With its origins located in the southeastern corner of Yosemite National Park, near Merced Lake, the Merced River flows for 145 miles (233 km) westward through a series of canyons and gorge, spilling into the Little Yosemite Valley and dropping over Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls before continuing through Yosemite Valley.
The Merced River and its tributaries are home to some of the most popular recreational activities in Yosemite National Park, including boating, fishing, whitewater rafting and swimming off of its sandy beaches. One-day intermediate to advanced rafting trips are available to challenge Class III and IV rapids in the spring; during the rest of the season, the river becomes friendly to rafters of all abilities. There are also wonderful hiking trails that wander through the river shed; perhaps the most famous is the John Muir Trail, which starts near Happy Isles and climbs the Giant Staircase, past Vernal and Nevada Falls, into Little Yosemite Valley and north along Sunrise Creek to join the Pacific Crest Trail near Tuolumne Meadows.
If rafting is on the agenda, you can rent a raft or bring your own; other non-motorized vehicles such as kayaks and stand up paddleboards are also permitted. Rafting is permitted on the Merced River between Stoneman Bridge and Sentinel Beach Picnic Area between 10am and 6pm, depending on conditions. Rafting is also permitted on the South Fork of the Merced River in the Wawona area.