There are many options for put-ins and takes-outs on the Merced River. Here are the most likely choices that paddler’s find themselves using. It should be noted that this is a river description and not a detailed scouting report. The difference being, that specific lines and hazards will not be discussed, but rather the general nature of the sections are explained.
The Yosemite Park Boundary to the Highway 140 BridgeMany a kayaker has looked at this section of the Merced River with bitter sweet emotions coursing through their veins. On the one hand it looks very doable. On the other it is downright scary. This section of the Merced River is therefore rarely kayaked. It is obviously only for experts who are going with someone who has paddled it before.
Route 140 Bridge in El Portal to Red Bud Picnic AreaThe 1-mile trip from the Route 140 Bridge in El Portal to the Foresta Bridge at the Red Bud Picnic Area is also not frequently kayaked. It is not visible from the road and lasts for about a mile long. The river here is a continuous class iv and class v trip with few opportunities for breaks. At higher levels it becomes one big Class V mess. It is beyond the scope of this river description to go into further detail than this. If you’re interested in beginning your whitewater kayaking trip down the Merced River at this point you’re best to meet up with an experienced local in El Portal or Mariposa and get the scoop from them.
Red Bud Picnic Area to Indian Flat Picnic Area
This is the more common put-in on the Merced River even for experienced whitewater kayakers. Look for signs for the Red Bud Picnic Area off of Route 140. The put-in is in a little pull off on river-right just over the Foresta Bridge. You’ll be able to fit a few cars here if you plan your parking.
Putting in at Red Bud extends the trip just a bit from putting-in at Indian Flat. After about a mile of whitewater it really just gets paddlers two more rapids known as Nightmare Island and Chipped Tooth, which as one could guess from their names are both class iv. These rapids are across from the obvious pull-out and gravel pit parking area across the road.
True to its name, Nightmare Island is an island with a channel on the right and on the left. At higher water the left channel is usually run. At lower water levels the bottom of this can be gnarly and so the right channel is usually opted for generally speaking. Scout both of these from the road, from the right or left banks, or from the island itself.
Chipped Tooth is a staircase style rapid formed from a series of boulders. There is a large rock that becomes a hole at the center bottom of the rapid. You don’t want to be out of your boat before this rapid. At high water Nightmare Island and Chipped Tooth run together into one big rapid. There is another mile or so of paddling before the Indian Flat put-in. Stark Reality, a class iv rapid is prior to Indian Flat.
Indian Flat Picnic Area to Briceburg
Indian Flat used to be a camping area but is now a day-use and picnic area that the raft companies use as their put-in. Therefore it can get rather busy in the early part of the day in rafting season. At this point on the river, there are more calm sections following rapids allowing for breaks and recovery as needed.
The next 3 or so miles offer a lot of fun play spots and named rapids. In order, you’ll reach Cranberry Hole, Can Opener, and Percolator. A little less than a mile later the South Fork of the Merced joins the river on the left. Balls to the Wall and Hawaii follow this landmark.
Ned’s Gulch is the hallmark of this section. It is 7.5 miles from the put-in at Red Bud and about 5.5 miles from Indian Flat. Ned’s is a long rapid. The approach leading up to it is obvious, as kayakers will see a creek enter from the right and a rock wall with a path leading up to the road on river left. While this is a climb, kayakers can portage or scout here. Scouting is also available on river right from the creek. There are diagonal waves, holes, and boulders to contend with. The third drop of this long rapid is the largest.
After Ned’s Gulch, kayakers will come to Son of Ned’s, Sar Salad, Lunch Hole, Gauge Hole, and Happy Rock. All of these are class III and after Ned’s will seem like a breeze. The take-out at Briceburg is just after Bear Creek which enters from river right.