1.5 Miles

Big Creek Gorge

Big Creek Gorge
Photo of Gavin Gladding by Paul Martzen taken 06/15/05

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-11242400 100 - 350 cfs V 9y65d12h39m 83 cfs (too low)

River Description

The Overview of Big Creek:
Big Creek is just west of Wawona in Yosemite National Park and runs into the South Fork of the Merced just upstream of the Wawona Campground. The Middle Gorge has 5 waterfalls worth paddling and is only about 150 yards long. A common procedure is to run the falls in the gorge several times, then carry back up to your car. The first descent party reported that continuing down the creek to the SF Merced was not worth doing and most subsequent parties took their word for it. Recently, Chris Tulley reported that the rest of the creek down to the South Merced is excellent which prompted explanations from members of the first descent party.

Late April or Early May is the likely season. When the SF Merced is high, this creek is worth a look.

Getting There: Take Highway 41 to Wawona inside Yosemite National Park. Turn onto Chowchilla Mt Road. If you're coming in from the Fresno area (or south), you'll make a left hand turn onto this road that runs across the golf course. This road is not very wide and at first glance looks like its for golf carts only. But quickly widens and turns into a dirt road that crosses Big Creek in about two miles. GPS Coordinates at Google Maps.

Many people will drive or hike in and just run the Middle Gorge several times. It's like park and play for creekers. Another option is to put in at Fish Camp and run the 2 miles down to the middle Gorge. As seen here: Big Creek (Chowchilla Mountain Road to S.F. Merced River)

First 400 yards: The best parking spot is just across the small wooden bridge, putting in on river left, just pass the bridge. You can boat or hike down about 400 yards or so to the main gorge where there are 5 great waterfalls. In this first section there are some shallow rocks and tree portages.

First Drop "The Tricky One": The first falls at the entrance to the main gorge, has a boulder in the pool at the bottom on river left, that can be is easily seen when scouted. Boofing out far enough to miss it is easily done by sliding down the falls on river left, or by first dropping into the pot-hole on river left, then running the falls.

75 Yards To Go: This next section can be kind of tricky. Its junky and has some brush that gets in the way. The best advice is to stay to river left and push your way through. You might have to get out and swim or wade down. But once you see the big smooth granite rocking slope on your left, you're there! This is the entrance to the main gorge.

Main Gorge: Now all your hard work pays off, and the fun can begin! The falls are all very straight forward to run, and the pools are all clean and deep.
GPS Coordinates at Google Maps.

"Rooster's Drop": This is the first fall of the gorge, and should be run on river right. There is a small rooster tail created in the middle of the falls at higher flows and makes for a big smile.

"The Slide": This fall is one big water slide. Try it backwards if you're feeling lucky. At high flows, this drop does become a serious, river wide, very sticky reversal.

"The Big Drop": The tallest and funniest of the waterfalls. It's about 10 feet high, but don't worry, the pool is nice and deep. So you can practice your boof or go right over and pencil in if you want. Use caution, the level of water would determine the depth of this pool. However, you can go over from the left, or all the way over on the right side. Change it up a little for some extra fun. There are some nice rock slides here too for a different drop approach.

"The Last Drop": A little right/left gets you over the last drop right into a large pool of water. You can wait here and watch the rest of your group catch up with you. There is also enough room on this last waterfall to paddle back up and try to get behind the fall up against the rocks.

(this picture shows Dan running "The Big Drop," but it's a good shot of the "The Last Drop")

The takeout is on river left.
GPS Coordinates at Google Maps.

River left is best for scouting and hiking back and forth. The left side also has the best places for picture taking.

Sometimes after a nice long day of boofing, the best thing to do is go back to the beginning of the gorge, cross the creek to the right side and hike straight up to the dirt road.

Other nearby rivers:
Big Creek: Fish Camp to Chowchilla Mt. Road
NF Willow Creek

Local Clubs:
For more information on this and other local paddling areas, please feel free to contact these local clubs: NEW Kayak Club, or Gold Country Paddlers.

You can get more information from California's Whitewater Community at

Other Information Sources:
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 18:45:34


Stream team editor

Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 14 2008 (3898 days ago)
Chris TulleyDetails
Stellar underrated V run! Consistant gradient of South Silver style granite bedrock interspersed
with technical boulder gardens. A group of 5 of us ran this 4/9/06. Here is what we found:

We had what we deemed a great boatable flow of ~200 to 250 cfs, for a class V run down to S.
Merced. Note: the online guage is way off (it read 17 cfs the day we ran it) while the Merced below
Briceburg was @ 3800 and falling due to recent rain. (Chris is refering to a gauge that is no
longer listed on this page. It was gauging a diversion from the creek rather than the creek itself.
The gauge now linked is on an adjacent creek of similar size. Hopefully flows are fairly similar
between the two drainages and the present gauge has better accuracy - PM)

Lots (10+) of classic Sierra bedrock drops of 10-20 ft. Some great slides and big boofs. Some
sections of technical class V boulder drops that reminded me "Big Creek" in the Smokies (classic SE
squeal like a pig creeking). We did not experience the "brush" referenced in the streamkeepers
description. Lots of horizon lines to keep you on your

1)At our flow (~200-250cfs) the 4th drop of significance (shown in above description as the
"slide") becomes a nasty river wide hole that should be treated with extreme caution, as it is
basically becomes a low head dam. We vertically extracted someone from here and it was not
2) Wood. There were a few big logs that looks like they could shift around. That said there was a
nasty log jam strainer at the very bottom of the second major boulder garder rapid. Which was
several hundred yards long. The strainer was basically blind and a bit walled out. Scout/walk high
river left.
Other than this all the rapids were runnable and had clean, albeit sometimes narrow lines. Expect
to get out of your boat to scout frequently.

PI: The gate was locked for us just after crossing the golf course. There is limited but discrete
parking here. The hike is ~2 miles.
TO: We parked at a pull off with a restroom ~1 mi downstream of S. Merced bridge near Wawona.
Shuttle is super short and could be walked.

TIME: First time runs by mere class V mortals should expect 4 or more hours to scout and run this
~2 mile stretch.

OVERALL RATING: 9 out of 10.

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