With a place as picturesque as Yosemite, it’s hard to not find a view anywhere you go. I’ve seen Yosemite Valley from above (high above — 7,200 feet — atop Glacier Point) as well as below (from the valley floor on the main road that loops through the park).
But one of the most spectacular ways to see the valley is not on granite at all — but on the crystal clear waters of the Merced River.
The three-mile float on the Merced is only open in the summer and while the paddling won’t work your shoulders, your neck may be a different story from looking up at all the landmarks! I call it the “Best of” booze cruise, since you can sightsee with beer in hand and without tourists hogging your viewframe.
We put in just before Stoneman Bridge and a few strokes out, Half Dome came into view behind us. I actually floated backwards for a few hundred feet just to take it all in.
Despite being a summer weekend (and Memorial Day weekend at that, which was all the more reason to avoid the road), the river was relatively quiet. There were a few moments of solitude where we drifted through tall pines and the only sound heard was the occasional splash under our kayaks.
We paddled under bridges where tourists snapped our pictures and past beaches where other paddlers had pulled ashore to picnic on the sand.
Nearly every corner we turned, there was Half Dome again, towering over the valley.
We floated past granite domes and Yosemite Falls and wished we’d brought more beer.
The float ended (much too soon) at Sentinel Beach, a popular picnicking area where buses also shuttle people back to the put-in point. If you don’t have your own watercraft, you can rent a raft in Curry Village and the outfitter will bring the rafts back for you. All you need are some snacks and a camera. (And a wetsuit, if you plan to take a dip in the water… it’s cooooold!)
Next summer, I’m taking my innertube down the river. And towing a cooler behind me!