What Is The Rubicon Trail?  

If you enjoy off-roading in the western U.S., then you have probably heard of the Rubicon Trail.

If you haven't heard of it, or you're interested in more details, then you need to continue reading. Simply put, the Rubicon Trail is one of those Bucket List destinations for American overlanders.

The 22-miles of alternating 4x4-trail and road has something for everyone.

Downloadable Rubicon Trail Guide with GPS waypoints

Downloadable Rubicon Trail Guide with waypoints and GPS coordinates.

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Where Is The Rubicon Trail?

Located in California's historic gold rush territory, the trail snakes its way through parts of the Sierra Nevada range.

Approximately 63-miles east of Sacramento, on Interstate 50, is the junction with Ice House Road. Traveling on this road north out of Riverton will put you at Loon Lake after 23.4-miles.

The trailhead starts on the west side of the lake, near the dam.

Check out the Rubicon Trail Map below:

Map of the Rubicon Trail

Rubicon Trail Map - Source: rubicontrail.org

Rated "Extreme"

The Loon Lake trailhead sits at an elevation of 6,331 feet. The trail continues to climb in this section and it is here that overlanders will experience many of the legendary obstacles.

The Little Sluice Box, located on the south-east side of Devils Peak, sits at 6,684 feet in elevation.

The remainder of the major obstacles is found at lower elevations, with Cadillac Hill finishing out the major challenges at 6,162 in height.

The Rubicon then begins to meander down towards McKinney Lake.

The Tahoe side of the Rubicon trails and staging area are located on the north-east side of the lake.

waypoints for you to save

Junction with Ice House Road - GPS Coordinates: 38.769457, -120.447371

Ice House Resort where you can stock up on ice, food and drinks for the last time - GPS Coordinates: 38.814286, -120.374983

Trailer Parking, but it's not guarded - GPS Coordinates: 38.985626, -120.329628

Loon Lake Dam, cross over to get to the trailhead - GPS Coordinates: 39.002572, -120.310646 

Dam Parking, not very safe to leave your tow rig. Billboard for rules on the trail! - GPS Coordinates: 39.003193, -120.311421

Trailhead - GPS Coordinates: 39.003350, -120.312450

Gatekeeper, lives up to it's name, even though it had been altered to be easier - GPS Coordinates: 39.005427, -120.309890

Wooded section with very tight parts- GPS Coordinates: 39.006730, -120.307267

The Granite Bowl - GPS Coordinates: 39.008219, -120.307203

Up the Granite Bowl - GPS Coordinates: 39.011021, -120.308268

Rocky Area - GPS Coordinates: 39.013246, -120.307510

Granite Bridge, shallow water crossing - GPS Coordinates: 39.022818, -120.306832

Difficult Spot, if rocks have been stacked - GPS Coordinates: 39.022055, -120.283805

Rock Climb - GPS Coordinates: 39.022368, -120.290668

Soup Bowl, stair-step obstacle, but there are ways around it - GPS Coordinates: 39.021646, -120.279966

Little Sluice, best camping in the area - GPS Coordinates: 39.020384, -120.274946

History Of The Rubicon Trail

Tradition holds that the original Rubicon trail was used by Native Americans.

They used the trail to travel back and forth between Lake Tahoe and the Sacramento Valley. It was discovered by European travelers to the region in the 1840s.

Over the next 50-years, they slowly converted the trail into a road.

The Name

The name of the trail comes from the Rubicon river that it crosses at Rubicon Springs. The river takes its moniker from the Rubicon river in northern Italy.

It was there that Julius Caesar famously declared "the die is cast."

He was referring to reaching a point of no return as he marched his army into Italy in 49 B.C.E.

The First Vehicle

The roadway provided access to the Rubicon Springs Resort and Hotel.

The first automobile to drive the trail made quite a stir in 1908 when a woman drove to Rubicon Springs from Lake Tahoe.

Regionally, the Rubicon Springs road was hailed as the best route to take between Lake Tahoe and Georgetown to the west.

Locals even promoted an automobile trip to foster this belief.

What is the Rubicon Trail
Where is the rubicon trail

Jamboree

While plans were made to improve the roadway, it fell into disuse when the hotel closed in the late 1920s.

It wasn't until after WWII, and American's love of Jeep, that the trail began to be known to the off-roading world.

Businessmen teamed with the Georgetown Rotary Club to establish an event to help boost the local economy.

In 1953, the first Jeepers Jamboree had 55 vehicles participate.

The annual event has grown over the years to the point that it is often called the "Granddaddy" of four-wheeling events. A Jeep only event (called Jeep Jamboree) began 24-years later.

Today, these Jamborees are highly sponsored and include many mechanics and vendors that offer their services during these events.

Rubicon Trail Requirements

The Rubicon Trail will push you and your vehicle to the limits. It has an extreme rating for a reason. There will be damage to the vehicle and you should be prepared to get stuck during the trip.

That is why you need to make preparations beforehand.

The Minimum Requirements

At a minimum, there should be at least one frame-mounted recovery point (preferably more) on the front and rear bumpers.

A locking or limited slip differential will help to prevent too much power from being allocated to one wheel. Although, both front and rear lockers are better on the vehicle.

Rocker guards for body protection as well as skid plates for the gas tank, transfer case, and transmission pan are needed.

Added protection for the lower control arm on the vehicle would also be advantageous.

Depending upon the length of the wheelbase, the tires need to be at least 33-inches (including the full-sized spare).

To prevent a bad experience, make sure the tires come with three-ply sidewalls with a good tread. To take full advantage of those tires, you should have a properly sized lift kit installed. 

A functioning parking brake, limited slip differential, and seatbelts for all passengers are important considerations.

Rollbar, Winch, Transmission

To help prevent your overland adventure turning into a disaster, a factory hardtop or rollbar (even a full cage) need to be in place.

Make sure that your winch is rated for twice the vehicle weight and that your jack is working properly. For better torque when crawling, a recommended gear ratio of 55:1 for automatic and 65:1 for manual transmissions is recommended.

Make sure your overland vehicle has been serviced and is in proper working order before you reach the trail to protect it from significant damage.

More Safety Gear And Tools Requirements

Install proper battery hold downs (no bungee cords), a fire extinguisher, spare tires, and a first aid kit as bare necessities as well.

A good set of tools, extra extraction equipment, and a good pair of gloves will be of use. It is worth noting that many four-wheel clubs and tours may require additional features or equipment.

You might want to take tire deflators with you. That way you could quickly deflate tires for better traction and grip.

If you plan your trip with them, they will let you know these details ahead of time.

Non Street Legal Vehicle

While any street legal vehicle from any state is allowed on the Rubicon, a non-street legal vehicle will require a green sticker and must have a spark arrestor installed.

This information, along with other California vehicle codes can be found on their DMV site.

It would be wise to check with the El Dorado and Placer County authorities as well.

Rubicon Trail Camping

The Rubicon Trail is best enjoyed over at least two days. Dispersed camping, camping outside of designated sites, is allowed throughout most of the area.

Popular spots include Buck Island Lake, Ellis Creek, Wentworth Springs, and the observation point at Cadillac.

You are not allowed to drive off of the trail, and you will need a permit for fires.

Remember to exercise proper camping etiquette, including using Wag bags for human waste. There are a few designated sites with various accommodations near the trail including Airport Flat, Loon Lake, Gerle Creek, and Kaspian on the Tahoe side.

camping at rubicon trail

Lake Tahoe

FAQ

When To Go To The Rubicon Trail?

It is a good thing to go to the Rubicon Trail when the weather is clear and moderate. One thing to note that driving in the winter on the Rubicon Trail would be extremely challenging.

That is why your vehicle would need to be highly equipped and heavily modified to be capable of handling the demanding terrain in winter. 

So, if you want you can skip going to the Rubicon Trail in the winter. You can also run the Rubicon Trail during an event like the Jeep Jamboree. Or else, you can visit the trail during the Labor Day weekend or Memorial Day weekend.

In terms of the time of the day, it is good to go on there either at sunrise or sunset. If you are going off-roading on the Rubicon Trail at sunrise, you will experience the natural beauty of Sierras in a unique way. 

Also, in summer days, it will be colder at night. On the contrary, starting at sunrise would allow you to explore while the full day is ahead of you. So, it is up to you to choose the time you prefer.

How Long Does It Take To Drive The Rubicon Trail?

The Rubicon Trail is 22 miles/35.4 km long. But you know it is famous for its obstacles and challenges in the way.

So, if you want the best experience and want to run the Rubicon trail entirely, you would need at least a few days. 

Usually, you could reach there and sleep at a hotel on the first day. Then you can drive the next day.

After that, you can camp or sleep at another hotel again the next day. The following day, you can drive again and complete the challenge comfortably. 

At that moment, you can spend another night there or head back home. Then again, assuming you are an experienced off-roader and you want to do it fast, then it is possible to complete it in around 5 hours.

Where Can I Camp On The Rubicon Trail?

If you look at the map of Rubicon Trail, you will see that there are several designated camping areas in the Rubicon (El Dorado, Tahoe, and other sides). Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Ellis Creek
  • Winter Camp
  • Wentworth Springs
  • Kaspian
  • Airport Flat
  • Buck Island Lake
  • Gerle Creek
  • RTF Property
  • Loon Lake
  • Rubicon Springs
  • North Shore
  • Top of Cadillac, and more

Do I Need Lockers for The Rubicon Trail?

Yes, if you want to save your vehicle from some heavy damage. Above, we have already shared the minimum requirements your vehicle should be equipped with for the Rubicon Trail. 

Thus, you will need front and rear lockers, 35-inch tires (min), skid plates, tow points, rocker panel protection, transfer case, front and rear recovery points, rollbar, winch, limited slip differential, and many more safety gear and tools.

Can A Stock Jeep Do The Rubicon Trail?

Technically, Yes. But with heavy body damage to the vehicle. There have been many stock Jeeps that explored the Rubicon Trail.

However, it would be a very challenging task and it will heavily depend on the model of the Jeep. That is why it is recommended to modify and upgrade your vehicle before you go for the Rubicon Trail.

Otherwise, your vehicle would have to take significant body damage. Some of the must-have modifications on your vehicle to save it from significant damage are front and rear recovery points, lift kit, rock rails, 35-inch off-road tires, rock sliders, front and rear lockers, and so on.

Plus, you will have to be a highly experienced off-roader and very familiar with the Rubicon Trail to complete the trail with a stock Jeep.

Bucket List

Finally, there is only one question to ask: is the Rubicon Trail on your bucket list?

And remember the most important rules of the Rubicon Trail:

  • Leave no trace (applies actually everywhere)
  • All vehicles must remain within 25 feet of the centerline of the Rubicon Trail

Before you go, make sure you check the full list of regulations and modify your vehicle according to the requirements. A good place to start is the Rubicon Trail Foundation's website.