- Location: Lake Tahoe CA
- Length: 22 miles
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Usage: Heavy
- Open: late May/June – October (for stock vehicles)
- Surface: Varied. Sand/dirt, slick rock, bouldering
- Towns: Georgetown, South Lake Tahoe
- Services Available: No
The Rubicon Trail is considered one of the premier off roading destinations in the US. It’s 22 miles of dirt Nirvana through some of the most amazing scenery of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just outside of Lake Tahoe.
The elevation varies from 5400” to over 7,000” with incredible mountain views for miles.
Technically the trail is open all year, but unless you have a seriously tricked out vehicle, the winter is off limits to most 4 x 4s.
10 miles of the trail is on maintained roads with the remaining 12 miles being the “extreme” off road section. The trail passes through a mix of public and private lands, so you are required to stay on the trail and camp in designated areas only.
To do the entire ATV trail requires advanced trail riding skills and should not be attempted by young or inexperienced riders. Expect water crossings, steep ascents/declines and major bouldering. Go with a group and go prepared. But beginners and intermediate riders, can get a taste of the Rubicon by riding the maintained road section.
Of course, you only get bragging rights if you do the advanced sections.
July – Last weekend of July, Thursday through Sunday (Jeepers Jamboree)
August – First weekend of August, Friday through Sunday (Jeep Jamboree)
There is a calendar maintained by the Rubicon Trail Foundation that lists all the major events on the trail, so you can plan accordingly.
How Long Does It Take To Do The Rubicon Trail?
5 – 6 Hours, but 2 – 3 days is recommended for maximum enjoyment.
Best Way To Do The Rubicon
Although the 12 mile advanced trail can be done in one day, that’s setting a pretty aggressive pace and not for the faint of heart. And definitely not recommended for first timers! You just won’t have a whole lot of time for enjoying the ride. Plus there’s a lot of things that could go potentially wrong, so it’s good to not rush it.
It’s a nice weekender – drive up Friday afternoon, ride the easy road section if you have the time, camp or hotel it, start the trail section early Saturday. Camp on the trail at Buck Island Lake or Rubicon Springs Saturday night and finish on Sunday.
Even though it can be comfortably done in two days, a lot of experienced Rubicon riders will even recommend two nights on the trail for a more enjoyable trip. It’s a lovely area, so why not max out your trip.
What Kind Of Vehicles Can Do The Rubicon Trail?
The Rubicon is open to a variety of off-road vehicles including dirt bikes, 4-wheel drive vehicles, SUVs and OHVs.
Vehicles need to be either street legal or “green sticker” vehicles showing they meet CA environmental standards and are suitable for safe backcountry use.
Which Direction Should I Run The Trail?
The trail is usually run west to east. Driving it east to west is referred to as “running backwards”.
It’s usually run west to east because the west part of the trail is the nicer part of the trail, plus there is camping readily available at the trailheads. There are no trailhead campgrounds on the Tahoe side (east side).
Taking Care Of Business On The Trail
There are several maintained Porta-Potties on the trail, but plan on carrying your own poop disposal/toilet kit. You can find these kits in a lot of different places including Amazon and REI. Expect to pay $2-3 a bags and the bags include toilet paper, odor neutralizing gel and hand sanitizer.
It may sound gross, but honestly, it’s not that bad. Plus it’s essential in maintaining the Leave No Trace ethics to ensure this trail and public lands stay open for generations to come.
(big view with features/points of interest)
Rubicon Trailheads With Campgrounds
There are two trailheads with four campgrounds providing easy access to the Rubicon from the west.
- Useage: Very busy
- $28 single
- $56 double
- $28 overnight camping on the boatramp
- $8 day use/picnic area
Located off Highway 50, this is the more popular trailhead with a moderate start.
Loon Lake is where one section of the unpaved Rubicon Route begins.
This is a developed campground, but with limited amenities. There are no hook ups, but drinking water is available. There are vault toilets, but no flush toilets.
This is pretty campground right on the lake with lovely shaded sites. Boating, swimming and fishing are available.
Northshore Campground – Loon Lake
- Usage: Very Busy
- Fees: $10
Located on the north side of Loon Lake this is a primitive campground with no amenities. No hook ups, no water. A vault toilet is available.
No reservations are available, first come first serve.
This campground is not quite as busy as the Loon Lake Campground located on the southern side of the lake.
The Rubicon Trail begins not too far from the campground, so it’s a good jumping off point. This fork of the Rubicon Trail intersects with the Wentworth Spring fork about one mile in at Ellis Creek.
- Usage: Moderately busy
- Fees: Free
This is the official “true” trailhead and begins with an aggressive climb.
Of the three trailhead campgrounds, this one takes a bit more effort to reach which also makes it the least busy of the three. (It’s still moderately busy because the Rubicon Trail is so popular, but comparatively it’s the least busy.)
This is free primitive campground. No reservations are available, it’s first come first serve. A vault toilet is available, but no water or other amenities.
Airport Flat Campground
- Usage: Moderately busy
- Fees: Free
The road is paved all the way to the campground. At the campground, you can either hop on an unpaved fork of the Rubicon Trail, or take a partially paved/partially dirt route and continue on to Wentworth Springs Campground.
Airport Flat Campground may not be as scenic as Loon Lake, but it’s free and it’s hard to beat free.
No reservations are available, it’s all first come, first serve. Primitive camping, no water, no hook ups. A vault toilet is available.
Tahoe Side Trailhead
No camping at trailhead
If you forget anything, you can easily gear up in Georgetown. It’s a small town, but it has everything you need – motels, restaurants, some limited camping + fishing supplies (at Georgetown Harware store), mechanics, gas)
Most Difficult Sections (from west to east)
The 12 miles from Loon Lake to Observation Point is the best part of the Rubicon Trail – it is also the most difficult part of the trail. Recommended for advanced riders only.
Walker Hill – rock obstacles, sharp turns, unstable sandstone
Little Sluice – extreme bouldering (this is the most difficult part of the trail). After Little Sluice you have the option of taking a left to ride the Indian Trail or travel right to the Old Sluice route
Indian Trail/Granite Slab – this section is easier, faster and more scenic than the Old Sluice route
Old Sluice – this section of the trail is often bypassed due to it’s difficulty and the option of the more attractive Granite Slab route. This section offers a steep descent
Big Sluice – a long downhill bouldering section traveling down the side of a mountain
- Avoid event weekends (check the calendar)
- Ride Tuesday – Thursday to avoid the crowds
- Early October before the snow flies is a great time to ride
- Loon Lake to Observation Point is the best part of the trail
- There are vault toilets on the trail
- Carry a wag bag (carryout poop bag)
Camping On The Trail
Pack It In, Pack It Out – Leave No Trace.
Camping on the trail is all primitive camping. Except for Rubicon Springs, it’s all free dispersed camping on forest service land (and Rubicon Trails Foundation Property).
There are quite a few vault toilet located along the way, but there’s no guarantee there will be one handy when you need it, so riders are encouraged to bring a wag bag.
The camping areas don’t all have toilets onsite, so plan accordingly.
- Ellis Creek
- Walker Hill
- Winter Camp
- Little Sluice Slab Area
- Rubicon Trails Foundation Property – Short term free dispersed camping
- Buck Island Lake
- Rubicon Springs (Privately owned fee campground. Reservations not required)
- Observation Point