Merced River Photos – The Lifeline of the Valley

Named by the Spanish – in honor of Our Lady of Mercy, the mighty Merced is Yosemite Valley’s main artery. With many different paces and a variety of scenery along it’s banks, no two stretches are alike. Here are some of my best Merced River photos from around the valley (and throughout Yosemite’s seasons).

Smooth flowing Autumn scene, long exposure - Merced River photos
Long exposure Merced River scene

Merced River in Fall

The photo above was captured on along El Portal Road, south of the main part of Yosemite Valley. By late October the river flow dies down, and big leaf maple trees along the banks come alive with gold & yellow color. I used an ND and polarizer for this shot.

Yellow leaves reflected in the Merced River - October
Fall reflections in water

This peaceful stretch is right in the heart of the valley, about a mile south of Yosemite Falls. You’ll notice deep, serene pools here with clear water. This lends itself nicely to the trees’ autumn colors reflecting in the water below.

Spring Season

Stone and wood Berg Bridge, crossing the Merced's heavy flow in spring
Tourists crossing Berg Bridge

Here is Berg bridge, a mile further north. This image is from late April when the weather warms and the previous winter’s snowmelt is at its peak. The river’s water level is quite high, and the current is more swift than many visitors realize.

Pink blooms along Merced River, at Yosemite Falls View turnout.
Pink blooms along river

Spring months of April and May bring beautiful colors back to the Merced River’s banks. I’m not sure what this pink tree is, but it makes for a nice scene along with the flowing river next to it. This is the Bridalveil Fall view turnout.

Also note the blooming dogwoods as you continue west on Northside Dr from here (in early May).

Sentinel Bridge View – Half Dome Above the Merced River

Merced River with Half Dome, taken from Sentinel Bridge
Iconic Yosemite scene

This is a beautiful scene that’s easy to miss as you quickly drive across the bridge to the visitor’s center. Can’t beat a view like that.

Rapids along El Portal Rd

River Canyon View, portrait in Summer
Merced River Canyon View

Quite a bit further west, outside the most famous valley destinations, you’ll find the start of the Merced River’s rapids.

Rocky rapids closeup in Summer - Merced River photos
Rocky river rapids

I believe these photos were taken in late Summer. While the water flow here looks intense, the real whitewater begins further downriver, about 4 miles south of El Portal.

Rapids emptying into an emerald pool with large river boulders.
Emptying into an emerald pool

Not sure if it’s just a coincidence or what, but the vast majority of bears I’ve seen in Yosemite were spotted here nearby the river. Perhaps it’s because there are less people, and more natural food sources?

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About My Photos

The images on this website are available for licensing and/or sale as framed prints. If you’d like to purchase them for a blog, news article, or gift, feel free to contact me with the specifics. This way you’re supporting photographers such as me directly (as opposed to buying from a faceless stock photo corporation).

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– Nathan Allen

About Me

Photographer Nathan Allen

I’m Nathan Allen, photographer / creator of (Yosemite Photos) and international travel site I Dreamed Of This. In truth, I lived in San Francisco, New York, & Singapore…but nothing compares to life in the mountains. I share my experiences HERE.