Kayaking and Canoeing in Yosemite National Park

Float the Merced River in the Scenic Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Rafting Yosemite Falls
Kayaking in Front of Yosemite Falls. Photo by George E. Sayour

There are so many activities available in Yosemite National Park, yet canoeing and kayaking are not the first to come to mind. However, paddlers will find that a trip down the Merced Rivers offers some of the best views of the park's most famous sights.

While not a challenging paddle, canoeing and kayaking the Merced River in the Yosemite Valley is a trip that even the most experienced of paddlers won’t soon forget.

This is more of a floating section of the river and shuttles are available, so it's a perfectly relaxing California river trip.

What You Can Expect on Your Yosemite Paddling Trip

As the Merced twists and turns along the Yosemite Valley floor, paddlers are treated to views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. These iconic scenes seem to appear and disappear with every bend.

The smooth and steady current will guide your boat down the river, leaving you plenty of time to take in the sites. You’ll notice the stone bridges that the river flows under every so often and find many trout-filled eddies in the clear water. There are sandy beaches along the way to stop and take a swim or get out for a picnic. 

The take-out is downstream from a beach with a wooden bridge on river left. A short carry up the beach will take you to a picnic area where buses are waiting to shuttle rafters back to the Curry Village Recreation Area.

There are other paddling adventures nearby. Many kayakers enjoy Tenaya Lake and its calm waters and experienced paddlers can find other river trips elsewhere along the Merced as well as the Tuolumne River.

Kayaking and Canoeing the Merced River in Yosemite

  • Trip Length: 3 Miles
  • Difficulty: Class I
  • Times: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Months: June-July (Late May – Early August depending on water level conditions)
  • Gage: Must read less than 6.5 feet at Sentinel Bridge
  • Hazards: Strainers, Cold Water, Cold Air
  • Views: Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley
  • Put-In Parking: Curry Village Recreation Center
  • Kayak Put-In: Below Stoneman Bridge
  • Take-Out: Sandy Beach on River Left after the wooden bridge
  • Take-Out Parking: Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
  • Shuttle: $4.50/person (not boats), every 30-40minutes until 6 p.m.
  • Gear Rentals: Paddles and PFDs $5.50/each
  • Raft Rentals: Curry Village Recreation Center
  • Information: (209) 372-4FUN (4386) or TravelYosemite.com

Directions and Shuttle Information

The nice thing about this trip is that shuttle service is available. This is convenient for travelers who have only one car because you can leave it at the take-out or put-in and get a ride up river for around $5.

To get to the put-in: 

  1. Drive into Yosemite Park via Route 140, the El Portal Road, and continue into the valley.
  2. Follow the signs for the Curry Village Recreation Center.
  3. Take a right after the Chapel in the park.
  4. At your first crossroad, the Stoneman Bridge will be on your left. This will be your put-in but you can’t park there.
  1. Take a right and head in the opposite direction from the bridge just a short distance.
  2. The Curry Village Recreation Center, where you can rent rafts and bikes, will be on the right. You can park here. There is also a snack bar and gift shop located here in case you forgot to bring something to snack on or drink.
  3. Unload your gear and carry it down to the Merced River on the left-hand side of the Stoneman Bridge.

To run a shuttle, you’ll have to drive around the loop.

  1. Take the road over the Stoneman Bridge and follow the road around and continue past El Capitan.
  2. Take the El Capitan Bridge back onto the loop to start heading back.
  3. Take a left at the Sentinel Beach Picnic Area, which is the takeout. You can leave your car here.

You may notice buses parked and rafting signs around. They’ll shuttle you back if you like.

If you plan to leave a car at the put-in and take the shuttle back, be sure to have cash on you before taking off. They won’t take your canoe or kayak, but they will get you back up the river.

Tip: If you want to take your time on the river and not worry about making the shuttle, it is best to leave your car at the take-out before getting on the river. The shuttles stop at 6 p.m. and you will not have a ride back to the put-in.