Yosemite Whitewater Rafting: The Mighty Merced

From Redbud to Bagby, the Merced River taunts and teases as it makes its way through the Yosemite Valley, tossing the runoff season’s rubber rafts about on its Class III and IV rapids and chuckling all the way down valley. For 29 miles, the river pitches pools, waves, and falls, distracting paddlers with banks sporting natural mountain, meadow, wildlife and wildflower gifts that command attention.

Gorgeous blooms in stark yellows, purples, and blues highlight the landscape as boats bob through river sections with names like Percolator, Balls to the Wall, Salad Bar, and Stark Reality. Huge sequoias, iconic rock formations, and outstanding vistas perch along the sharp curves of this free-flowing waterway, strutting its stuff from April to July.

Fastest during snowmelt, the runoff surges downward with exceptional Class IV runs. Later in the season, the number rounds down to Class III rapids, with whitewater still the order of the day. Named a Wild and Scenic River, the Merced promises an exhilarating paddle past Nevada and Vernal Falls as it races through the valley floor.

Early season rafters put in at Redbud and float to Briceburg, a 15.6 mile toss around Nightmare Island and Chipped Tooth, both Class IV rapids. Later season trips put in at Briceburg, floating to McClure Reservoir/Bagby, navigating Split Rock, Corner Pocket, and Quarter Mile rapids. Flows on the Merced range from 800 cfs to an incredible 10,000 cfs in peak snowmelt years. Once past the Yosemite Valley’s El Portal, the Merced becomes a Class 5+ route, challenging even the most experienced paddlers with its holes, sieves, and portages.

Half-day to multiple-day trips designed to match ability, desire, and expertise can be arranged for every level. Expert outfitters supply everything needed for successful river navigation. Planning and a proper packing list are essential, however, and wetsuits are always a good idea, as are personal flotation devices. Available through the guiding agency, personal equipment may prove preferable for those with current gear.

An exciting way to see the fascinating features of Yosemite National Park, a whitewater excursion down the Merced River combines both physical and visual thrills for a truly memorable trip. Adventure has never looked so good.