The Merced River flows through a series of canyons and gorges, spilling into Little Yosemite Valley and dropping over Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls before continuing through Yosemite Valley. A center for water recreation, the river is particularly popular for whitewater rafting. One-day intermediate to advanced rafting trips are available to challenge Class III and IV rapids in the spring; in mid- to late summer, the river becomes friendly to rafters of all abilities, but it’s still advisable to go with an experienced guide in case of unexpected rapids.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Merced River is a popular stop for rafting and fishing.
You can rent a raft or bring your own; other nonmotorized vehicles such as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are also permitted.
Fishing licenses can be purchased at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or at the Mountain Shop in Half Dome Village.
When to Get There
When you visit depends largely on your interests, but the weather for river fun is at its most pleasant and the rapids are at their most manageable during the summer months. The best fishing is in winter through early spring. Rafting is permitted on the Merced River between Stoneman Bridge and Sentinel Beach Picnic Area from midmorning to early evening, depending on conditions.
How to Get There
There are numerous access points along the Merced River, and much of Highway 140 runs parallel to it. For those wishing to hike the area, the 13-mile-long (21-kilometer-long) Merced River Trail runs from the Briceburg Visitor Center to the Golden Chain Highway (state Route 49). The trail can also be accessed from the Willow Placer and McCabe Flat campgrounds.
The John Muir Trail
Numerous hiking trails meander through the river shed. Perhaps the most famous is the John Muir Trail, which starts near Happy Isles and climbs the Giant Staircase, past Vernal and Nevada falls, and into Little Yosemite Valley. From there it continues north along Sunrise Creek to join the Pacific Crest Trail near Tuolumne Meadows.
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