The Rubicon Trail

5/5 (31 reviews)
Pollock Pines, California (El Dorado County)
Last Updated: 12/30/2022
Zoom in to see trails...

Trail Information

Highlights

The Rubicon/McKinney Road in Northern California got its name because it crosses the Rubicon River at one point near Lake Tahoe. Initially established in the 1800s, the road was used as a stagecoach road between Georgetown and Lake Tahoe. After the hotels went out of business, the road began to deteriorate. Because of this, in 1952, several residents of Georgetown held a meeting to discuss the possibility of an organized Jeep tour from Georgetown to Lake Tahoe via the Rubicon Trail. On August 29, 1953, 55 Jeeps with 155 enthusiastic participants left Georgetown on a two-day trip that is now known as "Jeepers Jamboree 1." Since then, the Jeepers Jamboree organization has moved the event to the last weekend of July. Now it's a four-wheelers tradition of these "pioneers." Today, almost everyone has heard of The Rubicon Trail. It is an extreme trail and believed to be the Super Bowl of offroad trails. It is a must-do destination for all offroaders, overlanders, and rock crawlers. The Rubicon will test your driving skills and your vehicle. According to who you talk to, this trail is scary intense to a weekend camping trip. But don't be fooled; this trail should never be underestimated for one second.

Trail Difficulty and Assessment

Trail Navigation

To sum up the Rubicon Trail in one word - "Extreme." Another choice might be "Rocks" - there's a lot of them. On the Rubicon Trail, you will get a non-stop pounding from large, free-standing rocks, huge rock gardens, loose rocky hill climbs, immense rock ledges, substantial rock drops, rocks that come out of nowhere, and massive granite rock slabs. I would expect nothing less from the famous Rubicon. If you think you have spent enough money on your vehicle and your driving skills are great, then it could be a 3-day trip you will never forget for a good reason. But if you haven't spent enough money or your driving skills are subpar, you will remember this trip for a whole different reason, sadly. The first mile of the trail is shared with foot, horse, and ATV traffic. Please be considerate of other users and allow them safe passage. After about 20-minutes on the trail, you will be introduced to the Granite Bowl, where the “fun” begins, a definite attention grabber. The scenic view of the canyon below is breathtaking. This large granite slab is something else. Because of the amount of open space, people find this spot to be an attractive area to hang out, take pictures, and explore. The next stop is Ellis Creek. It’s only a short walk to good fishing and a swimming hole. The next two difficult miles between Ellis Creek and The Little Sluice will test driving skills, but the views and obstacles will make it worth the effort. Expect large rocks and difficult climbs. About one and half hours ahead of Ellis Creek is the very challenging stretch of road known as “The Little Sluice.” Vehicles should have a lift, be firing on all cylinders, and have aggressive tires with reduced air pressure. Even with all of this preparation, several stops may be necessary to throw a few rocks in the right places for traction. A camping site with room for many vehicles and tents is available just to the south of "The Little Sluice." Near this camping site is Spider Lake which is only a short and easy walk away. The next difficult section of the trail, approximately an hour ahead, is a large rocky patch that will test your driving skills and vehicle. To make it through this section, you will need a lot of patience and vehicle modifications. At the end of this section, the "True Old Sluice" breaks off to the south. You'll know you're there when you see a rock marker on the southwest side of the trail. Many believe the "True Old Sluice" is the most difficult obstacle on The Rubicon. Following the hill climb, granite slabs return, but you are dropping off of them this time. Along this area, you will be exposed to extreme downhill angles along with extreme sidehill angles. Make sure you approach every downhill and sidehill at an optimal angle to reduce the risk of rollovers. Over the next hour, you will end up at Buck Island Lake as you drop off the mountain. Usually a little more of a party scene, Buck Island Lake has it all. It's a great lake for swimming and fishing. Plus, it has plenty of open space, outhouses, and an ample amount of challenging wheeling inside the camping area. Many people, when doing 2 or 3-day trips, will spend one night here. The area is a first-come, first-serve, so make sure you get there early enough to get a spot. About 30 minutes outside of Buck Island Lake, you will be introduced to "The Big Sluice". Not feared for the last several years, "The Big Sluice" has had some major changes happen to it, including some large drops over 5 feet tall, large holes over 4 feet deep, and new free-standing rocks with no way to drag over them. As you descend the trail, it will only get harder and harder and harder. As you get close to the bottom, there is no easy way to turn around or head back up the mountain, so make sure you have everything you need and that your group is together. A short 20-minute drive from the bottom of the hill is Rubicon Springs, probably the most famous of the campsites. All of Rubicon Springs is a paid campsite, which means it has more amenities than any other area. These include a picnic area, stage, outhouses, swimming areas, tree swings, firewood, campfires, water, fishing, horseshoes and similar games, helicopter landing pad, among other great things. This is allowed because it is private land; therefore, make sure you contact Rubicon Soda Springs for any fee information before leaving on your trip. Approximately 15 minutes ahead is a stretch known as "Cadillac Hill," probably the most feared part of the trail by the locals. This narrow section of the trail is usually covered in water, mud, and slippery rocks. The reason this area is so feared is that it climbs up the cliff for roughly 30 minutes and is only feet wide. Even though it's wide enough for any 4x4 vehicle, if you make a mistake, you could easily send your vehicle plunging off the side with no hopes of a safe outcome. Vehicles should have a lift, be running fairly cool, and be running at top performance. Again, aggressive tire tread will be a benefit with reduced air pressure. Even with all of this preparation, several stops may be necessary to throw a few rocks in the right places for traction and rethink your line. Once on top of "Cadillac Hill," you will be introduced to "The Observation Point," which has been known to bring on spiritual moments for the off-road enthusiasts. This panoramic view of the Rubicon is breathtaking. Over the next hour, the trail will become easier and easier until it is simply a road. You will pass Redwood trees and some beautiful lakes along this route before eventually ending up on the east end of the Rubicon Trail near Lake Tahoe. Overall, expect the trail to take somewhere between 5 to 15 hours of moving time. This doesn't include any stops to watch people, bathroom breaks, assisting others in the group, or traffic. The trail changes year over year on which way is harder. This year (2016), the trail was harder going from East to West, but this can be different according to how much rocks move around and the difficulty of the different sluices. This trip was run from West to East, which is the popular route when looking at the pictures below. Along the Rubicon, there are a total of 13 bathrooms/outhouses. Due to the volatile nature of the area, the Rubicon Foundation asks you to use the restrooms along the route to help keep the trail open. Failing to do so may result in the closure of the Rubicon Trail. Restrooms can be found in all of the named areas along the trail. Fires and Camp Stoves: All forests in California require a fire permit, even for gas stoves. This is free, and all you have to do is watch a short video and answer a few questions. Please print the results or take a screenshot on your phone. Also, please note wood fires are often banned in California starting late spring for the remaining parts of the year. Plan on not having a wood fire unless in the Rubicon Springs Campground. Click Here For CA Fire Permit Vehicle requirements: ***Recommended*** ----- Nothing smaller than 33" inch tires (more than once, these tires will be too small and will require rock stacking to make it over even the easiest obstacles) ----- 2 Lockers ---- A portable toilet (for when the outhouses are full) ***Required*** ----- 1 Locker (Rear) ----- Rock Sliders ----- Quarter Panel Protection ----- Upgraded Skid Plates ***Common Failure Items*** ----- Gas Tank Skid Plates ----- Frames & Suspension (Bring Welding Gear) ----- Axles ----- Steering Components ----- Weak Slider Panels

Trail Reviews

5/5 (32 reviews)
G. Martin
Official Crew
64800
Status: Temporary Closure
Visited: 12/30/2022

😠 😠 😠
Trail Review: The Rubicon Trail - G. Martin
Trail Review: The Rubicon Trail - G. Martin
G. Martin
Official Crew
64800
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 09/27/2022

The trail is open again 🥳
Trail Review: The Rubicon Trail - G. Martin
G. Martin
Official Crew
64800
Status: Temporary Closure
Visited: 09/11/2022

Temporary closure due to Mosquito fire.
Trail Review: The Rubicon Trail - G. Martin
Trail Review: The Rubicon Trail - G. Martin
G. Martin
Official Crew
64800
Status: Not Reported
Rated 5/5
Visited: 07/21/2022

Rubicon is even more fun in a Geo 😁
Trail Review: The Rubicon Trail - G. Martin
Trail Review: The Rubicon Trail - G. Martin
View More Images
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 07/21/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

What an experience - this trail is simply unrelenting. I ran this in a JLUR with 37’s, a 3.5” lift, and lots of armor. Never needed our winch. Took 9 hours from Loon to Rubicon Springs and 4.5 hours from RS to The Tahoe trailhead (we had families/kids and met a lot of traffic on the second day). P.S., watch out for rattle snakes.

From the Community

Start a free trial and get this level of detail on every trail guide
Start Free Trial