Whitewater & Scenery

Wild and Scenic Merced


The Merced is free-flowing and Federally protected under the Wild and Scenic Act and it is one of the only Sierra Nevada rivers that is undammed in the upper reaches. Some people find it a bit ironic that the Merced River is “Wild and Scenic” since Highway 140 runs alongside it most of the way, but we are grateful that it is protected from any future dams or diversion projects. The only real downfall to the road is that cars drive by and honk or pull over to watch boats get drenched in Ned’s Gulch.

But the road has its perks as well, namely that you can scout a majority of the rapids from your car and that the shuttle is extremely easy. The first several miles and last few miles are fairly steep and more technical, but the middle stretch is mostly Class III with some bigger Class IV rapids interspersed.

Overnight Rafting Trips

Although it’s not uncommon for boaters to choose to do an overnight trip, the camping options are less than sublime, and the Merced River is easily rafted or kayaked in a day. It works out so that at higher water, people only raft or kayak the section above Briceburg and at low water they only run the Quarter Mile section below. So, a two-day trip usually ends up doing like Sublime and “singing the same song twice.”

Redbud to Briceburg

Commerical trips begin either at Cranberry or Redbud, depending on just how high the river is flowing. Nightmare Island and Chipped Tooth rapids are both above the Redbud put-in, but most of the fun Class III and IV rapids are below. The whitewater is pretty continuous, but make sure to find time to enjoy the blooming wildflowers and green hillsides. Can Opener, Balls-to-the-Wall, and Ned’s Gulch are just a few of the big-water, big-wave, big-splash rapids. For about five miles above the Briceburg take-out the Merced River mellows out with mostly Class II rapids. Many trips take out at Briceburg, but some continue on to Railroad Flat to run another five miles with some great whitewater.

Wildflower Tip

The boating season really begins on the Merced in April, but late March is when the wildflower season usually starts to show its true colors. Get on an early season rafting trip and see millions of poppies and lupins literally covering the hillsides.

imgp0304Briceburg to Bagby (Quarter Mile Section)

Just a couple miles past Briceburg are two of the most formiddable Class IV rapids on the Merced: Split Rock and Corner Pocket. Split Rock is arguably one of best Class IV rapids in California at higher flows. You will have plenty of time in the flatter sections to enjoy the scenery, which includes the old Yosemite Railroad along the righthand bank. This part of the Merced River is away from the highway, so there is more of a feeling of remoteness (other than the topless women you might see at Bikini Beach). About five miles downstream is Quarter Mile Rapid, which is actually about a half-mile-long, technical, Class IV boulder slalom that is recommended running only at flows less than 1000cfs. Just below Quarter Mile Rapid, at about mile 23, is a mandatory portage at North Fork Falls. There’s a boat ramp on the right hand side you can use to carry boats around. The last six miles to take-out at Bagby are relaxing Class II ripples.

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