Can You Kayak in Yosemite?

Yosemite National Park is a popular spot for camping, picnics, and relaxation. But, you can also do plenty of outdoor activities around the area. After all, the place offers all kinds of fun endeavors for everyone. But, don’t just limit yourself to exploring nature. Instead, try going on a water adventure! Now, you might be thinking, “Can you Kayak in Yosemite?” – Yes!

You can definitely bring your own boat with you. There is a list of lakes and rivers provided by the park accessible for kayaking. This article will provide you with all the information you need about kayaking in Yosemite.

Where Can You Kayak in Yosemite National Park?

Again, there are a few water spots that the park allows people to enjoy. It is essential to realize that there are good times to get on the water. To be sure, you should find a time wherein river conditions are most favorable to you. You don’t wanna go rafting when the waters are not that deep because you might hit bottom.

For your reference, here are some places in Yosemite to go kayaking, along with important details about boating:

Merced River

During summer, Merced River is a popular go-to for rafting, canoeing, and also kayaking. More so, you can rent a boat usually in June and July, but it changes every year according to the water level. It’s important to know where the water is before kayaking in the river for your safety and convenience. If the waters are shallow, there is little room for enjoyment.

Here are some restrictions you need to follow for navigating and bringing your vessel to Merced River:

Headwaters to Little Yosemite Valley

  • This part of the Merced River is always open for boaters.
  • Launching and retrieving of boats is allowed along this entire section.
  • No vehicle entry for this area. To access this, you have to hike at least 4 miles. Then, go back 3.8 to 4.7 miles of trail from Little Yosemite Valley at the end of the segment.
  • For an overnight stay, you must secure a wilderness permit.

Clark’s Bridge to Stoneman Bridge (Class I-II: Easy to Novice)

  • From Clark’s Bridge to Stoneman, the Merced River is open all day. But, the gauge height at Pohono Bridge should be below 4.5 ft at 8 am.
  • Launching and retrieving of boats is permitted only at the downstream area from Clark’s Bridge. Approximately 100 ft, or as registered).

Stoneman Bridge to El Capitan Bridge (Class I-II: Easy to Novice)

  • Launching and retrieving of boats is allowed only at the following destinations:
  • The area is downstream from Stoneman Bridge (for approximately 100 ft, signed).
  • Sandy, an unvegetated section of the Sentinel Beach.
  • From El Capitan Bridge, it’s about 100 ft upstream, Downstream, or as endorsed.

El Capitan Bridge to El Portal Rd (Highway 140) – Big Oak Flat Rd Junction (Class III-IV: Intermediate to Advanced)

  • The Merced River from El Capitan Bridge is downstream to the junction of El Portal Rd. Big Oak Flat Rd is open each day when the gauge height at Pohono Bridge is at least 3.4 ft at 8 am.
  • Launching and retrieving of vessels is authorized only on these specific locations below:
  • Area of El Capitan Bridge, approximately 100 ft upstream or downstream.
  • The entire part of the river downstream of Pohono Bridge

El Portal Rd (Highway 140) and Big Oak Flat Rd Junction to Park Boundary (Class V: Expert)

  • Downstream to Park Boundary, the Merced River from El Capitan Bridge is open each day. Gauge height at Pohono Bridge is at least 3.4 ft at 8 am.
  • Launching and retrieving of boats are accepted in these listed points:
  • Area of El Capitan Bridge (for approximately 100 ft upstream and downstream, or as marked).
  • The entire segment of the river. Note: Access to the river becomes hard 0.3 miles East of El Portal and Big Oak Flat Rd.

South Fork Merced River

You can also go kayaking around the South Fork of the Merced River below the Swinging Bridge in Wawona. But, if you’re with your family or friends, make sure each person with you has a personal floatation device.

For South Fork Merced River, including Wawona, here are the following rules for kayaking:

Headwaters to 100 Yards Upstream From Wawona Impoundment (Class V: Expert)

  • This part of the river is always accessible.
  • Launching and retrieving of boats is permitted along the entire portion of the river.
  • No vehicle or trail entry for this area
  • A wilderness permit is needed for overnight stays.

Downstream of Wawona Impoundment to Wawona Campground (Class II-IV: Novice to Advanced)

  • This part of the river is open all the time.
  • Launching and retrieving boats is allowed in this whole area of the river.
  • Some areas are dangerous. Practice extreme caution.

Downstream of Wawona Campground to Park Boundary (Class V+: Expert)

  • This section is always open.
  • Launching and retrieving of boats is authorized along the integrated part of the river.
  • No vehicle or trail access downstream of Wawona Campground.

Tuolumne River

Another perfect spot for kayaking in Yosemite is the Tuolumne River because of its many rapids and clear waters. You can go boating here all day during the summer as the waters are fun to get on. If you’re hungry for an adventure in the river, the area is challenging enough to suit your daring needs. 

When rafting in the Tuolumne River, it is important to note the following restrictions given below:

Pothole Dome to Pate Valley

  • The Tuolumne River from Pothole Dome to Pate Valley is open.
  • Launching and retrieving of boats are allowed in:
  • Pothole Dome downstream of the meadow
  • Glen Aulin and Pate Valley within 100 ft of the bridge
  • No vehicle access to this part. You must hike about half a mile and back several miles to Tuolumne Meadows or White wolf.
  • A Wilderness permit is required for staying overnight.

Lake Tenaya

Located in the Alpine region of Yosemite National Park is Lake Tenaya. With an elevation of 8,150 ft. One of the most popular spots for kayaking, boating, and swimming. It is mainly referred to as the “Jewel of the High country.”

You will undoubtedly enjoy paddling through the waters. Because of the gorgeous views the lake brings. Kayaking is pleasant, usually around June to October.

What are the Regulations for Kayaking in Yosemite National Park?

Here are the following rules and regulations for kayaking in Yosemite park:

  • All lakes except Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and some rivers are open to non-motorized vessels. But those are with restrictions listed.
  • Note: sections of a river may close if there are rubles or any changing water characteristic that may restrict passage.
  • Vessels should be in excellent condition and rated for classification of usage in the waters an individual intends to go.

Launching and retrieving of vessels is allowed only at designated areas.

  • It is prohibited to use a trailer or wheeled device to launch or retrieve a vessel.
  • Dragging vessels on vegetation is forbidden.
  • Personal floatation devices (PFDs) must be worn by every occupant of any type of vessel when:
  • Aged 13 years old and younger with no exceptions
  • Paddling on Merced River above Little Yosemite Valley and just below El Capitan Bridge
  • Navigating anywhere on Tuolumne or Merced River each day, the gauge height at Pohono Bridge is above 4 ft at 8 am.
  • Wading through Tuolumne River or South Fork of Merced River
  • Alternatively, everyone must have their own PFD

Can You Get in the Water at Yosemite National Park?

Although you can find several outdoor pools available during the summer season in the park, nothing beats swimming in the lake. At Curry Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge, the swimming pools are accessible to the public. But, there is no better way to cool off and relax after kayaking in Yosemite than getting in the water. 

In general, you can get into all the water bodies inside the park. But, there are exceptions to keep in mind where it is not permitted. Below are the following spots where swimming is not allowed:

  • Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (within 1 mile upstream along any tributary (like Rancheria Falls).
  • Dana Fork of Tuolumne River
  • Emerald Pool and Silver Apron above the Vernal Fall
  • Lake Eleanor Reservoir (when announced)
  • Wawona Domestic Water intakes 100 yards upstream

The Merced River has always been the most popular area for swimming. But, you should always do your best to keep the rivers clean.

For more information, check the water safety here.

Where Can You Rent A Kayak in Yosemite National Park?

You can bring your own kayaks to the park without trouble. Unfortunately, there are no rental shops for kayaks or boats within the area. The only place where you can rent a raft is at Curry Village, which runs from late May through July. It is still ideal for carrying a personal one to avoid hassle and worry.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, you can be confident you can go kayaking in Yosemite National Park. While following certain regulations. Before going on a water trip, bring your own vessel or kayak because there are no rental shops in the park. Additionally, navigate a spot where you can handle the waters and when it is good for you.