Kayaking in Yosemite – Everything you need to know

One of the best things you can experience in the Yosemite is kayaking. Every year flocks of people visit the valley to have some fun and adventurous experience in the calm waters of Merced River and Tenaya Lake. In fact, the Merced River is one of the most popular kayaking spots in Yosemite. However, there is no kayak rental with the Yosemite National Park, so you’ve to bring your own kayak or rent it from outside the park. In this guide, we will tell you everything you need to know before packing your bags for the trip. 

Kayaking In Yosemite – General Overview 

Merced is a gentle and calm river running through the main valley. But when it’s in its active state, even the pro paddlers get the most unforgettable experience. If you’re planning to take your own kayak or boat in the park, there are many put-in and take-out points within the park. And if you don’t have a kayak, you can rent one from nearby villages at reasonable prices which we’ll discuss later in this article. 

There are many options for kayaking within Yosemite depending on what kind of experience you want and whether or not you’ve your own kayak. 

If You Bring Your Own Kayak or Boat 

If you have a kayak readily, you can start kayaking right there along the great Merced River starting from Stoneman Bridge, Curry Village to Sentinel Point. You can have a small picking as there a huge picnicking area this side of the river. A good idea is to plan a day trip around this area by bringing some food, snacks and essential supplies. It will add to your kayaking experience. 

Kayaking is generally allowed from 10 AM to 6 PM on regular days. The regular take-out point is 3 miles downstream and is nestled around the Sentinel Beach Area. Know that, river access is not available between the 2 given points. Kayaking, boating and other activities are available on the below conditions :

  • The river should be declared open by the park management. 
  • Rafting or boating is allowed when the gage height is below 7 feet at Pohono bridge. 
  • Personal Floatation Devices or PFDs are compulsory. 
  • Take-out and put-in points are limited, so you have to check for the availability status. 

With your own equipment, you can buy a shuttle bus ticket back to Half Dome Village, when your trip is over for just $5.

Kayaking On Lake Tenaya

If you want to have a relaxing boating experience, head on towards Lake Tenaya instead of Merced River. 

Lake Tenaya offers plenty of scenic views of the parks and the beautiful calm waters. You can go here with any non-motorized boat or kayak during the day. Just like on the Merced River, here also you must wear PFD. If you’ve kids below 13 with you, make sure they wear their PFDs all the time. 

Renting The Kayak 

As we already discussed, there is no kayak rental center within the park. But you can easily rent a kayak and other gear from the rental centers at Curry Village and Half Dome Village. 

Kayak Rental Cost 

There are plenty of rental services outside the park. So, if you don’t have a kayak or don’t want to have the inconvenience of bringing it on your trip, you can easily rent one. The best part is, the rental costs are very reasonable. You can rent a single kayak at the rate of $15 per hour whereas the Tandem kayaks can be rented at $20 per hour. When the season is on peak, we suggest making reservations in advance otherwise you may have to face disappointment.

Views You Can Expect When Kayaking In Yosemite 

Whether you’re kayaking or floating by an inner tube, you’ll be able to enjoy the breaking beauty along the valley. As the river Merceds turns along the valley floor, paddlers are welcomed by the magnificent views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. These beautiful scenes keep changing and appearing with each turn. The steady yet smooth current of the water will guide your kayak down the river, offering you plenty of time to enjoy the sights. Just below the stone bridges, you will be able to enjoy the eddies filled with touts. Alongside the river, there are huge sandy beaches where you can stop for a swim or organizing a small picnic. The take-out is generally downstream from the beach at a wooden bridge on the left of the river. After a quick carry up, you can reach the picnic area where many shuttles are waiting for paddlers to take them back to Curry Village. 

Kayaking Yosemite – General Information 

  • Length of trip: Approx. 3 Miles 
  • Difficulty level: Class l
  • Timing : 10.00AM to 6.00 PM
  • Opening Season: June To July (Based on the water level) 
  • Gage Height: Should be below 7 feet
  • Dangers: Coldwater, strainers, cold air 
  • Views and Scenery: Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley 
  • Put-in Slot: Curry Curry Village Recreation Center
  • Kayak put-In Point: Under Stoneman Bridge
  • Kayak Take-out point: Sandy Beach, River Left near the wooden bridge
  • Take-out Slot: Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
  • Shuttle Service: Available at just $5.00 per head every 30 to 40 minutes till 6.00 PM.

How To Approach For Kayaking In Yosemite 

  • Head on towards Yosemite National Park via Highway 140, El Portal Road and drive towards the valley. 
  • Reach Curry Village Recreation Centre by following the signs. 
  • After the Chapel, take a right turn and when you get the first crossroad, you’ll find the Sentinel Beach on the left. This is your put-in but parking isn’t allowed here. 
  • Take a right again and drive in the opposite of the bridge for a while and you’ll find the Curry Village Recreation Center, where you can rent your kayak, bikes. You can park your car here and can buy snacks, drinks and other necessary things. 
  • Unload your necessary gear and take it to the Merced River, which is at the left side of Stoneman Bridge. 

If you want to take a shuttle service, you’ll have to drive in the loop :

  • Head on to the Stoneman Bridge and follow the route and drive till El Capitan.
  • Take El Capitan Bridge again in a loop for heading back. 
  • Take a left turn at the Sentinel Beach Area, which is your takeout. You can leave your vehicle here and take a bus. You’ll find many buses parked around the parking slot. Make sure to have enough cash for the shuttle service and know that the shuttle will not take your kayak. 

Best Time For Kayaking In Yosemite National Park 

The best time for kayaking in the Yosemite National Park is during May, June, July, August and September. During these months, the water level of the river is perfect for kayaking or canoeing and the weather is pleasant as well. However, some years the river gets a bit low around August, so make sure to check the river condition before planning your trip. But the good thing is, this year the river is likely to get slow after September due to heavy snowmelt. So, you’ve plenty of time. 

Is There Any Lodging Around Yosemite Kayaking Sites? 

You can make the most out of your kayaking trip by having accommodation near the site. After 6.00 PM when the sites shut down, you can head on to your cabins, rental homes or condominiums. 

Yes, there are plenty of lodging facilities around the valley where you can think about extending your trip and enjoy a few more days in the Valley. Many cabins and lodging facilities allow you to keep your kayaking equipment, so you don’t have to worry about this either. With all the use of amenities and services, you will able to have a relaxed and enjoyable experience at the Yosemite. 

Are There Any Rules /Restrictions For Kayaking in Yosemite? 

Yes, there are certain things to keep in mind when kayaking in the Yosemite National Park. First of all, you should follow all the rules as well as the warnings given by the park rangers and other staff. There are times when Merced River can become super active and dangerous for water recreation, so it’s very important to stay away from waters during such conditions. Moreover, at the time you’re kayaking in Yosemite, you must wear PFDs regardless of your skills or age. This is very important for your safety. 

Packing Tips For Kayaking In Yosemite 

Having the right equipment and supplies is very important to make your kayaking experience super enjoyable and comfortable. With that in mind, we suggest bringing the following things :

  • Swimwear 
  • Sunglasses 
  • Sunscreen 
  • Calorie-rich snacks 
  • Prepared food
  • Large Can of Drinking water 
  • Heavy coat/jacket (according to weather) 
  • Sun shielding hat 
  • Waterproof bag
  • Waterproof cellphone cover 
  • Comfortable boots (neoprene) 
  • Paddling gloves 
  • Extra clothing items 
  • First aid kit 

Kayaking in Yosemite is one of the most wonderful things to do. We hope our guide helps you in having the most fun on your next kayaking trip to Yosemite National Park. 

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