Merced River Open to White Water Rafting? Am I dreaming?

In Kayaking, Merced River, News, Rafting

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I missed this. The Merced WITHIN Yosemite Valley is now open to kayakers and white water rafters. This is an important change because much of the river has traditionally been closed to white water enthusiasts.

Adventure Journal: Kayakers and rafters have a new cliff-lined paddling playground in the heart of Yosemite National Park. While California’s Merced River has long been a hotbed of paddling outside the boundaries of the park, paddlers have now gotten the green light for a coveted section within the park as well. Yosemite National Park recently released its new Wild and Scenic Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for California’s Merced River, putting paddling on the same footing as climbing and hiking within the park’s boundaries.

“The big take-home message and biggest coup is [the] park’s treatment of boating,” says American Whitewater’s California stewardship director, Dave Steindorf. “Now they’re treating it as just another way to travel through the landscape, just as backpackers and horsebackers. And the user numbers are in line with other trailhead users.”

The new plan places paddling on equal footing with other park activities by managing visitor numbers similarly. (The percentage of visitors who boat is estimated to be less than five percent, which is comparable to the park’s climber and backpacker use.) The plan considers river segments as “water trails” or backcountry routes, opening new segments to boating for the first time.

What’s all this spell for floaters? Official access to what Steindorf calls the “best one-day river trip you can do anywhere.”

While the traditional three-mile, calm-water “pool toy” and raft-rental stretch in the heart of the valley remains unchanged user-wise—it still takes floaters from the horse corrals by Stoneman Bridge/Lower River Campground to Sentinel Beach—now an additional 45 private boaters per day will be able to run the river through the entire length of Yosemite Valley, a section that was closed before. The stretch goes 5.5 miles from Sentinel to Phono, including a 2-mile Class I section to the El Cap Bridge and an additional 3.5 miles to Phono, rated Class III–IV. “It’s an incredible section,” says Steindorf. “The rapids are actually a distraction … you just want to sit there and look up all the time. It’s by far the best way to see the valley.”

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