We recently visited Yosemite National Park and our favorite experience there was floating down the Merced River. It was a dream come true to have the kids join us on this adventure that I have always loved so much. There is a short window of when the Merced river is open every year for rafting and you don’t want to miss it. It is a unique way to enjoy this river and see amazing sights inside Yosemite Valley. To experience this activity with your young kids, it will take some planning ahead of time. We have some tips on how to prepare for this drift down the river with small children.
When to Go
To enjoy this float down the river, the first thing to plan for is when to go on your trip. In recent years the Merced river inside Yosemite is usually open for rafting starting around May depending on rainfall and the water level that year. This year in 2021 the river opened at about May 15th. Towards the end of June 2021, it was reported by Huddlebee friends that the river level was quite low. The best time to plan for your trip for this activity in my opinion would be around May 15th through June 15th. Since this is a natural river, there is no way to be completely sure of the water level at the time of your visit. All you can do is make your best prediction and then call a few days before your trip to find out if the river is open or not. We would suggest calling Curry Village to find out, since they rent boats from there.
What to Bring
Yosemite does rent boats (for up to 4 people to one boat) but there is a strict weight requirement for 50 pounds per passenger. If you have kids under that weight limit (like we did) the only way to still enjoy this activity would be to bring your own boats. We have a family of 6, so what we did was bring two inflatable boats that fit 3 each. Smaller boats are easier to pump up and it’s easier to maneuver in shallow rocky areas. Because of Covid, Yosemite was not renting boats at the time that we went. There were also no shuttles running during that time.
For all of our kids from ages 4-11, we brought a life vest for them as required. The boats that we bought came with a hand pump and paddles in an affordable package and they worked just fine. You can also just rent life vests and paddles from Curry Village if the rentals are open.
Don’t forget to bring your lunch or some snacks. Half way down your float on the left side be prepared to pull to the side when you see a sandy riverbank area to enjoy a break. This is a great rest point.
Where to Start and Stop
Start your float at Stoneman Bridge which is the closest river access point across the street from Curry Village (You can park at Curry Village as well). You can simply plop in the river here with your raft and start drifting down the Merced River to your stopping point at Sentinel beach area.
If the shuttle buses at Yosemite are operating, you can buy a one way passage back to Curry Village for $5 per person after the long float down. You would buy this ticket at Curry Village ahead of time. Notice that you are required to deflate your float and be able to hold it on your lap during the shuttle ride back. (If you are renting the rafts from Yosemite, they will take care of the boat for you at the end of the journey and your rental includes all life vests and the shuttle ride back.)
When we were there, the shuttle buses were not operating but this didn’t stop us. We left a car at the end of the river at around Sentinel Bridge so that we can have our own ride back. Logistically to make this happen, I stayed with the kids at Stoneman Bridge to pump up the boats while my husband took a bike in the car and drove downstream to park. He then rode the bike up to meet us at the starting point at Stoneman Bridge to start the 3 mile float down. Many people choose to park their car at the bottom of the journey (regardless of the shuttle operating or not) so that they can take their time and not have to deflate their rafts.
I hope you have a chance to experience this amazing activity with your kids. It is worth the effort and is so much fun.