Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Merced Headwaters: Hiking Information

A basic overview map of the trails

Click here to view a larger version of the map or to download.

Arranged from least energy output to most, named by the starting points and trail names of the 4 most obvious access trails.  All of these hikes use a portion of the John Muir trail.  Distances are to Merced lake.  If running the upper stretch starting at the Lyell Fork confluence is desired, add about 5 miles to the hike.

The reservation system is not realistic for kayakers, therefore only information about first come-first serve permits are mentioned below.  Permits are issued at 11am the day before they are valid at one of the wilderness permit stations in the park. Permit priority for a particular trailhead is given to the closest permit issuing station, though a permit can be procured for any trail at any permit issuing station.  Show up willing to use any of the trailheads available, and have a list of options ready.  Early arrival is wise.  Camping in the backpackers camp the day before a trip is an option for those with a permit. 

Glacier Point:  A little over 13 miles.  This option allows one to camp near Moraine Dome, where paddlers can ditch their camping gear.  This means only about 8 miles of hiking are required with a full load.  The camp is at the end of the whitewater section.
First come, first serve permits available: 4

Tenaya/Sunrise Lakes:  About 11 miles.  Two uphill portions, each a mile or less.  Full gear will need to be carried to the Lost Valley, Range of Light and down will need to be run with a loaded boat.
First come, first serve permits available: 6

Tuolomne/Rafferty:  Just over 14 miles.  Longest distance to Merced Lake on this list, dropping into the Merced about a mile above Merced Lake, it is a good option for boaters running the section above Merced Lake.  Merced Lake is a good campsite, everything below there must be run with a full load.
First come, first serve permits available:  8

Happy Isles:  About 11 ½ miles, be aware the first 3 miles are brutal.  Can camp at Moraine Dome.
First come, first serve permits available: 12, these are highly sought after by hikers.


Parking is also more regulated than the average kayaking run.  The bus system is not designed for kayaking purposes, but can be used for shuttling people (probably not kayaks).  Check out the “Getting Around Yosemite” section of this link for more info.


Access for kayakers is not completely dialed yet, so more options for getting into this section may be available to crafty boaters.  All trips require a hike out of 4 miles along the John Muir Trail (the Mist trail is not recommended for kayakers with backpacks).