Lower South Fork Merced River
Lars Holbek describes the South Fork Merced below Wawona as a classic, one of the best multi-day class V+ runs in the world. This writeup describes two approaches to a much easier lower-elevation run, one involving a hike down, the other requiring 4WD vehicles with skid plates. You might want to boat this “downshifted” river (in Holbek terminology) if you're not yet ready for the serious run starting at Wawona, or if you want to see what the classic run looks like after mile 14. Mark German (email@example.com) put in at Snyder Gulch and reports:
A buddy and I did that run about four years ago. The scenery was great and we saw no one else. I have pictures of us at the top pumping up our IKs in a near blizzard. In fact my buddy carried tire chains in his IK so I could shuttle my truck up to the put-in when we were finished. We also encountered relatively large bear tracks in the snow while dragging our boats down to the river. Thought you might find the story interesting.
Poised at the top of Hite Cove 4WD road in my Trooper, I felt like an intermediate skier at the top of a steep expert trail for the first time. But my vehicle made it down, acquiring many new poison oak scratches, and bottoming out only once. On the return shuttle (with no boats), Boris drove his Pathfinder without bottoming out at all. This 4 mile portion of the shuttle takes over an hour. With just a regular car, you can easily reach the end of a dirt road where a trail descends 2000' in 3.5 miles to a higher put-in.
To reach put-in from there, retrace your route uphill to the motels and stores of Mid Pines. Short of the summit, turn left on Triangle Road. Proceed up and downhill for about 10 miles to a major intersection with Darrah Road to the right and Jerseydale Road to the left. Turn left and proceed another 10 miles to the end of the pavement. Good campsites are available in this area. Take the right fork instead of going to Jerseydale. Proceed past residences over 2 miles to another fork with sign saying “Hite Cove Road 2 miles” and bear right again. From there it is only 1.3 miles to a gate where Hite Cove Road begins. At that point you can choose to make a sharp right turn onto an easy dirt road leading gently downhill to the trailhead, or you can proceed thru the gate steeply downhill to the river. High clearance 4WD is mandatory; skid plates and low range are recommended.
Map of Rivers