If you’re searching for shoot-the-rapids thrills and chills on a family-friendly river rafting trip, the Merced River is your ticket. Plus it’s an incredibly scenic float, on the western border of Yosemite National Park. It’s also cool knowing that these are the same snowmelt waters that boomed down the waterfalls of Yosemite Valley. All that, plus plenty of good splashing fun make this adventure down a designated Wild and Scenic river stretch of the Merced a popular trip (with plenty of choices for outfitters, including Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions, O.A.R.S., and Sierra Mac River Trips) that packs a whole lot of excitement into a half- or one-day adventure.
The 16 miles of river below El Portal include several rollercoaster-like Class III-IV rapids, interspersed with placid stretches where rafters can catch their breath (or have a few water fights). Put-ins are along State Highway 140, a short drive from the Arch Rock park entrance. Trips include lunch, parking, wetsuits if the water is cold, and a round-trip bus shuttle to and from the river. Two-day trips are also available. The season begins in mid-April and runs through July, but it’s most exciting before June, when snowmelt swells the flow.
You can float the Merced inside the park too, but you’ll be drifting along at an ultra-mellow pace, not paddling furiously like you do farther west. In June and July, rafting is one of the best ways to sightsee in busy Yosemite Valley. Rent an inflatable four-person raft at Curry Village Raft Rentals and float three miles downriver, passing many of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks, including El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. You can view a map of what to expect along a different Merced rafting routes here.
In addition to rafting, the more mellow stretches of the Merced within the park make it a favorite destination for fishing, camping, and swimming.