Merced - 2) El Cap Meadow to Highway 120 / 140 junction.

Merced, California, US


2) El Cap Meadow to Highway 120 / 140 junction. (Pohono)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (for normal flows)
Length 3.44 Miles
Avg. Gradient 40 fpm
Max Gradient 63 fpm

Merced River, Yosemite Valley

Merced River, Yosemite Valley
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe @ 350 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-11266500 400 - 2400 cfs III-IV 00h25m 189 cfs (too low)

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

Permit Information

Boaters are not required to register with the park before launching on the river.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-04-29 23:07:03

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0El Capitan Meadow BridgeN/APutin
0.8First RapidIII
2.5Pohono BridgeIII
3.3Big RapidV

Rapid Descriptions

El Capitan Meadow Bridge (Class N/A)

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 0.8)

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

Pohono Bridge (Class III, Mile 2.5)

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 3.3)

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. 

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 19 2017 (643 days ago)
Theresa SimsimanDetails
HAZARD Information from Yosemite NPS 4-19-17 - El Cap to Table Rock Section. There is a river wide
strainer immediately below Pohono Bridge. It is a large tree that spans bank to bank. Overall,
significant amounts of woody debris are found throughout the section. All boaters should have an
extremely high awareness of potential hazards in the river and down side channels. Stumps and cut
logs have been washed into the river and have hung up throughout the run.
June 29 2016 (937 days ago)
gustaf_smash (158370)
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

Associated Projects

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