Merced River Loop

Trip Description

On this unforgettable loop hike you will experience some of the most talked about scenery in all of Yosemite National Park: Merced River, Merced Lake, Little Yosemite Valley, Vernal and Nevada Falls and Half Dome. Our journey starts at the Happy Isles Trailhead, a very popular trailhead located in Yosemite Valley. We will walk in the footsteps of the legendary John Muir, passing spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls before stopping for the night in Little Yosemite Valley. The following day, we continue along the river towards Echo Valley and Merced Lake. Day 3 will be spent heading through the high country and walking among the granite domes, with a secluded camp near Half Dome, our goal for Day 4. The hike to the top this granite giant is not for the faint of heart (and not mandatory) but the views from the summit are awe-inspiring. A final night back in Little Yosemite Valley beautifully rounds out the trip. This is a truly spectacular adventure featuring some of North America’s most outstanding backcountry!


Trip Details

Type: Backpacking

Days: 5

Distance: ~35 miles

Difficulty: Intermediate

Origin: Curry Village, Yosemite National Park

Cost: $1800 per person


Trip Itinerary

Day 1:

We will meet at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley at a pre-determined time. The first day will be spent hiking the Mist Trail and exploring the waterfalls (320 foot Vernal Falls and 594 foot Nevada Falls) that have given this trail its name. We pass through forests of black oak and ponderosa pine as our trail heads relentlessly upward. There is good reason to stop and catch your breath often, as the views that unfold will leave you speechless. Enjoy lunch atop Nevada Falls, where the trail flattens out for the final mile to Little Yosemite Valley. Drop your backpack, pat yourself on the back and relax as your guide sets up camp. The remainder of the afternoon is free to spend time by the river, enjoy a nearby swimming hole, or just relax and enjoy the remarkable surroundings. Your guide will prepare a delicious dinner before settling in for the evening.
Distance/Elevation: 6.5 miles, 2000 foot ascent
Lunch, Dinner

Day 2:

After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, we will pack up camp and continue on with our journey. Today’s hike will follow the Merced River into Lost Valley, past cascades over polished granite, into Echo Valley and up towards Merced Lake. This is certainly one of the most impressive stretches of trail in the park. We make camp along the banks of the river and then embark on short stroll to Merced Lake in the late afternoon before returning to camp for dinner.
Distance/Elevation: 7 miles backpacking + 3 miles day hiking, 1000 foot ascent
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3:

After a night under the star filled sky, we pack up camp and head for the High Country. We will make our way up the ‘High Trail’ above Echo Valley and Lost Valley, 1500 feet below and formed by the Merced River. The views throughout are fantastic so keep your cameras at-the-ready. Camp will be made along Sunrise Creek.
Distance/Elevation: 7 miles, 1000 foot ascent
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4:

Donning headlamps and daypacks, we will make an early bid for the summit of Half Dome. As the day gathers light, take in the views of Basket Dome, North Dome and Clouds Rest as we work our way up Sub-Dome to the base of the cables. Here you will gain the final 400 feet to the top of Half Dome. Enjoy the 360 degree panorama stretching from El Capitan to the colorful Clark Range and everything in between. After resting and soaking in the views, we will retrace our steps back to camp. From here, we will pack up and continue on the historic John Muir Trail back to Little Yosemite Valley for the final night’s camp.
Distance/Elevation: 7 miles, 1800 foot ascent/2800 foot descent
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5:

After another night under the star filled sky, we will enjoy one last breakfast in the wilderness before packing up camp. The route winds through beautiful forest along the opposite the side of the Merced River, affording equally stunning views as our hike up on the first day. We will arrive back at the parking area to sort through our gear before car-pooling back to Curry Village for a final lunch and fond farewells.

Distance/Elevation: 5 miles, 2000 foot descent
Breakfast, Lunch

*Final itineraries are occasionally subject to change due to permit/campsite availability, park restrictions/closures, weather conditions and/or road closures.


What's Included

  • A professional, licensed and medically trained guide
  • All necessary gear: backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, trekking poles
  • All cooking/eating gear: bowls, cups, utensils (your guide will prepare all meals)
  • All meals from lunch on Day 1 through lunch on the last day + trail snacks
  • Backcountry permits and fees
  • 5% NPS Commercial Fee (a required fee that passes through to Yosemite National Park)

What's Not Included:

  • Transportation to/from Yosemite National Park
  • Lodging the night before/after the trip
  • Clothing, raingear, and footwear
  • Personal toiletries, sunscreen
  • Water bottles/hydration bladder
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Guide gratuity (suggested 10-20% of trip cost)

*Upon booking you will receive a detailed trip information packet

How many people are in the group?

Most trips in Yosemite will accommodate 5 people plus one guide. On occasion, a group may be as large as 12 people plus 2 guides.

Are there age restrictions?

Children under the age of 13 are generally not permitted on regularly scheduled trips. This restriction may be negotiable on private tours. Please contact us with any questions regarding this policy.

How do I sign up?

In order to confirm a reservation, we require an initial non-refundable deposit of $250 per person, with the final balance due 90 days prior to the trip’s departure. If you book a trip within 90 days of the trip’s scheduled departure, then full payment is due at the time of booking.

Your deposit is payable over the phone by Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, or Discover. You can also pay by personal check or PayPal (PayPal incurs a 1.5% surcharge). Call our office Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm Arizona time. 1-877-272-5032

Travel Logistics

Where does the trip begin/end?

This trip will begin/end in Yosemite National Park. You will want to fly into San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Fresno, or Reno. You will need to arrange your own transportation from airports to the park. In most cases, renting a car is your easiest and best option.

Where do meet our guides?

We will hold a pre-trip orientation at 5:00pm the evening prior to your trip’s departure at the at a pre-arranged location inside the park. Departure times and logistics for the following morning will be discussed at the orientation. Most trips will depart between 7am and 9am.

What do we do with our car and extra stuff?

On the first morning of your trip, you will follow your guide to the long-term parking area where you can leave your car and personal belongings for the duration of the hike. You can also check with your hotel to see if they are willing to store your luggage for you while you hike.

What time will we get back on the last day?

Most trips end at lunchtime on the last day of the trip. If you are considering flying home on the last day of the trip, you should be finished up around 2pm. Since each trip has slightly different logistics, feel free to contact us with specific questions related to the expected return time for your trip.

Trip Dates

2024 Dates

June: 8-12

July: 1-5, 7-11, 28-August 1

August: 8-12, 12-15

Don’t see your dates? Custom dates may be available!

Call 1-877-272-5032 or email us for details.

Guest Testimonials

Guest Testimonials

“Our group recently completed the 5 day Merced River/Half Dome trip and we absolutely loved it. Four Seasons Guides had everything so well planned/communicated every step of the way with no surprises. The equipment, food and guide were outstanding. All we had to do is show up and be prepared to handle the rigor of a 40 lb. pack for 5 – 7 miles per day on steep inclines. Our guide, Bob, was fabulous with his meal selections, familiarity with the best sites and sharing his experiences and rich history of Yosemite. This was a very memorable trip and can’t wait to schedule another trip.”  – Dan S.

“Five day Merced Loop in Yosemite. We had a great time and Matt is an excellent guide. The route was spectacular, the food was great and the equipment was all top notch.” – Kurt M.

“This was my 7th backpacking trip with FSG and like all the rest, it was outstanding. Our guide Matt, who I’ve hiked with twice before, is fun, caring, professional and very passionate about his job and tightly integrated lifestyle. If you’re looking for a guided backpacking experience in the western US, don’t look any further than Four Seasons Guides.” – Chris G.

“My son and I were looking for a guide for a Yosemite hike and were lucky enough to find the VERY BEST! Four Seasons is very professional, always prompt, and pays attention to all the details. Dave made sure that we were prepared with all the information we needed for our loop trip up the Merced river and a summit up half dome.
Our guide Matt could not have been more knowledgeable and accommodating. His familiarity of the area and his stories were excellent. His cooking and meals were so good, they rivaled restaurants and I will gladly try some of his recipes at home. I have never had such fresh and delicious food on a 5 day back country hike.

At 54 years old, I have had a lot of experience from my days as an Eagle scout and even leading some group hikes over the years. So when I tell you that this company knows their stuff, believe it. We picked the right company for sure. Four Season Guides is fantastic. You will be impressed!” – Mike E.

When booking your Yosemite Backpacking Tour, it is best that you contact us at least 6 months in advance due to Yosemite National Park’s permit system. Backpacking permits are issued via a lottery system 168 days in advance of the hike’s start date. However, it is still quite possible that we can find space for you on permits that we have already secured, in case you happen to be planning a trip less than 6 months in advance.