|Just outside of Yosemite National Park, the Merced River features first-class early season whitewater through a picturesque canyon. (courtesy, O.A.R.S.)|
The Merced River originates in Yosemite National Park on the crest of the Sierra Nevada at an elevation of 11,000 feet. The river flows wild and undammed until it reaches Lake McClure, formed by the New Exchequer Dam near Merced Falls. From Lake McClure, the river continues into the San Joaquin Valley and joins the San Joaquin River near Newman.
Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga of the Mexican Army named the Merced in 1806 when he and his band of soldiers came upon the river at the end of a 40-mile march. Ingratitude, he called the river El Rio Nuestra Senora de la Merced (The River of Our Lady of Mercy).
The history of the navigable portions of the upper Merced River is one of miners, railroads, and lumberjacks. The gold miners arrived in the 1850's. The two most productive mines along the river were Hite's Cove and Clearing House. The Hite's Cove mine produced more than $3 million in gold. Gold miners still operate dredges on the Merced, especially during periods of low flow and warm weather.
The Yosemite Valley Railroad parallels the north bank of the river. Between 1907 and 1945, the railroad carried passengers from Merced to El Portal, providing the most popular transport to and from Yosemite National Park.
Large stands of sugar pine once grew on both sides of the Merced River Canyon. In 1910, the Yosemite Lumber Company began to harvest this timber and continued to do so until 1942. Logs were transported down from the surrounding ridges, loaded onto Yosemite Valley Railroad cars, and then taken 60 miles to the mill at Merced Falls.
The history of the Merced River continues to unfold as the river has been recognized for its outstanding, free-flowing condition. The El Portal-to-Bagby stretch of the main stem and all of the South Fork have recently been included into the National Wild and Scenic River system. The stretch from Briceburg to Bagby is currently under study for potential addition to the system.
CAMPING & HIKING
Camping is available in Sierra National Forest campgrounds located on both sides of the river. Complete facilities are available at Indian Flat and Jerseydale, which include drinking water and designated sites for camping between mid-May and mid-October.
The US Bureau of Land Management manages three camps below Briceburg: McCabe Flat, Willow Placer, and Railroad Flat Campgrounds. These campgrounds have toilets, picnic tables, fire grills, and garbage collection.
For more information, call: (916)985-4474.
Recreation Sites And Facilities
Red Bud Put-in
Red Bud Picnic Area
Dry Gulch Camp
Dry Gulch Camp
Indian Flat Campground
Savages Trading Post
Briceburg Day Use Area
McCabe Flat Camp
Willow Placer Camp
Railroad Flat Camp
Merced River Trail
Hiking: The old Yosemite Valley Railroad right-of way on the north bank of the river provides hikers with a relatively level, though mostly unshaded, river trail from near El Portal to Bagby (28 miles). Because the old railroad bridges have fallen, the swift side streams (particularly on the North Fork of the Merced) may not be crossable during wet weather and snow runoff periods. Plans are under way to improve its condition.
An alternative is the 8.5 mile trail between the Jerseydale Road trailhead and the confluence of the Merced River, which is called the South Fork.
Some lands along the river, hiking trails, and the adjacent hills are privately owned. Respect this private property where it is posted.
PLANTS & WILDLIFE
Birds: The abundant and varied bird life along the river include mourning doves, Cassin's finches, California quail, dark-eyed juncos, woodpeckers, dippers, great blue herons, scrub jays, and red-winged blackbirds. Red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, cliff swallows, and canyon wrens are plentiful. The common meganser often rests along the river, and occasionally, a magnificent bald eagle may be seen.
Plants: California poppy, white alder, Oregon ash, oaks, poison oak, big-leaf maple, Indian rhubarb, buttonbush, and willow are found along the tributaries of the Merced River. Higher up the surrounding slopes, whiteleaf manzanita and the remnants of once-larger stands of sugar pine can be observed.
Mammals: Most prevalent among the many types of animals found along the Merced Canyon are squirrel, raccoon, jackrabbit, bats and skunk. Observant boaters and campers may be lucky enough to spot less abundant, but nevertheless commonly seen, beaver, mule deer, coyote and, on rare occasion, bobcat.
Fish: Brown and rainbow trout and small-mouth bass are the game fish found in the Merced. Squawfish, hardhead, western sucker and sculpin are common. The California Department of Fish and Game stocks catchable size rainbow trout in the river from the South Fork upstream to the Foresta Bridge. General Information: Anyone 16 years or older must have a fishing license to take fish. (See current California Sport Fishing Regulations for more information.) Licenses are available in most sporting goods stores carrying fishing equipment. Bass fishing is open all year with a limit of five fish. All bass less than 12 inches must be released.
Yosemite National Park Boundary to Foresta Bridge: This is a special fishing area that is open all year with a two-trout limit. No fish less than 12 inches may be possessed. For all species, only artificial lures with single barbless hooks may be used.
Foresta Bridge to Bagby: The trout limit is 5 fish. This area is open from the last Saturday in April through November 15.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication