The Merced River is the knife in Yosemite granite's butter. It has slowly eroded the valley in modern geological times after the receding glaciers had left their massive scars. It is the noise that permeates the background; it is the effervescence beside you as you drive along; it is the sparkle that glints in the sunlight; it is one of the life sources of Yosemite.
However, in my limited research, I hadn't even heard of it. It's not a landmark so much as a constant companion. Yet, at times it has also been dangerous. Dozens of people have drowned in the river's at times icy waters.
If you're into walking, you've come to the right place. You can hike the flats, you can climb the hills, you can follow rivers, it's simply a great place for stretching the legs and it caters for all levels.
On this particular walk you get to follow the Merced, you get to see one of my favourite American trees, the Pacific Dogwood, that just happened to be in bloom while I was in Yosemite (pic 4).
It's quite amazing how you can be so near traffic yet so far away and it's a simple walk yet, as previously hinted, it's one of hundreds.
This branch of the Merced River threads its way through the small village of Wawona. The main flow travels eighty-one miles through the southern part of Yosemite National Park and has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River(1987).
You can glimpse the Merced River running along Highway 140, which takes you into the national park. It is roiling and churning in the Spring, but shrinks to a trickle in the Summer and Fall. We were told that the Merced is an ancient river.
It was very hot in the Yosemite Valley when we visited in July and people were taking a cool dip or rafting at certain points on the river. These pleasant afternoons draw folks to other recreational activities at the river, too, such as fishing, hiking, camping and picnics.
Although ice cold in spring, by August parts of the Merced River are surprisingly war and a great place for kids to splash and play. The alpine river has a sandy bottom along the area of meadows in Yosemite Valley, and when seen from above, like at "Swinging Bridge", the water is beautifully is crystal clear and clean. Rafts are available for rental and they float past the bridge in regular intervals. In the past, a large number of campgrounds occupied either side of the river, but these have been reduced somewhat and meadows and forest areas restored.
The Merced River flows down through Little Yosemite Valley, down Nevada and then Vernal Falls, to Yosemite Creek. The Mist Trail follows this valley. It's not only the falls that are beautiful, but also the views along the way. Don't forget to stop every so often, look back down the valley, and admire the spectacular scenery.
The Happy Isles are on the Merced River. From the Yosemite shuttle bus, you exit at the Happy Isles stop to hike the Mist Trail (which leads to Vernal and Nevada Falls). So take a few minutes to visit these charming little islands in the river. Check out the Gaging Station. It contains a set of instruments that measure the water's temperature, speed, composition, and other characteristics.
If you spend any time in Yosemite Valley, you'll know this river. It runs right through the middle, and just upstream are Vernal Falls, and then Nevada Falls. My favorite areas are upstream of Nevada Falls, but that's a hike.
Parralling the western entrance to Yosemite is the Merced River, not an impressive river by any means, but the setting of the forest covered hills and the gentle sweep of the small valley does give it the feelling of a "small" majesty all its own. There are places where is sweeps over exposed rocks and you can just enjoy a short break to watch and listen.
Here is a picture of Yosemite Falls with a reflection in the Merced river, or a branch of it that is meandering through the meadows.
The must do activity here is walking in the meadows of the valley. Please do not content yourself with a car ride around, or a walk from the road to the waterfalls. If you like spending hours in the gifts shops, so be it, but please set aside some time to do nothing but slowly walk along the many trails along the meadows between the cliffs. You will see many many things that you cannot see from the car or the bus.
A lovely view from the Merced River shown here.
The Merced River area offers fantastic views of the tall mountains that surround the Yosemite Valley.
Actually the height of these mountains are remarkable if you think that the valley itself lies 6000 feet above the sea level.
Wherever you turn, lovely sights await you
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