The summer heat spared us until last week. If you need a place to cool off this weekend or sometime over the summer, try the BLM's Merced Wild and Scenic River Recreation Area just beyond Mariposa.
There are closer places where you can go swimming, but none of them are as scenic as the river canyon at Briceburg. The river is clear and clean here. You can see the river bottom without any effort. It's just cold enough to be truly refreshing, but not too cold. This section of the river is quiet and peaceful because it doesn't follow the highway.
The Merced River starts with melting snow in the high country of Yosemite. Highway 140 follows it from Briceburg into the park. Going the other direction from Briceburg, however, the river leaves the course of the highway and meanders through a roadless area before flowing into Lake McClure.
Briceburg is your gateway to this area. Turn off of Highway 140 at the Briceburg Visitor Center and drive across the single-lane suspension bridge. You will probably see people swimming in the river as soon as soon as you cross the bridge. You can park and jump in here, or you can drive further down the river.
This stretch of the river has never had a highway. You are driving on the former railroad bed of the Yosemite Valley Railroad. The road ends after 4.8 miles, but the trail continues for about 9 miles, ending at the Bagby Bridge at Highway 49. It's too hot to be a good route right now, but you can enjoy this area on foot, bike, or horseback in the fall. I hiked it in December last year and we only saw four other people the whole day.
There are excellent swimming holes along the 4.8 miles of the road. You can park anyplace where your vehicle won't block the road. If you swim across the river, there are some small beaches you can enjoy.
It's a popular spot for locals. When I was up there last Wednesday, there were a lot of people enjoying the cool waters. I watched two guys on an inflatable raft float part of the river.
Whatever you do, be safe and don't do anything unwise. The river is still flowing swiftly and will become gentler later in the summer. If you aren't a strong swimmer or have children with you, be extremely cautious. Personal flotation devices can provide additional safety.
You can find swimming holes along the Merced River on Highway 140, but I prefer the Briceburg area because it gets you away from the Yosemite traffic. Briceburg also has three campgrounds that allow you to enjoy an entire weekend by the river. Dogs are welcome here, too.
You might also want to cast your line in the water here. DFG planted the river with trout during the week of 6/21 and plan to again this week. The plant location is the Redbud Bridge, 17 miles above Briceburg.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman and local historian who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org