Merced River Paddling Overview

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Merced River at a Glance
Price: $$
River Rapid Class: III-IV
Trip in Miles: 28
Trip Duration: 1 to 2 Days
Season: April-June
Raft Types: Paddle Raft, Oar Raft
River Sections: Cranberry Gulch to Bagby
Nearby Towns: El Portal, CA
Gateway City: El Portal, CA
Driving Times: San Francisco, CA: 4 hours
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The 28 miles of the Merced River from Red Bud to Bagby contains two sections of Class III-V rapids separated by a section of Class II-III rapids, with nine major rapids, including one nearly one-mile-long stretch (paradoxically named ""quarter mile"") and a mandatory portage. This Wild and Scenic River, prized for its free-flowing water, offers many exciting challenges for rafters with sufficient skill and experience.

The first eight-mile section, with six major rapids of Class III-IV, extends from Red Bud to Suspension. This is a difficult stretch of river. At certain water levels, rapids such as Stark Reality or Ned's Gulch can flip a 16-foot raft. Whitewater put-in or take-out points are located at Red Bud, Dry Gulch, and Cranberry.

The next eight-mile section, from Suspension to Split Rock Rapid, is considered easier than both the upstream and downstream reaches, and of medium difficulty. Deep pools are intersperse with shallow rapids of Class II and III difficulty. The only area for putting-in or taking-out between Suspension and Split Rock Rapid is at Briceburg, on Highway 140.

The last 12-mile stretch from Split Rock Rapid to Bagby includes at least one Class V rapid, a mandatory portage, and many Class III and IV Rapids. This part of the river is very difficult. Start above Split Rock Rapid, such as at Briceburg, to get a feel for the river before the rapids begin again. Whitewater boat access points are at McCabe Flat, Willow Placer, Railroad Flat, and Bagby, on Highway 49.


Published: 20 Apr 2011 | Last Updated: 25 Aug 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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