Big Creek - Fish Camp to South Fork Merced

Big Creek, California, US


Fish Camp to South Fork Merced

Usual Difficulty II-V (for normal flows)
Length 4.7 Miles
Avg. Gradient 100 fpm

Dan entering Tournaquit

Dan entering Tournaquit
Photo of Dan Hogg by Evan Lloyd

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
No. Willow Creek Near Sugar Pine
dream-270 80 - 200 cfs II-V 02h50m 29 cfs (too low)

River Description

This section features Big Creek in it's entirety. You can also see Big Creek-Middle Gorge from Chowchilla Mt. Road. Many people will hike in, just to run the middle gorge section. Even class 3 boaters may enjoy this section at low flows.

Please note: There are many more rapids on this creek than are what listed here. We documented the creek as best we could, but this description is not all inclusive. If you plan to run this entire section, from Fish Camp into Yosemite Park, be sure to give your self plenty of time. It will take you all day, and it is a long day at that. That said, you should really enjoy this creek. It is very beautiful and full of great white water.

Dan Hogg wrote on May 21, 20006:

I won't go into too much detail now, since I'm thoroughly wore out! What a Day! When flows get (lower), this would probably be awesome without being too pushy-fast. As it was today, I'd still call it awesome. Absolutely beautiful scenery as well as rapids.

Only three log portages at this flow. One log-limbo with an "Evan tree shuffle" afterwards. We scouted many horizon lines only to find most drops very runnable. One drop (after scouting wrong river-side, then hiking up creek to cross to correct scout side) left us deciding to portage. It had possible undercut with reversal near bottom of the drop. At lower flows it could be less menacing. Below that drop (along possible old stagecoach trail from Oakhurst-Wawona and above very old bridge pillars, still standing) we did a long seal launch into creek to run last two drops in that sequence of three.

Other mentionables include a long rapid -- didn't notice/find any catchable eddies and a blind horizon line on both sides of and island/slide rock in the middle. My best option was to paddle hard and beach myself on the rock island. I barely succeeded in time to watch Evan go by me slowly/painfully in/on the right channel into said blind drop. Luck was on our side again. He did a clean drop into very narrow channel with a 90degree left turn and did the best stop he could (wedged his boat between left and right rock walls till I was able to scount the final two drops in this sequence of three).

It's very funny now that after scouting and directing Evans route out of his blind position, his final question to me was "is it any harder than stuff we've already run?" Of course I had to say "of course not!". So after he watched me seal launch and disappear around the rocks, he slowly peeled out, ran the drops like a veteran actor following his directors lines PERFECTLY and ALL HE COULD SAY when caught me in the next eddy was, "LIAR". Actually it was funny at the moment too. After a few more turns, scouts, and fun runs down, we made it to the bridge (put-in for main gorge run). After some thinking we decided to hike out and meet our shuttle bunny. Very fun day and tiring also.

Most rapids/drops; 1st mile, class II-III warm-up. 1st gorge class IV-V drops with technical lines. Sometimes felt 8ft boat was too fast/long, quick-turning slower 7footer would be better(personal opinion) 2nd gorge, more blind class IV-V drops, always tight and technical. I would guestimate about 3.5-4.5 river miles down to Chowchilla Mtn. road (which I was told today was originally the stagecoach trail from Mariposa-Wawona).

Evan and I look forward to running this again soon. And to finish the run all the way to the S.F. Merced, which by the way, was really fun today as well from Wawona down 1-1.5 miles to the Wawona campground where we took out.


Evan Lloyd writes:

We returned a couple of weeks later to finish what we started. Once again, we started at Fish Camp and made our way down the gorge. It was much easier and faster this time, because we knew the lines and where to portage. We made it to the gorge in less than an hour.

After we ran the main section of the gorge, (see Lower Big Creek for this section) we proceeded to run the lower half of the gorge. This section had 4-5 more drops that were more technical, but fun.

Not long after that we reached another portage and decided to seal launch off a boulder instead of walk around. This worked out fine, except I did piton a bit entering the pool. Dan had no problems.

After the portage, you enter a long technical slalom section that is fun, but can be frustrating. It’s easy to get hung up on rocks, or not fit through certain slots. The good news is, it’s all pretty much read and run and you should be able to get through it without too many scouts.

Once you make it through the Slalom section, the creek opens up a bit and gives you 4 very nice rapids. They range in size from 5-12 feet drops and land you in nice pools. You should take the time to scout these drops to find the right line. The last rapid is comprised of three large drops that you would not want to run blind.

Finally, we portaged another junky section of downed trees and soon after re-entering the water, we found Big Creek merging with the much bigger Merced River. We floated down this class II section for about 1/2 mile where we reached the take out.

Mike Latendresse writes about his first descent of this river:
"On first descent there were 12 easy portages due to logs and one final nasty 13th portage. The last one was a log blocking an otherwise runnable Class V gorge. It was a nasty portage because of the gorge. We had to carry up 1/8 of a mile and then down 1/8 of a mile just to avoid this one log. It was steep, had loose dirt and was very strenuous. Other than that it was a Great run! If this last log is gone, I'd do it again."

Drive on Highway 41 to the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park. Just outside the park is the small town of Fish Camp. Big Creek passes through Fish Camp and there is a convenient put-in on the upstream side of the highway 41 bridge over the creek. Elevation is about 4960 feet (1513 meters).

Continue on highway 41 into Yosemite National Park and drive past Wawona. Shortly after you go through Wawona, you will see the Merced River on your left. There is a free parking lot on your left. Park here. Elevation is about 4470 feet or 1365 meters.

Big Creek runs close to highway 41 for the first 1.6 miles, but then it turns west into roadless area.

Google Earth has high resolution imagery of the first 4 miles of this section.


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 18:39:26


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Little HornIV
0.0Mr. Superstar5.0Waterfall
0.0User Friendly5.0
0.0White Coma5.0
0.0Upper Gorge5.0
0.0Organ Grinder5.0
0.0Lunch Box5.0
0.0Lower ThirdIV+
0.0Sweet Tooth
0.0My Monkey5.0

Rapid Descriptions

Tournequet (Class IV)
This is the 1st Class V of the run. It is a drop into a narrow gorge, that opens up and takes you down 3 distinctive drops.

Little Horn (Class IV)
This rapid follows Tourniquet.

Mr. Superstar (Class 5.0)
Directly after Little Horn, you get Mr. Superstar. It is best run on river left. River right will put you in a nice sized hole.

User Friendly (Class 5.0)
This rapid has a fun slide as a lead in.

White Coma (Class 5.0)
You will find many rapids of this size on Big Creek.

Upper Gorge (Class 5.0)
This is the reward for your hard work. This gorge has 5-6 clean drops into deep pools.

Kaboom (Class III+)
Ledge Drop

Lunch Box (Class 5.0)
Possible sneak on river right

This portage came about 1/4 mile past the lower gorge

Lower Third (Class IV+)
Read and run

Sweet Tooth
This rapid has 3 large drops.

My Monkey (Class 5.0)
Last big drop on Big Creek

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Associated Projects

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