Floating the Merced River in Yosemite Valley
In 2014, Yosemite National Park released its Final Merced Wild and Scenic Comprehensive River Management Plan, bringing paddling on the Merced River on equal footing with hiking, climbing and other activities. River segments are considered to be “water trails,” akin to other backcountry routes. Depending on the reach, boaters will be required to secure a backcountry permit or self-register before putting on the river. For the Merced in Yosemite Valley, currently, Yosemite National Park does not require permits for private boaters to paddle or row the recreational sections of the Merced River. However, they will monitor use and associated impacts and may, at a later date, implement a more formal permit system.
It is important for paddlers, and any other visitors to Yosemite Valley, to recognize that this Park receives over 4 million visitors per year. Any impact from an individual, no matter how small, can become significant when multiplied by the number of visitors that come to Yosemite Valley. As on every river, paddlers are responsible for protecting and respecting the natural environment within the Park, and can set a good example of how to recreate on the river and, more generally, throughout the Park.
Aside from the obvious recommendation to exhibit good safe boating practices while on the river, paddlers should also adhere to the following rules and recommendations when paddling through Yosemite Valley:
Use only designated put in and take out areas. Currently these areas include, Clarks Bridge, the El Cap cross over Bridge, and between Pohono Bridge and the Highway 120/ 140 Junction.
If you stop on the river, only use un-vegetated bars and beaches.
Large woody debris (trees) in the river will remain in place as part of the natural ecosystem. If you need to portage, do so in a manner that minimizes any bank erosion.
Restrooms within walking distance of the river are located at Swinging Bridge, Sentinel Beach and Cathedral Beach (The last two are only opened seasonally). Please note where the accessible restroom facilities are before you embark on your trip.
Floating on the Merced River is one the nicest ways to view Yosemite Valley. A slow float trip allows one to stare at the cliffs and waterfalls for long periods and appreciate the more subtle aspects. The roads are far enough away that the traffic noise is much reduced; even absent in spots. The river is wide enough and trees are far enough back to allow wonderful views of the valley walls. Experienced boaters will tend to prefer spring floats in order to view the waterfalls at their peaks and to avoid the summer crowds. Floating is legal as long as there is enough space for floaters to pass underneath the Sentinel Bridge (Flow on the Pohono Gauge 7.5 feet on the Sentinel Bridge ).
While most of the float through Yosemite is flatwater, there are sections of swiftwater, especially in the upper and lower sections of the Valley.
Equipment: Craft are required to be in good condition and designed to handle the class of whitewater on a reach. Rafts for reaches with Class II or higher whitewater must be high performance multi-chamber craft or high performance single-chamber pack rafts designed for whitewater. The number of people in any vessel would not be allowed to exceed the manufacturer’s stated capacity.
Each boater must have a serviceable, US Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (PFD) Type I, III, or V. These PFDs must be maintained in good condition in compliance with the USCG standards and must be worn and fastened properly at all times while on the river. All PFDs must have a USCG approved label stating the PFD is designed for whitewater rafting, canoeing, sailing, paddling and/or kayaking. General boating or ski vests are prohibited.
Put in: The recommended put in is at Clark’s Bridge, near the Upper and Lower Pines Campground. The preferred launch is from a beach on the river left, adjacent to the RV dump station, which is upstream of the bridge. This area is for unloading only. Please find area that will not block traffic those wishing to use the dump station. After unloading, it is best to park your vehicle in one of the parking areas near Curry Village.
Take out option 1: For those not wishing to run the Class III / IV section down to Pohono Bridge, takeout will be on the east end of El Cap Meadow, where the bridge crosses the Merced. The best take out location is upstream of the left bridge abutment. There is considerable parking along El Cap Meadow and on the south side of the bridge near the bear boxes. To reach this takeout, take the left hand turn past Pohono Bridge, where the sign points to Highway 41, 120 and 140. Just past the bridge at the west end of El Cap Meadow, the road becomes one way. You may need to loop back down to the west end of the Valley after dropping your shuttle vehicle. In the late spring, there is a shuttle bus that can pick you up here and take you back to Curry Village.
Directions: As you enter the Valley from Mariposa or Groveland, drop a shuttle vehicle near El Capitan Bridge (see take-out options above). Take a left back on the main road and follow the signs to Yosemite Valley destinations. Follow signs to Curry Village past the Highway 41 junction. Continue past Curry Village and take a left at the next stop sign. Follow signs to Upper and Lower Pines Campground, before you cross the bridge turn into the Upper Pines Campground, the dump station will be on your left. Remember that this area is for unloading only.
Parking: There is parking available across from Curry Village, and in the main Village parking area. You will have a ten minute walk back to the put-in.
Hazards: Logs and strainers are common along the length of this reach. They will change position from year to year during the high flow season. At times logs may completely block the channel. Logs and woody debris play an important part in the river ecosystem and the park service will not manage logs or allow boaters to remove logs. The river will move them on its own from year to year, so be prepared to portage logs that block the river. Water temperature will be cold all year long, and in the spring it will be ice cold.
Clark Bridge to El Cap MeadowThe river from the Clark Bridge to El Cap meadow is Class I and II, with most of the swifter water towards the top of the run. This section of the river has more development than in the west end of the valley. That being said, spectacular views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and other Valley landmarks can be seen from the river.
Boat launching is no longer allowed at this location or anywhere above Stoneman Bridge. The river below here is swiftwater with riffles and numerous logs. The logs are easily recognized and avoided (usually) by boaters with river experience and boat control.
Because of the streamside campgrounds, floaters do continue to launch in this area, despite signs prohibiting floating. It is also common for the park service to rescue inexperienced floaters from a couple spots where they are prone to washing into logs.
Park naturalists and biologists want logs to accumulate in the river in a natural fashion as they create habitat and have many ecological benefits. Where floaters are common and get in trouble on particular logs, those logs are usually removed or moved. Thus there is some conflict between the natural ecosystem and river recreation where novices float down the river.
Yosemite has chosen to limit the section where floaters are allowed on the river, so that logs and woody debris can naturally accumulate on the other sections of the river.
Stoneman Bridge is the highest legal launch point in recent years, (2010). Nearby parking and unloading areas can be difficult to find. The Curry consession raft rentals all launch on the downstream side of the bridge on river left. The park river biologists prefer for boaters to launch on the river right, downstream side of the bridge where there is a more gradual slope down to the river.
This is the mandatory take out for Curry Company rafts and for floaters without whitewater equipment. During rafting season, a rope with buoys will be strung across the river. Large signs direct boaters to take out at the large beach on the left. Curry Company employees make sure that all rental rafts and other floaters take out here.
Take out options are above and below the bridge on both sides of the river.
Flows in this reach will be just slightly higher than shown at the Happy Isles gauge, as Tenaya Creek comes in below the gauge.. The park service does not allow boating on this section when the river level is too high under the Sentinal bridge. "Rafting is not permitted whenever the river stage (depth) reads 6.5 feet or higher." Floating is also limited to the hours between 10 AM and 6 PM. Yosemite Water Activities
At this time it is not known what level on the Happy Isles gauge corresponds with the level that is closed to boating. Air tempurature readings can be found on the weather tab. We are searching for an online source for water tempurature readings.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
El Capitan from the Merced River
Raft launch area
Floating Past Bridal Veil Falls
Half Dome from the Merced
Half Dome, from Merced River
El Capitan, from Merced
Boating through Yosemite
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.
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.
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!
Yosemite National Park is currently seeking the public's input on how the Wild and Scenic Merced and Tuolumne Rivers will be managed in the future, including the question of whether to open them up to paddling. While we're pleased to see the park is considering lifing the ban in some areas, the preferred alternative for both rivers keeps the long-standing prohibition on paddling in place for the Tuolumne and on sections of the Merced. With your help, we can advocate more effectively for opening these stunning and amazing rivers to the public!
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
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.
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!