17 Things To Do In Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park
Three Rivers is a small town located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and at the edge of the San Joaquin Valley. With a population of a little under 3,000 people, you may be wondering why you would want to visit this remote little mountain town. I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of reasons. On its own, it’s a great place for anyone that enjoys outdoor recreational activities. But it’s probably best known as the gateway town to Sequoia National Park.
With over 1 million yearly visitors coming to see the home of the Giant Sequoias, the largest trees in the world, Sequoia National Park has no need for an introduction. And while wandering beneath these giant trees is a wondrous experience, there are many other breathtaking sights to see and awesome experiences to enjoy that you won’t want to miss out on in both the park and the town of Three Rivers.
Before planning any upcoming trips to the area, read on to learn about the best places to stay and eat and the best things to see and do during your visit.
Three Rivers To Sequoia National Park
Driving to Three Rivers from San Francisco or Los Angeles will require a four-hour road trip as it is halfway between the two cities. A few things you should remember are that mountain roads are narrow and winding. During the winter months, tire chains may be required at any time, and no gasoline is sold within the parks. However, there are gas stations on neighboring Sequoia National forest service lands near Hume Lake Market and Stony Creek Village. To avoid the risk of running out of gas, you should always fill your tank before entering the park. If you have an electric vehicle, there is a charging station at The Gateway Restaurant.
The closest commercial airports to Three Rivers are the Fresno Yosemite International Airport and the Visalia Municipal Airport. You can rent a car from the airport and drive the rest of the distance.
From Fresno- travel time to the Kings Canyon National Park entrance on Highway 180 is about 1¼ hours. And 1¾ hours to the Ash Mountain entrance to Sequoia National Park through Three Rivers.
From Visalia- The Visalia Airport is a 1-hour drive to the Sequoia National Park entrance on Highway 198. You can also rent a car from this airport. If you don’t want to drive, in the summer months, you can take a bus to the Visalia Transit Center. And from there, the Sequoia Shuttle service will take you to Sequoia National Park. Round-trip transportation plus unlimited free in-park shuttle service is only $20, making it a perfect way to visit the park on a budget.
The nearest Amtrak station is located in Hanford. The city of Hanford is one hour and 45 minutes from Sequoia National Park. You can rent a car or catch a bus to Visalia and connect with the Sequoia Shuttle.
When To Visit
It’s hard to say the best time of year to visit the park. It’s very cold in the winter, and there’s a risk of road and park closures. But if you can make it to the park after it snows, you’ll be in for a treat, as the forest is transformed into a winter wonderland. Sledding is a fun activity for the whole family, and there are fewer people visiting the park.
The summer months are obviously when most people visit the park. The days are long and warm, with plenty of hiking and swimming in the lakes and rivers. Campsites and rentals can book up fast, so be sure to plan your trip in advance if you can.
Where To Stay
There are several small hotels in Three Rivers. The biggest perk to staying in a hotel is how close they are to all the stores and restaurants in town. However, they are pretty modest and nothing we’ll call fancy. For that, you’ll need to go with a house rental.
- Lazy J Ranch Motel. The hotel has a pool, wifi, and microwave and is pet friendly.
- Comfort Inn & Suites. This hotel has a pool, hot tub, gym, free breakfast, wifi, and laundry, and it is pet friendly.
- The River Inn. Reviews say there is a refrigerator and wifi.
- Western Holiday Lodge. The hotel has a pool and wifi and is pet friendly. It also has laundry services on the property.
- The Gateway Restaurant & Lodge. This hotel has a refrigerator, wifi, and room service. There is also a restaurant and bar. I can’t speak for the food, but the terrace sits above one of the nicest river spots. I’ve spent many evenings there with friends, sitting around an outdoor fire pit, enjoying a drink while listening to the river.
Choosing a rental property for your stay will give you the most options, especially if you like to cook yourself or have a large group. Plenty of houses are large enough for the entire family to stay together.
This is the house I rented on my last few trips to Three Rivers. Besides being clean, comfortable, and well decorated (that matters to me), it also has a large kitchen with everything you need to cook for yourself or a large party. Since I have so many dietary restrictions, I always make sure I have a nice kitchen to cook in while traveling. The house is a short drive to the park entrance, about 6 minutes. This is incredibly helpful because, in busy summer months, the line of cars waiting to enter the park can back up miles.
I also love relaxing after a long day of hiking and exploring the national parks by soaking in the hot tub under a canopy of stars.
There are a total of fourteen campgrounds in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. Although most are only open for part of the year, three campgrounds remain open year-round. All campsites have picnic tables and a fire ring with a grill and hold up to six people. Each campsite also has a metal food storage locker. Whether you find the idea of bears wandering through your camp exciting or scary or consider them a nuisance, they must be protected. And in order to do that, you are required to store all of your food in these metal boxes. Just be sure to always correctly latch the box, as bears will try and often do, break into them otherwise.
Except for weather or safety conditions, Potwisha Campground is open year-round. This is the first campground when driving through the Ash Mountain Park entrance. Sitting at an elevation of 2,100 feet makes it the lowest campground in the Park. Although temperatures are high in the summer, they remain pleasant during the fall and snow-free in the winter.
Buckeye Flat Campground
This campground sits above the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and is shaded by large oak trees. The camp’s elevation is 2800 feet and often has fire restrictions due to high temperatures. This is a tent-only campground. No RVs are permitted, and there are no electric hookups available.
Cold Springs Campground
As this is my favorite place to camp in Sequoia National Park, I’m almost reluctant to add this campground to the list. Cold Springs Campground is located in the remote Mineral King area of the park. This area of the park is only open from late May through October, weather permitting.
The Lodgepole Campground is conveniently located just two miles from the Giant Forest, directly behind the Lodgepole Village Visitor Center, and has both tent and RV camping available.
Where To Eat
Kaweah Coffee Roasters
The best place in Three Rivers for your morning coffee and breakfast. I personally recommend the chai tea and avocado toast.
Sierra Subs is a great restaurant for lunch. Amazing subs, sandwiches, salads, and wraps can be eaten indoors or outside on the dining deck overlooking the Kaweha River. Or pack a picnic lunch to take with you on a hike, to the lake, or up to the park.
The market is well stocked for a small-town grocery store. It’s a great spot to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies, snacks, ice, and drinks. If you’re staying in a rental, you can easily find whatever you need to make dinner.
The Rivers Brewing Co.
If beer is your thing, stop by the brewery to enjoy a cold beer on their spacious outdoor patio above the river bank. Although they don’t serve food, there’s a food truck that people speak highly off.
The Ol’ Buckaroo
The Buckaroo is a charming little spot that offers simple American fare for indoor and outdoor dining overlooking the river. They pretty much have something for everyone on their menu. The waffle fries were my personal favorite, but I would suggest staying far away from the broccoli soup if you ever see it on the menu.
I haven’t eaten at the Gateway restaurant before, but it is my favorite place to have a drink with friends. The back deck is perched above one of the most beautiful river spots. In summer, shade and large fans provide a small breeze and firepits to sit around and stay warm in the winter.
Things To Do In Three Rivers
Stop For A Treat At Reimer’s
Stopping by Reimer’s for some ice cream or treats is the perfect way to end the day. This cute little shop looks like it was pulled straight out of a fairy tale. And the parking lot full of cars is proof of just how good it is! Although I have passed up on it since going vegan and gluten-free, there are times I dream of a double scoop of Three Rivers Wild Blackberry ice cream in a waffle cone. It’s the absolute best!
River rafting is probably just the thing for those looking for an exciting group adventure. The Kaweah River delivers Class III to Class IV+ river rafting. The rafting season typically runs from March-July but can vary each year depending on the winter’s snowfall.
Spending the day on Lake Kaweah is fun for the whole family or group. You can rent boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and aqua cycles. Once a year, I rent a boat with a group of friends. We spend the day on the lake with all the kids, swimming, eating, and listening to music. It’s something we always look forward to.
Three Rivers has plenty of beautiful hikes, which are nice to do on days you don’t want to drive all the way up to the park. A few favorites are:
- Blossom Peak
- Lady Bug Trail
- Colony Mill
- Case Mountain
Steep windy roads provided plenty of challenges for cycling enthusiasts. The area also has lots of mountain biking trails.
Check the links below for popular bike routes.
Horse Back Riding
Horseback riding is another fun way to spend part of the day in Three Rivers. I’ve gone riding with friends at Riata Ranch, but I would love to take my kids riding the next time I visit.
Visit the Three Rivers Historical Museum
You can visit this small but interesting museum to learn about the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Native Americans that once lived in the area, as well as some history of the town’s first new world settlers. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits, galleries, sculptures, and a small souvenir and gift shop.
Places To Visit In The Park
You can drive to the base of this massive rock that towers above everything around it. From there, you hike up a stone and concrete pathway to the top, where you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of the mountains, valleys, and rivers below. If you time it right, you can enjoy a sunset unlike any you’ve seen before! Every time I bring a friend to Three Rivers for the first time, I take them to Moro Rock. Even though I’ve been there countless times over the years, the view never ceases to amaze me.
Giant Forest Museum
You can visit the Giant Forest Museum to learn the story of the giant sequoias and Giant Forest. Self-guiding interpretive trails lead from the museum to the Round Meadow and Hazelwood areas.
Giant Forest Trail
After visiting the Giant Forest Museum, walk amongst the giants in the Giant Forest. The Congress Trail is an easy 2-mile loop that starts at the General Sherman Tree and takes you into the heart of the Sequoia groves. There’s a good chance to see some wildlife while out here, so keep your camera ready and look out for deer, black bears, and a variety of birds.
General Sherman Tree
The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree. Standing 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter at the base, it’s truly magnificent to behold. To see General Sherman, follow the half-mile paved trail to the north end of Giant Forest.
Between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, there are 240 caves, of which Crystal Cave is the second largest. It’s also the only commercialized cave, which is why it’s visited by thousands of people each year. Guided tours of Crystal Cave are offered from spring through fall by the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. The cave has a steady temperature of 48 degrees and is damp, so a jacket and sturdy shoes should be worn.
The Hospital Rock picnic areas are near the entrance to the park. A short walk down a trail leads to a giant boulder above a swimming hole. The area was at one time a vibrant village inhabited by several Native American tribes. You can explore the bedrock mortar sites and pictographs that remain.
Park in the Crescent Meadow parking lot and then walk the flat, 1.5-mile loop trail. The meadow’s bright green vegetation and blooming wildflowers provide a beautiful backdrop for photography.
Hike along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River to the end of the 1.7-mile Tokopah Falls trail to see granite cliffs and the 1,200-foot cascading waterfall of Tokopah Canyon.
Pose By Tunnel Rock
Although cars can no longer drive under the rock, you can still stop and take photos.
Fun fact, when I first moved up to the mountains at five years old, the road went under the rock. But because RVs frequently got stuck under there, the road was moved. You can still see the scrape marks on the underside of the rock.
Enjoy The Drive Through The Park
The Generals Highway, which connects the two parks, this scenic route is one of the most beautiful drives in California and the entire United States. You’ll see the Great Western Divide, some of the largest and oldest trees in the world, waterfalls, and wildlife.