The Merced River carves its own waterways through Yosemite National Park, including in the Yosemite Valley and around Wawona. Depending on what time of year you visit, the river might be a frozen ice floe, a babbling stream, or a wild beast flooding campsites and picnic areas!
Floating Down the Merced River
During early summer (usually in June and July), the Merced River is calm enough in the Yosemite Valley for families to blissfully float along in inflatable rafts.
Rafts can be rented from the park concessionaire at Half Dome Village. It's a three-mile float downstream to the Sentinel Beach picnic area, and your rental fee includes a shuttle ride back to the starting point.
Kayakers and canoers are also welcome to navigate this stretch of the Merced River starting from Stoneman Bridge between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. as water levels allow. All rafters and paddlers should only put in and take out on sandy beaches and gravel bars, to protect important riparian habitats beside the river.
Whitewater Rafting the Merced River
Outside the park boundaries, the Merced River offers some challenging white-water rafting with Class II-IV+ rapids. Outdoor outfitters offer guided day and overnight white-water rafting and camping trips during the river-running season (usually from April into July), with some trips for adventurous novices and children. The most popular put-in points are Red Bud picnic area and the town of Briceburg, both west of the park along Highway 140.
Related: 7 Top Ways to Get Wet in Yosemite