Merced - 4) Park Boundary to Redbud

Merced, California, US


4) Park Boundary to Redbud (El Portal)

Usual Difficulty IV-V (for normal flows)
Length 4 Miles

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Merced At Red Bud
dream-139 400 - 4000 cfs IV-V 138d09h14m 39 cfs (too low)
usgs-11266500 250 - 2500 cfs IV-V 01h00m 345 cfs (running)

River Description

Not very commonly run, especially after it got widened and changed significantly in January 1997. From Parkline to the Hwy 140 Bridge, it is continuous Class 4/5 with very few short breaks and only at lower flows. This is very boulder-y and wide.  There are large turnouts and convenient access to the river at the upstream end of the hotels.  This is right at the park boundary.  The river drops steeply behind the hotels then comes back next to the road at Crane Creek.  The gradient eases somewhat below Crane Creek.  The river is visible and accessible from the road through El Portal to just above the Highway 140 bridge where it is hidden but accessible in two short sections. 

Put in at the small parking spots on the down-canyon end of the bridge, better on the upstream (east/upcanyon lane) side of the bridge. There is room for 3 cars if all think/plan accordingly when parking on this side. Take-out at the Foresta Bridge/Red Bud site.

From the Hwy 140 Bridge in El Portal down past the NPS Admin, Maint, and sewer plant to the Foresta Bridge is about the farthest upstream segment that is commonly paddled. This run is almost instantly and continuously challenging with almost no room for a "warm up," and at most flows, few breaks or rest spots. Approx. 10 years ago a group of raft guides put in just above this run at relatively high flow and with only an hour or so of daylight left. Their raft flipped almost immediately, and the swimmers were swept a mile or more downstream through this section. One died.

This segment is best at flows from 1000 cfs to 4000 cfs or so; at some point in that range, it becomes essentially 3 or 4 long and continuous Class 4 rapids, with only a couple of very short breaks that can be missed as you go by. It doesn't let up until you get down close to Hwy 140 and the Sewer Plant. Above 5000 cfs, this can become one continuous and unforgiving Class 5 rapid more than a mile long.

At lower levels - approx. 350 cfs on the Pohono gauge - this section requires much maneuvering to avoid rocks, and two short portages are recommended highly to avoid rocky traps. The first is at a rapid called Boomer at the upstream end of the NPS Gravel Pit area and past the trailer village and research station on the left. The river will obviously open out on the left bank here as it sweeps around a left turn. The second is the final rocky pour-through just above the sewer plant and easily scouted from the road on either side.

At higher flows than above, Boomer goes best staying far left (there is a very large hole and small brush/rock island right). It can be difficult to see the actual Boomer Rock from upstream due to the water piling around it. Boomer can be easily road scouted from the Foresta Road on the side opposite Hwy 140. It is just downstream from Rancheria Road, the relatively new NPS housing area, and the old circular concrete sewer plant now overgrown with weeds. The Sewer Plant pour through becomes relatively inconsequential aside from the small tree/brush in the middle. It can be easily/best road-scouted from the Hwy 140 side.

One other feature towards the bottom of this run deserves a mention and possibly a warning. At the bottom of the straight run below Boomer is a small island on river right with a tight passage between island and back. The major rapid-forming feature is a complex of several very large round boulders at the downstream end of the channel. It was great fun to run through and over at higher flows - 3000+ - the year it formed, 1997. It has been unrunnable since, due to trees which fell down and blocked it. Last year at the end of the paddling season, a couple of civic-minded locals removed them in the name of "Preventative SAR (Search and Rescue). Having looked at the trap/pin potential in these boulders, I'm not sure I'll ever run that way again.

Merced River Planning Process:   Yosemite National Park released their Merced Wild and Scenic Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, and we're very pleased to announce that the Park Service has improved and enhanced opportunities to enjoy Yosemite via kayak, canoe and raft. The new plan places paddling on equal footing with other activities in the Park by managing visitor numbers similar to hiking and other backcountry uses. The plan considers river segments as "water trails" or backcountry routes

Permit Information

Starting in 2014, Yosemite Park is requiring self registration for any boaters paddling this section. The exact method for this self registration has not yet been publicized.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-02-18 20:34:49

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
2.0Highway 140 bridgeN/AAccess

Rapid Descriptions

Highway 140 bridge (Class N/A, Mile 2.0)

The highway 140 bridge provides an access point and a transition to slightly easier rapids.  The rapids start off immediately, are big, and with little space in between them. 

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Associated Projects

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