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Historical artifacts create an area of historic and cultural significance along the river. The continuum of human use along the Merced River and South Fork of the Merced River encompasses millennia of diverse peoples, cultures and uses. American Indian and late 19th-century American cultures flourished along these rivers, because they provided reliable, year-round water. Evidence that reflects trade, travel and settlement patterns abounds in an intricate and interconnected landscape of archeological sites representing this cultural history.
The Wawona historic resources includes one of the few covered bridges in the region. The National Historic Landmark Wawona Hotel Complex includes one of the largest existing Victorian hotel complexes in a national park and one of the few remaining that remains largely representative of its original configuration.
From its source on the south side of Mount Lyell at 13,114 feet, through a glacially carved canyon within Yosemite National Park, the river flows downstream to Lake McClure Reservoir. The Merced, including the South Fork, flows through exceptional scenery—glaciated peaks, lakes and alpine and subalpine meadows—in alternating pools and cascades. Wildflower displays are spectacular. The South Fork possesses one of the few remaining pristine Sierra Nevada fisheries with self-sustaining populations of rainbow, eastern brook and brown trout. Archeology and wildlife are also noteworthy.