After the Rapids – Hiking near YosemitePosted June 5, 2023 by Reily Schultz
Our whitewater rafting trips on the Merced, Tuolumne, and Cherry Creek skirt the edges of Yosemite, a hiker’s paradise. While a trip inside the National Park is always a great addition to your adventure (and we have some tips for pairing a Yosemite getaway with rafting on the Merced and the Tuolumne rivers), there is no need to venture inside the park to get some great hiking in before or after your rafting trip. If you are hoping to avoid park entrance fees and/or busy parking lots, we have some suggestions of other ways to get outside in the Sierra and Stanislaus National Forests.
If you rafted on the Merced River…
The South Fork Merced Trail (Hite Cove Trail)
This trail traces along the South Fork of the Merced River. This is a tributary to the Merced River you may have just rafted on! There is a designated trailhead at the confluence in Briceburg for this hike. Walking uphill along a trail carved into the hillside, you can choose to do either the ‘official’ Hite Cove trail which will be a round trip 7.2 mile trek, or continue on to scout some larger rapids farther up the South Fork. This trail ends after about 14 miles and finishes just outside the border to Yosemite National Park.
Bull Creek Road Trail
This scenic trail is just over 10 miles long, if you choose to hike its full length. It follows a dirt road that traces along the Merced River. The trailhead is just outside of Midpines, CA, where we meet to raft the Merced. This trail is a great way to stretch out your legs after a day of rafting, as it is fairly level and has plenty of river access. Keep an eye out for waterfalls, salamanders, and birds of prey!
The Merced River / North Fork Trail
The Merced River trail leads you along the side of the river (hence the very creative trail name). If you continue walking far enough, you can walk all the way from where we take-out to where we put-in for our Merced rafting trips! This trail parallels the river for miles with plenty of opportunities for river access and sun bathing. In the springtime, you can spot thousands of wildflowers on the hillsides above the river. Walk with caution as this trail can be home to snakes during the summer, and is susceptible to landslides after rain.
If you rafted on the Tuolumne River…
Indian Creek Trail
Just outside of Groveland, you can take a closer look at the canyon you just rafted through on the Tuolumne! This 5 mile trail brings you down to the bottom of the valley with some amazing views and awesome river access. Don’t let the length deceive you, this hike will be all uphill on your way back!
Rainbow Pools / Rainbow Falls
The Rainbow Pools are a popular recreation area just East of Groveland. This is THE spot to be during those hot summer months. Just off Hwy 120, on the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, the Rainbow Pools are natural swimming holes perfect for a post-rafting dip or some great rock jumping. This area is very popular for hiking and exploring, with trails leading right to waterfalls and scenic views. Explore with caution – rocks can be slippery and hazardous.
Carlon Falls Trail
Carlon Falls trail is a mile out-and-back hike off of Hwy 120 in Groveland. It follows the South Fork of the Tuolumne to several small waterfalls. This trail does enter Yosemite National Park, so please be respectful as you explore. This route is shaded most of the time, making it a perfect hike to cool down with. Hikers report a lot of downed trees in the area so be prepared to do a bit of creative navigation!
Check out All Trails for downloadable maps, guides, and directions for each of these hikes.