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Rafting In Yosemite National Park

**May 2021 Update: Reservations are required to drive into Yosemite National Park starting May 21, 2021, and continuing until Sept 30, 2021. You can reserve your day-use permit online. Permits are good for 3 consecutive days.  You do NOT need a Day Use Reservation if accessing Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy entrance, riding the YARTS bus, or participating in one of our professionally guided tours at Rush Creek or Evergreen Lodge. **

 

Whitewater rafting in Yosemite National Park is one of the many adventures you will want to add to your itinerary. Spring into early summer is the best time of year to enjoy rafting in the Sierra Nevada as the snowfall melts causing the waterfalls and rivers to flow full, strong and fast. Rafting is still possible mid-summer to early fall on damn-controlled rivers. 

 

Best Whitewater Rafting In Yosemite

Two of the most popular rivers for rafting in California are the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers. Both rivers are part of the National Wild & Scenic River System for their “outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values.” Known for their superb long rapids, steep drops, narrow chutes and technical reversals, The Merced and Tuolumne Rivers make for premier whitewater rafting trips.

Rafting on the Merced River is a must-do Yosemite experience.

Merced River Rafting

Merced River Rafting

The Merced River totals over 122 miles through the Sierra Nevada.  This impressive river starts in Yosemite’s pristine High Country, explodes through the iconic Nevada and Vernal Falls, then leisurely winds through Yosemite Valley and continues outside of the Park where it picks up speed and transforms into a rafting adventure. 

The 16-mile stretch of whitewater rapids lies between Red Bud and Bagby Reservoir. These Class III-IV rapids are fiercest from April to May as the snowfall first melts. Their intensity lessens as the summer progresses, and rafting on the Merced typically ends around mid-July or August. 

Tuolumne River Rafting

Rafting in Yosemite National Park isn't complete without a trip down the Tuolumne River.

Tuolumne River Rafting

The Tuolumne River flows 83 miles through Yosemite National Park and beyond with many smaller rivers branching off. In the middle lies the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and O’Shaughnessy Dam, allowing for a rafting season of April to October. The 18-mile stretch of rapids on the Tuolumne River ranges from Class III to V+ with the more intense rapids found on the Upper Tuolumne near Cherry Creek. After Meral’s Pool, the rapids stay at a IV or below. 

The main stretch of the Tuolumne River is best known for its wild and scenic wonder with only a few remote trails found along its path. Most of the river remains untouched by roads and has abundant wildlife including bobcats and bald eagles.

 

Yosemite Rafting Trips

For those looking to enjoy a leisurely float versus an intense rafting adventure, The Curry Village Recreation Center offers raft, inner-tube, paddle and life jacket rentals. While the waters are high during the spring, you can take advantage of a relaxing exploration of the Valley by taking a leisurely paddle down the 3-mile stretch of the Merced River that runs through Yosemite Valley. 

Raft rentals start at $28.50 per person and include paddles, personal flotation devices and a shuttle ride back to Curry Village. The park permits you to use your own raft or inner-tube along this stretch of river and purchase a shuttle ticket for $5 per person. 

**2021 Update: Yosemite has announced that raft rentals are closed for the 2021 season.**

Many outfitters in California offer whitewater rafting adventures in and around Yosemite National Park. Three of the best locally-owned companies are Sierra Mac, Whitewater Excitement and Zephyr. For ease of booking your full vacation in one place, check the Rush Creek Lodge & Evergreen Lodge explorations pages to book your rafting adventures then jump right over to the Stay pages to book your Yosemite cabin with the best rates and service available.  

 

Sierra Mac is one of the top outfitters for rafting in Yosemite

Sierra Mac Rafting Trip

Sierra Mac River Trips

Sierra Mac was founded in 1965. Today, they offer guided rafting tours plus fly-fishing trips, mountain-climbing classes and Yosemite hiking tours. Owner Marty McDowell is best known for his pioneering of the Upper Tuolumne River rapids in 1973, still known today as the most challenging whitewater in the US that is commercially run.

Sierra Mac operates only on rivers that flow from within Yosemite and requires all participants to attend a training seminar before their rafting trip. All of their rafting trips include expert guides, state-of-the-art self-bailing rafts (originally designed by McDowell in 1972) and professional photographs throughout your adventure. Here are the four Yosemite rafting trips offered by Sierra Mac:

1| Merced River Rafting Trips

  • Half-day Rafting Trip: 11 miles 
  • Full-day Rafting Trip: 16 miles 
  • Class III-IV rapids
  • Meeting Place: off Hwy 140 in Midpines, CA
  • Minimum Age: 7-years-old during summer & 10-years-old during spring
  • Pricing starts at $104 per person

2| Cherry Creek/Upper Tuolumne Rafting Trips 

  • Full-day Rafting Trip: 9 miles 
  • Class IV-V+ rapids 
  • Meeting Place: off Hwy 120 in Groveland, CA
  • Minimum Age: 15-years-old
  • Pricing starts at $331 per person

3| Main Tuolumne River Rafting Trip* 

  • 1, 2 or 3-Day Rafting Trip: 18 miles 
  • Class III-IV+ Rapids
  • Meeting Place: off Hwy 120 in Groveland, CA
  • Minimum Age: 10-years-old
  • Pricing starts at $271 per person

4| Combination Rafting Trips*

  • 2 or 3-Day Rafting Trip: 27 miles 
  • Class III-V+ Rapids
  • Meeting Place: off Hwy 120 in Groveland, CA
  • Minimum Age: 15-years-old
  • Pricing starts at $799 per person

*For all overnight trips with Sierra Mac, you will enjoy all of your meals prepared by staff, scenic riverside campsites and time for exploration of the surrounding canyon, creeks and swimming holes. Tent and sleeping bag rentals are available.  

 

Whitewater Excitement 

Whitewater Excitement opened in 1978 and offers beginner, intermediate and advanced rafting adventures. They tour the Merced River plus the multiple stretches of the American River located north of Yosemite near Sacramento. 

Whitewater Excitement’s California rafting adventures include top-of-the-line equipment, smaller groups for more personal attention, cabin tents (for those who prefer to glam-p instead of camp), experienced guides and professional photographs captured during your Yosemite rafting experience. Here is the Yosemite rafting trip offered by Whitewater Excitement:

1| Merced River Rafting Trip

  • 1-Day Rafting Trip: 16 miles 
  • Class III-IV rapids
  • Meeting Place: off Hwy 140 in Midpines, CA 
  • Minimum Age: 14-years-old
  • Pricing starts at $165 per adult, $155 per youth

 

Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions 

Zephyr is the leader in rafting trips on the Merced River.

Zephyr Rafting Trip

Zephyr was established in 1973 and boasts to be the largest rafting outfitter in the Yosemite region on the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers. They are also one of only 3 outfitters permitted to operate on the Kings River near Sequoia National Park, south of Yosemite. They are also operational on the American River in the northern Sierra Nevada. 

 

Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions uses state-of-the-art self-bailing rafts and gear, provides professional photographs of your rafting adventure and serves the best “river food” around. During a multi-day rafting trip, expect meals like French toast, taco salads, smoked salmon, Tri-tips caesar salads, lemon poppyseed cake and more. Here are the three Yosemite rafting trips offered by Zephyr: 

1| Tuolumne River Rafting Trip 

  • 1, 2 or 3-Day Rafting Trip: 18 miles 
  • Class III-IV+ Rapids
  • Meeting Place: off Hwy 120 in Groveland, CA
  • Minimum Age: 12-16-years-old (depending on swimming ability and water levels)
  • Pricing starts at $319 per person

2| Merced River Rafting Trip

  • Half-day Rafting Trip: 11 miles 
  • Full-day Rafting Trip: 16 miles 
  • Class III-IV rapids
  • Meeting Place: off Hwy 140 in Midpines, CA 
  • Minimum Age: 7-9-years-old (depending on swimming ability and water levels)
  • Pricing starts at $114 per person

3| Yosemite Special (Merced & Tuolumne River Rafting Trips)

  • 3 or 4-Day Rafting Trip: 16 miles of Merced River + 18 miles of Tuolumne River
  • Class III-IV+ Rapids 
  • Raft the Merced River, enjoy 1-2 exploring Yosemite National Park, then raft the Tuolumne River
  • Pricing combines the 2 rafting adventures with a 10% discount

 

What To Bring For Rafting In Yosemite?

To aid you in preparing for a rafting trip in Yosemite, we have created a basic list of essentials. Depending on when you are planning to take your Yosemite rafting trip, we also have a cold-weather list of extras to consider.

Warm-Weather Yosemite Rafting List:

  • Lightweight or quick-drying clothes*  
  • Swimsuit or non-bulky swimwear  
  • Sneakers or other closed-toe water shoes (flip-flops and sandals won’t protect your feet) 
  • Sunglasses with neck strap 
  • Sunscreen and lip protection 
  • Waterproof camera 
  • Hat/visor with tie-on strap (remember it has to fit underneath your helmet and still provide sun protection )
  • Water bottle 
  • Set of dry clothes to change into for the trip home

Cold-Weather Yosemite Rafting List:

  • Light windbreaker, wool sweater or polypro jacket 
  • Long underwear (wool or polypro) 
  • Wool or pile pants* 
  • Wool hat & gloves 
  • Fleece socks or wetsuit booties 

*It is best to wear shorts/pants on top of your wetsuit to provide friction and prevent you from sliding around the raft. 

 

All the above-mentioned outfitters provide guests with wetsuits and paddle jackets for free. You are always welcome to bring your own wetsuit if you prefer. Many people ask what you are supposed to wear underneath your wetsuit. We recommend wearing a thin, nylon swimsuit underneath or other non-bulky swimwear during the warmer months. If your rafting adventure will be during the colder months, we recommend you wear thermal underwear beneath your wetsuit. 

 

If you are planning a multi-day rafting adventure, check with the outfitter you choose on what specific overnight gear is provided and what you need to bring. Both Evergreen Lodge & Rush Creek Lodge have General Stores on-site for any last-minute items you may need to grab before your rafting adventure. 

Have fun!