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Merced River
Galen Rowell/Alamy

Merced River

Merced River
Whitewater thrills for first-timers on the edge of Yosemite

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) 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 national 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 to 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 Half Dome Village Recreation Center and float three miles downriver, passing many of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks, including El Capitan and Yosemite Falls.

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Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Northern California

Discover the High Sierra

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December
Average (°C)
Dec - Feb
3°
High
-7°
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Mar - May
12°
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-5°
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June - Aug
22°
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5°
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Sept - Nov
18°
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-4°
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Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and glistening lakes in summer, vibrant colours in fall—this is a land of dramatic and wild beauty. World-class mountain resorts circling turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, and at Mammoth Lakes cater to all, with scenic ski trails in winter and trails and vistas in summer.

Yosemite Valley…is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and gold and wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”  - photographer Ansel Adams

Yosemite National Park - a World Heritage Site, is found roughly 3½ hours east of San Francisco. Whether you hike a mountain, ski the steeps, or lounge in a hot tub beneath a canopy of stars, you’ll find your perfect getaway. 

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