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Difficulty III-IV
Length 3.44 Miles
Flow Range 400 - 2400 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 26.9 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 04/29/2015 11:07 pm

River Description

Yosemite Valley is one of the most beautiful places to boat, but it is even a bit nicer when you can do a bit of surfing in view of El Capitan or Bridalveil Falls.   In the upstream valley float trip to El Cap Meadows, one can relax and just stare up at the cliffs.   Below El Cap, boaters get to enjoy one of the most fun sections on the entire Merced River. 

The run starts off meandering through El Capitan Meadow, then gradually picks up some gradient.  Much of the distance contains long class 2 and class 3 rapids, but at the very end are several class 4 rapids.   Most of the rapids tend to be quite long and busy, yet fairly easy.   It is very different than most of the rapids on the main Merced below El Portal. 

If you boat all the way to the highway 120/ 140 junction there is one last rapid that is probably class 5, but most boaters on this section will take out a ways before that rapid. The road is near to the river over most of the distance so boaters may take out at any point.   Scout carefully and choose the access points that look the best to you.  The new 2014 Merced River Plan may specify best access points.

When accessing the river or stopping along the way, do your best to stay on the rocks, gravel or sand.  Stay off the streamside vegetation, so it stays healthy and strong.

Permits:   As of 2015, boating is allowed on this nice section of river.  Permits are not required yet, but may be required in the future. See this link;  Yosemite Water Activities - for park rules on when and where you can boat.    Since it is such a nice section, whitewater boaters lobbied the park to make it legal to boat here.   In the past, boating this section was fairly common, then for about 2 decades it was not allowed.   Yosemite search and rescue  holds annual whitewater training on this section in the spring. 

El Cap Meadow to Pohono

In addition to stunning views of El Capitan, Sentinel and Bridal Veil Falls, this section contains significant whitewater and should only be run by those with appropriates skills. Also, there is a significant amount of large woody debris in this section. Higher flows significantly change the nature of this run, increasing the difficulty from a Class III/IV to a solid Class IV + with potentially long swims when things go wrong.


A gentle sweeping bend around El Cap Meadow drops you straight into the top of Bridal Veil Rapid Class III+/ IV, the longest rapid on the section. The first half of rapid picks its way through a boneyard of rocks and channels. Higher flows offer a more defined line. Half way through the rapid the majority of the river flow starts to shift river left. Look for large rocks on the left bank with stranded timbers. A small series of ledges make up the final third of the rapid. At high flows large powerful hydraulics develop. The exit to the rapid is split into three distinct channels with a large recovery pool at the bottom. The easiest option is to run river right. Scout from is from river right. This rapid can also be scouted as you run your shuttle. Parking at the far end of the Bridal Veil Falls viewing area gives you a great spot to view this rapid.


Rapid-The next rapid typically runs river leftand can be bony.


Rapid- The following rapid the river funnels right and splits around a small island. Keep your eye open for timber in this section.


Rapid-Screaming Left Turn. Look for large amount of timber straight ahead. The rapid funnels left down a rocky chute.


Rapid- Bridal Veil Creek comes in left series of small riffles.


Rapid- Right Turn. Look for large boulders on left bank and in river. Distinct run along right bank.


Rapid - S Turn - Flow moves to river left. Look for a distinct triangular rock in the middle of the channel and an obvious horizon line to the left. There are two routes for this rapid - mid channel left, with a smooth pour over with powerful eddies on the left, and right or run right with a sharp change of direction. The center rock has a rock sieve at high flows. At high flows a significant hydraulic develops across the left side of the river. The eddy line on the left side of the triangular rock is deceptively powerful and has trapped swimmers, violently circulating them in the past


Rapid - Bridal Veil View. Look for obvious parking lot and viewing area on river left. There is a restroom across highway. The river widens and shallows on river right with timber marooned mid stream. Look for a tight shoot on river left with over hanging alders. This channel holds the best depth throughout the season, and if you have to drag your boat here the rest of the run is too dry to boat! (around 200cfs)


Rapid - Fern Spring Wave. At various levels a small surfing wave comes a little upstream of Fern Spring.


Rapid - Pohono Bridge. A small series of waves under the bridge.


Rapid - Immediately below Pohono the river splits with bony channels left and right. Stay left at higher flows.


Rapid - The Gates. III+ Scout this from the road, it is just upstream from the takeout. Above the rapid look for a long pool with large boulders in midstream. Eddy out on river left to scout from bank. The Gates has a distinct ledge that angles from midstream to river right. The left run (The Gates) enters high on river left and makes a sharp right turn to avoid bow deflecting rocks bordering a narrow channel. A more challenging run on river right has a sharp drop into a large partially submerged rock at medium flows. There is potential to get pinned with this route. At high flows it sets up a large hydraulic adding to the excitement. You can regroup below the rapid at small riffles and eddies.


Rapid - Horns Hole. III. Scout from road. At higher flows The Gates and Horn's Hole become one rapid. At lower flows eddy out on river right to scout. The river makes a right turn with a sharp rocky drop. Look for a Room of Doom tucked under the left shore at the bottom of this rapid. At high flows the water pushes right against a steep rock wall. At lower flows a left run is possible through a bony shoot. This rapid has a history of catching large timber and producing significant strainer hazards, so make sure to always scout this rapid for new hazards. This rapid is named after a ranger who made a spectacular capsized run through the boniest parts of the rapid.


Take Out - Look for a takeout on river right.


Table Rock – The end of this section is marked by a large boulder in the middle of the river. Look for a large retaining wall on river right above the water line. The rapid immediately below Table Rock is the beginning of the Class V+/VI Merced Gorge, which is significantly harder than anything on the Pohono Section. Be sure to scout your take out, to be sure that you do not accidentally run this rapid.

Other Information Sources:
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Water Activities

Merced & SF Merced 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

Rapid Descriptions

El Capitan Meadow Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

There is quite a bit of parking in this area.   The river is flat for almost a mile providing plenty of opportunity to enjoy the tremendous views.   Elevation is 3955 feet.

First Rapid

Class - III Mile - 0.78
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The first rapid is the longest of the whole run, dropping 30 feet over 1/3 of a mile. 

Pohono Bridge

Class - III Mile - 2.54
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

My recollection is that there is a good set of rapids running under this bridge.   The gauge is located at this bridge also. 

Big Rapid

Class - V Mile - 3.25
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The last one or two rapids are much bigger and out of character with the rest of the run.  Most boaters will want to take out before these rapids.  Scout this area carefully before you launch on the river.   I remember thinking the final rapid was class 5, but there may have been logs in it as well.   Seems like the second to last rapid was class 4.   These memories are from boating them in a long pointy boat, so judge accordingly. 


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3 years ago

Ran this section twice in mid June 2016 in a 14' raft, ~1000cfs. Took out above "The Gates" because there didn't appear to be entry point for the left run large enough for a raft. Bridal Veil Rapid was fun. Not sure if the run is worth the ~2 miles of flat water (@~1000cfs) paddling unless you can run rapids all the way to Table Rock. The run would probably be significantly better for a raft >=2000cfs.

Gage Descriptions

The Pohono gauge is on this section, so flows reported by that gauge are what you will have.    The boatable season is during the spring snowmelt into early summer.  



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




article main photo

Merced in Yosemite–Officially Open at Last!!

Megan Hooker

On Friday, April 24, 2015, the Merced River in Yosemite National Park was officially reopened to paddlers! Even though the new Wild and Scenic River Plan was finalized a year ago, the actual rules and regulations for the Park were finally updated on Friday. This marks the culmination of seven years of sustained engagement by American Whitewater with the National Park Service and other stakeholders. 
article main photo

Yosemite National Park Releases Final Merced River Plan

Megan Hooker

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.

article main photo

Paddling in Yosemite–Comments Due April 18th

Megan Hooker

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!

article main photo

ACTION ALERT–Help to open Yosemite to boating!

Megan Hooker

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!

article main photo

Merced River Plan Suggestions Needed by Feb 4, 2010

Paul D. Martzen

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.


Matt Muir


Paul Martzen


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1194748 03/12/09 n/a n/a
1197112 01/18/10 Paul Martzen
1203168 03/20/14 Paul Martzen Minor edits
1203090 02/18/14 Paul Martzen Merced Plan udate
1204595 04/29/15 Paul Martzen added rapid descriptions by Moose