How to Raft in Yosemite National Park

Go Rafting In Yosemite!

A raft trip in Yosemite National Park
Rafting the Merced River in Yosemite National Park. Photo by George E. Sayour

Known for its huge waterfalls, gargantuan granite rock faces, age old sequoias, deep valley floor and teeming wildlife, Yosemite National Park attracts visitors and adventure seekers from all over the world. Perhaps best known for the extreme rock climbing of El Capitan or the grueling hike up Half Dome, this High Sierra playground nestled in 1,200 square miles of pure wilderness is also remarkably accessible to the average outdoor lover.

For instance, most people don’t realize there is rafting in Yosemite National Park.

Its actually quiet a rarity to be able to boat inside a National Park. When allowed, these types of activities are heavily regulated. Rafting in Yosemite is no exception to that rule. The section of the Merced River within Yosemite that is open to paddling is a limited stretch, only about 3 miles long. However, the park spared nothing when it came to prime real estate, as the paddle cuts right through the Yosemite Valley with amazing views of Halfdome and Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Rafting Season

While the rule of thumb for rafting season on the Merced River within Yosemite is during the summer months, no set season exists. It changes year to year based on the river depth, conditions, water temperature, and climate. The raft-able range where these conditions usually find their sweet spot is from late May to early August, with June and July being the core months for rafting in Yosemite.

Merced River Classification and Hazards

The three-mile section of the Merced River within Yosemite that is open to rafting is a Class I paddle.
This means there is slow moving water with no rapids. What it doesn’t mean, however is that there are no hazards. Stay away from downed trees and brush along the banks, as even a little bit of current can get boaters stuck in these strainers. The main hazard on this river is going to be the water temperature.
As long as the air is warm, the swim is a refreshing respite from the sun since you are able to find relief from the cold water back up in your boat.

Directions to Renting Rafts in Yosemite

Renting Rafts in Yosemite is rather simple and convenient from the Curry Village Recreation Center. Take Route 140, the El Portal Road, into the park and drive into the valley. Look for the signs for the Curry Village Recreation Center. You’ll take a right after the Chapel in the park. At your first crossroad the Stoneman Bridge will be on your left. Take a right. The Curry Village Recreation Center, where you can rent rafts and bikes, will be on the right. There is also a snack bar and gift shop located here in case you forgot to bring something to snack on or drink. You can call ahead to make arrangements to raft in Yosemite National Park at (209) 372-4FUN (4386).

Cost and Details of Rafting in Yosemite National Park

The cost to rent a raft (and all that entails) in Yosemite National Park is $28.50 per adult and $23.50 per child. Rafts hold 4 adults. Two of the individuals in the raft must be at least 5 feet tall and over 12 years of age. Children under 50 lbs. are not permitted in the rented rafts. The rafting rental fee includes, PFDs, two paddles, and a shuttle back to the Curry Village Recreation Center.

The Rafting Trip on the Merced River in Yosemite National Park

The rafting trip begins with filling out the rental forms and picking up your raft and gear from the Curry Village Recreation Center. You’ll then carry your raft along the road down to the put-in below the Stoneman Bridge where someone from the rafting company will help you get on your way. Don’t worry, there’ll be someone at the put-in helping you get situated in your raft and help you on your way.

The 3-mile trip snakes under bridges and along sandy beaches with breathtaking views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. The take-out is on an obvious beach on the left side of the river not far after a wooden bridge.

There’ll be busses waiting there to pick you up and bring you back to your car up in the picnic area from the beach.