Merced - 6) Merced Falls to Snelling Diversion Dam

Merced, California, US


6) Merced Falls to Snelling Diversion Dam

Usual Difficulty I (for normal flows)
Avg. Gradient 2 fpm
Max Gradient 3 fpm

Beginners Gold

Beginners Gold
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 07/23/08 @ 1,400 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
cdec-MMF 300 - 5000 cfs I 01h16m 174 cfs (too low)

River Description

This is a very pretty section that has dependable irrigation flows through the summer. It is mostly flat water paddling, but there is steady current for the first half of the trip. There are two small riffles early on, then one nice class 1 rapid near the halfway point. The last one third to one half of the trip is on the slow water impounded by the Snelling diversion dam.

Highlights of the trip are the interesting scenery and frequent sightings of osprey, herons, egrets and various waterfowl.
The total on water distance of the trip from Hornitos road to Snelling Diversion dam (Crocker Huffman dam) is about 3.4 miles.  A portage around the left side of Merced Falls dam is about 1/10 of a mile.

Put in:
Launch at large turnout next to the Hornitos Road bridge, on the north side of Merced Falls forebay. Paddle down and across the lake to the left side of the Merced Falls dam. Do an easy but fairly long portage around the end of the dam and back to the right side where the river emerges from the small powerhouse.

Take out:
As you approach Snelling diversion dam, (officially called the Crocker-Hoffman Diversion Dam), stay to the far right, especially at higher flows. Take out on the bank to the right of the dam and carry a couple hundred yards to the Crocker-Hoffman Dam fishing access parking area. Alternatively, portage the dam with some difficulty and take out a few hundred yards downstream where the highway comes close to the river.

Other Information Sources:

Merced River Hatchery can be open to the public, weekdays from 8 AM to 5 PM. They raise salmon and steelhead. However, the drive in is a couple miles of rough gravel road without direction signs. The fish pens are locked up and there may not be anyone there unless you call ahead. It is easier to paddle across the river from the take-out, especially during periods of low flow.

Merced Irrigation District

Merced Irrigation District Parks Department
9090 Lake McClure Road
Snelling, CA 95369

Merced River Watershed Library
Lower Merced River and Mustang Creek Watersheds Study


FERC Information:

Merced Falls Project: FERC # P-2467, license expires in 2014, so PG&E is probably starting or getting ready to start their relicensing process. It is a small run of the river project, but in water year 2005-2006, this project generated 13,806,300 KWH of electricity.


The National Marine Fisheries Service claims that,  "Although  the P-2467 project  is owned by PG&E, it is operated by the Merced Irrigation District (MID), the Licensee  for the Merced River Hydroelectric  Project (P-2179), which  is located  just upstream of P-2467.  MID operates  the Merced River  (P-2179)  and Merced Falls (P-2467) Projects,  including  the New Exchequer and McSwaln dams  (P-2179), Meroed Falls I  Dam (P-2467),  the Northside  Canal on the Merced Falls Reservoir,  the Crocker-Huffman  Dam, and the Main Canal on the Crocker-Huffman Reservoir,  as an integrated water and power complex  to provide consumptive water and power generation  (MID 2008). "      20091116-0200  FERC  PDF  (Unofficial)  11/10/2009


NMFS also state that they will try to require improved fish ladders at this dam. 

To search for documents related to this project go to the FERC E-library. Enter P-2467 into the Docket number box.

Merced River Hydroelectric Project, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Project No. 2179, also has effects on this reach and also expires in 2014. " The Project is located on Merced River in Mariposa County, California, and consists of 2 reservoirs (Lake McClure and McSwain Reservoir), 2 powerhouses (New Exchequer and McSwain powerhouses) and various recreation facilities on Lake McClure and McSwain Reservoir. The Project does not include any transmission lines, canals or open conduits. The installed capacity of the Project is 103.5 megawatts. "

Both of these projects are starting the relicensing proces in 2008.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2009-11-17 19:52:55


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-0.6Merced Falls Reservoir access near McSwain damN/AAccess
0.0Hornitos Road AccessN/APutin Photo
0.4Portage Route: Merced Falls DamN/APortage Photo
1.5Rattlesnake Bend, aka Beginner's GoldIPhoto
3.0Crocker-Huffman Dam, take outN/ATakeout Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Merced Falls Reservoir access near McSwain dam (Class N/A, Mile -0.6)

This large parking area provides flat water boating access as well as fishing access near the base of McSwain Dam.  Follow the road on the north side of Merced Falls Reservoir, but turn right to the access just before the McSwain Recreation Area entrance.

Hornitos Road Access (Class N/A)

Put in at Merced Falls forebay

Put in at Merced Falls forebay
Photo of Angie T by Paul Martzen taken 07/23/08 @ 1,400 cfs

The junction of Hornitos road and McClure road has a large area for parking.  There is a primitive boat ramp on the east side of the road.  

Portage Route: Merced Falls Dam (Class N/A, Mile 0.4)

Portage at Merced Falls Dam

Portage at Merced Falls Dam
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 07/23/08 @ 1,400 cfs

The portage can start pretty close to the edge of the dam.  There is a flattish spot in the reeds, just upstream of a fence guarding the dam.   Carry over the levee, then down a steep bank.   Follow vehicle path along the base of the dam to an easy put in. 

Below here the river is wide and mostly flat, but usually with steady current.  At high summer flows there are two riffles in this first half of the run.   At low flows a couple more small riffles are revealed.


Rattlesnake Bend, aka Beginner's Gold (Class I, Mile 1.5)

Beginners Gold

Beginners Gold
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 07/23/08 @ 1,400 cfs

The rapid starts by dropping down to the left towards the cliff.   The cliff pushes the flow sharply back around to the right.   A few boulders along the bank increase the interestingness.   Novice kayakers or canoers without any boat control at all, could easily tip here.   Those with even modest experience should find this an enjoyable change from the flatwater. 


Kayakers with small playboats may find some play action in the eddylines and in the rapid itself.


This rapid is easily scouted on river right.  

Crocker-Huffman Dam, take out (Class N/A, Mile 3.0)

Snelling Diversion Dam

Snelling Diversion Dam
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 07/18/08

This long low dam is visible from above as a wide horizon line across the reservoir.  Paddle over to the far river right to take out or portage.   From the dam to a parking area is about 1/4 mile of walking. 

To portage, either

1) Go over the berm and bushwack to the river.
2) Lower boats down the face of the dam. 
3) Walk down the walls of the fish ladder, visible as a low angle ramp.

Typically very little water is released over the dam into the river.   Most of the water in this reach is diverted into the Merced Main Canal, just upstream on river left. 

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