Yosemite Getaway: Hiking & Merced Rafting

Posted May 23, 2022 by Emily Vernizzi, river enthusiast and Armstrong cousin

Yosemite has been wowing the masses as a U.S. National Park for over 130 years. The much-loved local’s weekend getaway also welcomes travelers from around the globe and tallied 3.29 million visitors in 2021. It can be easily argued that a visit to California is hardly complete without time spent in Yosemite National Park.

A majority of the tourism is focused in the “Valley”…and for good reason. Yosemite Valley is incredible! It is formed and defined by its powerful water features, which come together to tumble west through the Sierra Nevada mountains as the Merced River.

When planning a visit to Yosemite, there are a thousand and one ways to fill the time. Even if the time is tight, it’s totally possible to plan a memorable and fulfilling visit. Our recommendation? Spend some time in the park admiring the rocky features and the waterfalls and then ride on the very same whitewater just outside of the park.

Hiking in Yosemite National Park
Every spring I gather my group of friends, family members, and coworkers for our annual Yosemite trip of hiking, feasting, and whitewater rafting (check this year’s Merced River rafting conditions). After many successful group trips, we’ve got the plans down pat. If you’re looking to pair a visit to Yosemite National Park with rafting on the Merced River, here’s a page from our book:

Day 1 (Get a Head Start)

Arrive in the afternoon to settle in and catch the sunset. Too late for sunset? Appreciate the starshine sans city lights! We usually stay outside of the park to keep our evening drive shorter and so it is easier to coordinate lodging for our large group.

Lodging Tip: Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort. A variety of lodging types in a prime location about 55 minutes from the Yosemite Valley floor and 5 minutes from the All-Outdoors Merced meet place in Midpines! The restaurant is incredible for breakfast, hiker’s bagged lunches, and dinner. The beds are super comfortable and the price extremely reasonable. Plus, a spa!

Hiking in Yosemite National Park

Day 2 (& 3, 4, 5…)

Hike! Yosemite Valley, while quite popular along the main floor, is absolutely worth a visit. There are so many hikes that begin from the Valley, and if time is limited, here are some of our favorites that allow us to fit more than just a hike into the day, such as combining with other scenic stops like Tunnel View or refreshments at the historical Ahwahnee Hotel…

  • Mirror Lake Loop Trail (~5 miles) Pro tip: hike it clockwise! It also pairs well with some time on the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail.
  • Vernal Falls (~4 miles) This can be slippery! Extend your hike to Nevada Falls if you’re looking for more time on the trail.
  • The Four Mile Trail (~10 miles) Deceptively named but honestly gorgeous. Hike up to and back from the epic Glacier Point (hiking will be the only way to reach Glacier Point during the planned road closure in 2022).
  • Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (~7 miles) Looking for a more challenging hike? This one is a total classic, but pack more food and water than you think, because it’s a big one! (Fun Fact: we crossed paths with Alex Honnold and Jimmy Chin on their hike down from the famous Free Solo climb! We had no idea what had just been achieved.)
  • Want to see more than just the Valley? Mariposa Grove, in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park, has some of the largest trees in the world. With multiple loop variations, this area of the forest is one of the most accessible Sequoia groves in the whole park.
Rafting near Yosemite on the Merced River

Last Day (The Grand Finale)

End your Yosemite visit on a high note and raft your way out of the park! Wetsuit up and ride the power of the falls as the water flows out of the Valley’s floor as the Merced River. Only about 20 minutes outside of the park’s west entrance, the “Mighty Merced” changes from a tumbling rocky cascade into a thrilling, energetic wave train, suitable for rafters with varying levels of whitewater experience. It’s important that all participants are over the age of 12, are able to swim, and have a sense of adventure!

Creating the perfect pair in life is not always easy. A visit to Yosemite National Park followed by an exciting day of whitewater rafting on the same stream that created one of the tallest falls in the world, makes for a well-rounded and unforgettable getaway. The two go together and were made for each other.

Class IV Ned's Gulch Rapid - Merced River

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