Merced River

Big Water is the best description of the Merced. Very adventurous beginning or experienced rafters should only sign up for this one, and swimming ability is a requirement. The Merced River tumbles down from the heights of Yosemite National Park, and is one of the most exciting California river rafting trips. The Merced is approximately 3.5 hours from the San Francisco Bay area, and 6 hours from Southern California (see main map), the Merced is ideal for a one or two-day white water rafting adventures. With the entrance of Yosemite only 40 minutes away, most go rafting one day, and visit the park the next.

Merced River Info

  • Section: Red Bud to Briceburg
  • Season: April through June.
  • Length: 16 Miles
  • Location: Near Yosemite
  • Difficulty: Class 4-4+
  • Ages: 13 and Up

River Description

The Merced River has some of the best big water rapids around. During the spring time, when this run is prime flow, there are no better runs around. The canyon is very scenic as well as roadside, and most rafters are greeted by honking cars and people stopping to take pictures. There are two put ins for this run, Red Bud and Indian Flat. Putting in at Red Bud adds 2.5 miles of Class 4 whitewater to the Section, and is usually run when the Merced is at low to medium flows. At high flows, above 3000 cfs at Red bud, a Safety Oar boat is mandatory for commercial groups, and most typically just put on at Indian Fla. Crews need to be prepped and ready and the first Class 4 rapid, Cranberry Gulch, lies 100 yards below this put in, and is notorious for flipping rafts. Many other rapids come next, including Percolator, Grand Slam, and Ned’s Gulch. At medium to high flows, there is no down time on this run. Rafters typically stop and have lunch at Briceburg, and some take out here. Below Briceburg, a small calm stretch ends in a series of rapids leading up to Split Rock, one of the biggest and memorable on the run. A couple more rapids, Corner pocket, and a couple no name, lead to a take out at Railroad Flat. Make sure to take out here, as just below is Quarter Mile Rapid that leads into North Fork Falls, a Class V rapid that must be portaged.

Shuttle Directions

The town of Merced is located on Highway 99. Once in Merced, take Highway 140 east through Mariposa toward Yosemite National Park. Seven miles past Mariposa is the town of Midpines. From Midpines, follow Highway 140 6 miles until you reach Briceburg, where there will be a turnout on the left to reach the river. To head to the Indian Flat put in. from here, keep going on Hwy 140 11.8 Miles until you reach Indian Flat Campground. Turn left into the campground where you will see river access signs. To reach the Red Bud Put-in, Continue on 140 E for 2.4 miles. Turn left on Foresta Rd over the bridge, then take a left to arrive at a turnout. Put in right below the bridge.


There are several camping areas in this area. If you are looking for Tent camping, Indian Flat Campground offers some. Also, if you go to briceburg, drive over the bridge and turn left to head downstream, Mccade Flat and willows have tent camping. Up near the Town of Midpines, the Yosemite Bug offers motel rooms. There are motels and hotels up in El Portal that many people stay at.

Real-Time River Flows

The Merced can be run at many different Flows, from 1000-13,000 at the gauge at Briceburg. Above 8,000 cfs on this gauge, this run becomes Class 4+ and must be taken very seriously. Above 10,000 only experts and people with knowledge of the runs should be on it. Falling out can result in long swims where self rescue is a must. Red bud is run from 1200-3000. It can be run above 3000, but commercial groups usually stop at this level.

Gauge below Briceburg:




Photos courtesy of Whitewater Excitement, Inc.

Other California Whitewater Rafting Rivers

Merced River South Fork American North Fork American Middle Fork American River

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