This photo needs editing.
Difficulty IV
Length 17 Miles
Gauge RIVER NEAR BRICEBURG
Flow Range 400 - 8000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 94 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 02/25/2015 1:14 am

River Description


This section of the Merced is usually done as a continuation of the upstream 5) Redbud to Briceburg section. However, if continuing all the way to Bagby, the logistics get very different.  Instead of a fine highway along the whole length, there is only a dusty gravel road for part of the ways below Briceburg.  There is a long and big Quarter Mile Rapid, followed immediately by a big portage at North Fork Falls.  Then there are easy rapids leading into flat water paddling on Lake McClure.  Shuttle requires driving up highway 140 into Mariposa, then down highway 49 to Bagby Recreation Area on Lake McLure. 

BRICEBURG TO RAILROAD FLAT, the end of road access from upstream
This section is very different from the Merced River upstream of this point. It still has continuous road access, but on a dirt road along the river right side. The banks are steeper with more short rocky faces, the channel is narrower, and the rapids more pool-and-drop style than the long continuous boulder fields upstream. It stays more enjoyably paddle-able at the lowest flows.

The first mile and a half or so are relatively flat, with only a couple of constrictions and/or turns forming easy (class 2+/-?) rapids. Around this point, you can see some large metal plates in the right(road) bank; on the road, there may be some large metal plates visible depending upon how much dirt is around. This is the siphon/pump station that provides the town of Mariposa with its municipal water supply, and also the site and reason for the flow gauge "below Briceburg." There is a good beach here at low/moderate flows.

Below this point, the river starts to accelerate until it reaches a couple of class 3 rapids close to McCabe Flat. If not careful, the first of two class 4 rapids, "Split Rock", can sneak up on the unwary. At low/moderate flows, this shouldn't be a problem as the route is pretty much straight down the middle in the tongue. At moderate/higher flows, some scary holes can form, and this rapid becomes essentially one with the next rapid, a somewhat harder (at most flows) rapid called "Corner Pocket" for very good reason.

Warning - at moderate to high flows, Split Rock and Corner Pocket can run together into one large and scary complex rapid. Scouting thouroughly before deciding to run this is strongly recommended, given the rocky nature of the rapids and the eddy trap at the bottom.

Corner Pocket can be scouted and portaged at the campground on river right, McCabe Flat. It is a rocky angular pore-over several feet tall, at the bottom of a rocky lead-in. If one enters or gets pushed too far to the left, you end up in the Corner Pocket at the bottom, river left. The first time I saw this feature, I watched six kayaks follow into this like lemmings. All six ended up swimming out, with the boats tumbling in the pocket for later retrieval. The current below the pore-over splits, and the left flow goes up against a flat wall that forms a very strong recirculating eddy. Bank access on this side is not as easy as it could be, and like everything else along this reach, infested with poison oak.

Below this point, flat paddling is occasionally broken up by short class 2-3 rapids of no real notability. After 2 1/2 more miles, take out at the end of the driveable road at Railroad Flat campsite.

RAILROAD FLAT TO HWY 49 AT BAGBY
There is no road access from this point to the take out at Bagby, where the river crosses under a bridge on Hwy 49 north of Mariposa. The old railroad bed turns into a foot and mountain bike trail along the river right side. Take out at Bagby has changed hands in the past couple of years, may have been purchased by state or fed. park mgt. ageny. The precise status is unknown (other than it is available and can be used) at this time to the author; I intend to make another run down this way in the near future, and will then be able to pass on the most current info.

The first mile or two below Railroad Flat is enjoyable and acenic, if not particularly challenging. The prime feature of this section is a rapid called "Quarter Mile." Actualy feeling more like a half mile, it is a tighter channel with continuous pool and drop features that can be boat scouted along the way, eddy hopped and dropped with continuous amusement at low to moderate flows. At higher flows, this could prove to be a significant and ugly trap.

300 yards past the end of Quarter Mile is an impassible Class 6 called North Fork Falls, where the North Fork of the Merced joins the Main Merced. There are several very large flat and blocky boulders that much of the river flows UNDERNEATH! If there is even the slightest chance of missing this mandatory portage, don't!

At North Fork Falls, there is a pipe skid rig up the right side for rafter use. This is a short portage if one continues down lessening Class 2/3 rapids, and ending at the upper end of Lake McClure if the lake is full, and continuing to Bagby if the lake is low. The alternative for kayakers is to portage the 3(?) miles back up to Railroad Flat. Quarter Mile rapid is fun enough that I have endured this portage more than once and not for the last time.

National Wild & Scenic River 
The Merced is part of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system.   The included sections are from the headwaters of the main fork all the way to elevation 867 feet which is the high water mark of Lake McLure.  The entire South Fork Merced is also included. Merced Irrigation District is currently promoting congressional action to remove a portion of the Merced River from the National Wild & Scenic system so that they may enlarge their reservoir. 
See House Bill H.R. 869

 

Other Information Sources
Cacreeks.com
BLM Merced page.
Merced River Watershed Portal
Cassady & Calhoun, Holbek & Stanley, Martin, Penny
Bagby Recreation Area
Merced Irrigation District
CDEC: McClure Reservoir data
 

Rapid Descriptions

Briceburg

Class - N/A Mile - -95

There is a big parking area with toilets. Carry boats over bedrock to the river. There is a BLM visitor center in the old Briceburg buildings. The bridge is just downstream and makes an obvious landmark.

Split Rock

Class - IV Mile - -91.6

Split Rock can sneak up on the unwary. At low/moderate flows, this shouldn't be a problem as the route is pretty much straight down the middle in the tongue. At moderate/higher flows, some scary holes can form, and this rapid becomes essentially one with the next rapid, a somewhat harder (at most flows) rapid called "Corner Pocket" for very good reason.

Corner Pocket

Class - IV Mile - -91.5

Corner Pocket can be scouted and portaged at the campground on river right, McCabe Flat. It is a rocky angular pore-over several feet tall, at the bottom of a rocky lead-in. If one enters or gets pushed too far to the left, you end up in the Corner Pocket at the bottom, river left. The first time I saw this feature, I watched six kayaks follow into this like lemmings. All six ended up swimming out, with the boats tumbling in the pocket for later retrieval. The current below the pore-over splits, and the left flow goes up against a flat wall that forms a very strong recirculating eddy. Bank access on this side is not as easy as it could be, and like everything else along this reach, infested with poison oak.

It is common to take out at the campground immediately below Corner Pocket.

Quarter Mile

Class - IV Mile - -85

Quarter Mile Rapid has a tighter channel with continuous pool and drop features that can be boat scouted along the way, eddy hopped and dropped with continuous amusement at low to moderate flows. The actual length of the rapid is about 1/2 mile. At higher flows, the drops blend together and there is the great danger of being swept into North Fork Falls.

North Fork Falls

Class - VI Mile - -84.5

Mandatory Portage on River Right:
300 yards past the end of Quarter Mile is an impassible Class 6 called North Fork Falls.  The North Fork of the Merced joins the Main Merced just below. At the base of the falls, there are several very large flat and blocky boulders.  Much of the river flows UNDERNEATH these BOULDERS!  If there is even the slightest chance of missing this mandatory portage, don't boat the rapids above it!

At North Fork Falls, there is a pipe skid rig up the right side for rafter use.

Proposed Max Reservoir Elevation

Class - N/A Mile - -84.3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

House Bill HR 869, submitted in 2011 will amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to allow filling McClure Reservoir to an elevation of 877 feet.  This will extend the reservoir into the Wild section and past the FERC project boundary.

FERC boundary line for Merced Project

Class - N/A Mile - -84.2

The FERC boundary for McClure reservoir is a short ways past NF Falls and upstream of the reservoir full pool elevation.   River elevation at this line is approximately 876 feet.

Reservoir Max Elevation at present

Class - N/A Mile - -83.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The maximum elevation of the reservoir is 867 feet.   If the reservoir is full, flat water will back up to this point on the river.   The river is declared Wild down to this point in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act amendment:  Public Law No: 102-432 enacted on 9/29/1992

Bagby Recreation Area - Shepard's Point

Class - N/A Mile - -80.15
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Bagby Recreation Area is operated by Merced Irrigation District.  There is a $7 per vehicle day use fee. 

Elevation 800 feet

Class - N/A Mile - -75
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

River will reach this far when the reservoir is down to 800 feet in elevation.

Elevation 700 feet

Class - N/A Mile - -72
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The river will reach this far if the reservoir is at 700 feet elevation.

Elevation 600 feet

Class - N/A Mile - -68.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

During times of drought, the reservoir can drop very low.  If it drops to 600 feet, the river change to reservoir here.

Comments

Gage Descriptions

Flow (cfs) Flow
Character
Description
400-1200 Low Great for eager first timers and experienced rafters. Class III+ / IV- whitewater.
Many surfing and play opportunities, especially for smaller boats pursuing aggressive lines. River may be very bony in places, especially below 1000 cfs.
1200-3000 Medium Great for aggresive first timers and experienced rafters. Plenty of Class III & IV whitewater.
3000-6000 Medium-High Challenging Class IV whitewater, exciting for experienced rafters. Big waves and swift moving water.
6000-8000 High Fast moving water, with powerful waves and continuous rapids that may exceed one mile in length. Experience is highly recommended
8000+ Extremely High

Near-Continuous Class V Whitewater with few eddies that may be guarded by powerful eddy fences. The Merced at this level is approaching floodstage. The riverbank on both sides is lined with trees that become very dangerous strainers. Major rapids may be unrunnable. Scouting should be comprehensive for the entire river length.

To see how much flat water you will have to paddle on McClure reservoir, check  CDEC: McClure Reservoir data  Look at the elevation data.

Permits

NA

Directions Description


We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports

Alerts

News

article main photo

Action Alert! Speak Up for CA Rivers Threatened by Drought Bills

5/23/2014
Megan Hooker

The Senate unanimously passed a drought relief bill for California last night. There's a good chance that important river protections, restoration efforts and the Wild and Scenic Merced will get caught in the middle when the bill goes to conference in the House. Help us keep these river protections strong! No matter your home state, contact your Senators and Representatives to speak up for rivers in California and Wild and Scenic Rivers everywhere!

article main photo

Bill to Roll Back Merced Wild and Scenic Boundary Reintroduced (CA)

3/15/2013
Megan Hooker

Efforts to roll back the boundary of California's Wild and Scenic Merced River are picking up again. H.R. 934 was recently introduced in the House, and if passed it would open the door for Merced Irrigation District to increase the height of the spillway at New Exchequer Dam by 10 feet and expand McClure Reservoir. Not only would this drown a segment of an outstanding river, but it would be the first time in the 45 year history of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that a designated reach would be shortened in the name of development.

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House Passes Bill to Flood Wild and Scenic Merced

6/22/2012
Megan Hooker

On Tuesday, the House passed HR 2578, a package of 14 bills that included a proposal to roll back the boundary of the Wild and Scenic Merced River and allow the Merced Irrigation District to raise the elevation of McClure Reservoir. This isn't a done deal yet, and the bill goes to the Senate next.  Thanks to everyone who contacted their Representatives - please keep the effort on and contact your Senators and ask them to protect the Wild and Scenic Merced. 

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ACTION ALERT: Merced Wild and Scenic Rollback Vote Next Week

6/14/2012
Megan Hooker

Congressional efforts to turn part of the Wild and Scenic Merced River into a reservoir are heating up, and American Whitewater needs your continued help in standing up for the Merced and all Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Merced bill is packaged with other bills that are bad for public lands, and will go to the House floor next week.  

 
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Zachary W Collier

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Paul Martzen

Revisions

Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190244 09/15/08 Zachary W Collier n/a
1195119 05/29/09 Paul Martzen
1201300 05/16/12 Paul Martzen added rapids
1201299 05/16/12 Paul Martzen Separated reach from upstream
1201304 05/16/12 Paul Martzen Minor edits
1201305 05/16/12 Paul Martzen Change photo, added HR 869 link
1204225 02/25/15 Paul Martzen McClure CDEC links added