Merced River Trail

Merced River Trail Image

Imagined by its advocates as a multi-use trail through the Merced River corridor, the Merced River Trail will follow the historic Yosemite Valley Railroad grade on the northern banks of the river from UC-Merced to the railroad’s former terminus in El Portal. From there, the trail would leave the river banks and head towards Foresta until finally reaching Big Oak Flat in Yosemite National Park. When completed, the Merced River Trail would provide over 60 miles of trails facilitating enhanced hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, and camping experiences within the Merced River corridor.

This project offers a wide array of benefits to Mariposa County residents. By expanding access to recreational opportunities throughout Mariposa County, the Merced River Trail will establish a unique and compelling resource to facilitate safe and convenient outdoor recreation experiences. Due to its active transportation and recreation functions, the Merced River Trail can improve area public health outcomes on issues like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Additionally, the trail improvements that this project implies would involve extensive ecological restoration activities, including erosion controls and invasive species removal. Coupled with the project’s light ecological footprint, these restoration activities benefit the community by preserving and emphasizing the Outstandingly Remarkable Values enshrined in the Merced River’s Wild and Scenic Plans. Finally, the proposed interpretive programming will serve to deepen and enrich residents’ connections to regional environmental and cultural history.

While these project elements have direct and tangible benefits for county residents, they also enhance the trail’s value to visitors seeking new and adventurous ways to experience the Sierra foothills and Yosemite National Park. By enhancing and expanding this recreational resource, the project team anticipates an increase in tourism activity, generating economic benefits for local businesses and employers.

More broadly, by expanding access to the Merced River corridor, the project will facilitate community connections to and stewardship of a landscape that is typically experienced at high speeds in route to more recognizable destinations within the park’s boundaries. In addition to its proposed ecological and cultural interpretation programming, the trail will allow residents and visitors to experience the watershed’s unique and lightly trammeled ecology in more intimate and human-scaled ways, enhancing the relationships between trail users and the landscape.

Planning Process Overview

The county has empaneled an official advisory committee called the Merced River Trail Community Working Group (CWG) to facilitate the development of a comprehensive master plan for the Merced River Trail. You can learn more about the planning process and community engagement approach here. The CWG’s responsibilities include ensuring appropriate participation in the master plan development process, providing technical expertise in topic areas germane to the Merced River Trail Master Plan, supporting county staff in answering critical questions that arise in the plan development process, and providing periodic updates to the Board of Supervisors regarding the effort. You can learn more about the group and stay up to date with their meetings here. Be sure to select " Merced River Trail Community Working Group" from the drop down box under " Meeting Group".


In Summer 2018, Mariposa County applied for and ultimately was awarded participation in the National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, through which the county has been receiving technical assistance and project support from NPS planners based in the regional headquarters in San Francisco. Technical assistance focuses primarily on building consensus among the project’s federal partners, including the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and National Parks Service, all of which have jurisdiction over segments of the Merced River Trail. The presence of a recreation planner with knowledge of the differing protocols and perspectives of these federal agencies has been extremely beneficial to preliminary trail planning dialogues.


The Planning Department established a partnership with Miran Day, a landscape architecture professor at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, through which 15 undergraduate landscape architecture students spent the Spring 2019 academic quarter working on the Merced River Trail. Under Professor Day’s instruction, students collaborated with Planning Department staff and stakeholders from both the Mariposa community and the MRT’s federal partners to generate ideas that articulate the region’s culture through recreational programming. Students researched the diverse human and environmental experiences that have historically animated the Merced River corridor, and explored ways of interpreting it through features like public art, landscape improvements, and trail amenities. Students also explored ways of aligning recreational programming with strategies to both promote restoration from and reduce risk of wildfire in the river canyon.

This partnership offered students a unique and compelling educational experience, while providing the MRT project partnership with innovative and bold ideas from one of the nation’s finest landscape architecture programs. On June 3, 2019 the students presented their final projects at the Briceburg Visitor Center. That evening, the Upper Merced River Watershed Council sponsored an event to celebrate the trail, during which the student’s work was showcased and commented upon by trail advocates. 

While the student work helped provoke discussion and stimulate dialogue around the trail’s opportunities and constraints, it is important to note that these ideas are purely conceptual and do not reflect the community’s vision for the scale and aesthetic of any future work in the Merced River Corridor. Beginning in Spring 2020, the Planning Department will be facilitating an expansive engagement process to collect feedback from throughout the community, and to establish consensus around the trail’s physical and programmatic features. Stay tuned for updates!

View the studio’s final deliverables here.


Planning Department staff have developed an interactive tool to collect and organize stakeholder input on the Merced River Trail, from the Merced River Trail. Using a smartphone, tablet, or other web-enabled device, trail users and advocates can share qualitative information on their experience on the trail--both special areas and problematic ones--and post ideas for trail enhancements, and include photographs to help illustrate her or his thoughts on the trail’s existing conditions. Through the Survey 123 platform, this information is geolocated and posted onto an online web map that displays all of the community input on the trail. You can view the web map here.

This tool is meant to collect an inclusive and comprehensive set of ideas related to the community’s’ preferences for the trail. Accordingly, we strongly encourage all who are interested in influencing the Merced River Trail to take advantage of this process. To download the Survey123 app, follow the instructions below:

1.    Download and install the Survey123 app on your smartphone/web enabled device from our preferred app store. If you have an apple device, that would be the iTunes app store, and if you have an Android device, that would be the Google Play store.

2.    After the app is downloaded onto your device, click on this link to connect to the Merced River Trail Map. Remember to open the map in the app, and not the web browser, on your device.

3.    When you are out in the river corridor and ready to begin collecting data, open the app and click on the Merced River Trail survey for each point you wish to share. The app interface should be fairly intuitive, but click here for additional instructions and guidance in app usage.

4.    Drop as many points as you can, and remember that since there is no data coverage in the river canyon, you will have to send the data from your outbox in the app once you are in a place with coverage or WiFi after your trip is over.


Email Mikey Goralnik

Phone: 209-742-1222