Crossing the Rubicon Trail

If there’s anything that can give 4×4 enthusiasts goose bumps it has to be the mention of crossing the Rubicon Trail. A Mecca amongst Jeepers worldwide, the Rubicon / McKinney road is considered to be one of the most treacherous roads in America.
The Rubicon Trail will take you from Georgetown to Lake Tahoe through a stunning section of the High Sierra. It used to be a 19th century stagecoach road. Today, it is a county road badly in need of maintenance. Practically impossible for a mountain bike to pass through, the Rubicon Trail is perfect for strong four-wheel drives.

The total distance covered when crossing the Rubicon Trail is approximately 22 miles. The Rubicon Trail is a non-maintained County road located in El Dorado and Placer Counties. Parts of the Rubicon Trail pass through the El Dorado National Forest and portions of private lands.

When crossing the Rubicon Trail you will be taken from elevations of approximately 5400 to over 7000 feet. The section of road from Georgetown to Wentworth Springs is a maintained road, while the off-highway vehicle (OHV) trail begins near Loon Lake. Most visitors begin the run from this mid-point. The portion of the Rubicon Trail from Loon Lake to Lake Tahoe is about 12 miles long and winds through the trees and rugged granite common to the area.

Loon Lake - The Rubicon Trail
Loon Lake – The Rubicon Trail

The Rubicon trail is normally run west to east. The western end of the Rubicon Trail has two trailheads. The true trailhead is located at the Wentworth Springs campground while the more popular trailhead is at Loon Lake. These trails converge at Ellis Creek, approximately one mile from the start of each course.

The trail from the Wentworth Springs trailhead starts with an uphill climb. Once at the top, the trail levels out to a challenging drive to Ellis Creek. The trail from Loon Lake is more moderate. Beginning at the bottom of the spillway at the second dam, the trail passes through the Granite Bowl. It skirts Loon Lake on its way to Ellis Creek, where it joins with the Wentworth Springs section. From Ellis Creek, the trail winds through the trees on its way to Walker Hill.

Wentworth Springs - The Rubicon Trail
Wentworth Springs – The Rubicon Trail

Walker Hill is a challenging stretch when crossing the Rubicon Trail that contains three sections. The first is the lower rock-strewn section, which makes a sharp turn to the right. The second 100 feet section of extreme trail that turns to the right comes next. Finally, you reach the third upper section, which is difficult terrain over decomposing rock. At the top of Walker Hill is a wide spot in the trail in a small grove of heavy timber. From here, the trail continues on toward the Little Sluice.

The Little Sluice is only 100 feet of boulder-infested area but is considered by most as the most challenging stretch of the Rubicon Trail. The Little Sluice is so difficult that as many as three bypasses have been created around it!

Little Sluice - The Rubicon Trail_
Little Sluice – The Rubicon Trail_

Once through the Little Sluice, most drivers take a rest at Spider Lake and continue on to a granite shelf overlooking the Rubicon Valley and Buck Island Reservoir. At this point the Rubicon Trail forks to the Granite Slab on the left and the Old Sluice on the right.

Spider Lake - The Rubicon Trail
Spider Lake – The Rubicon Trail
The former is more scenic and less time consuming and joins the Old Sluice road half a mile before reaching the Buck Island Reservoir. The Old Sluice route is more difficult. It hits the Chappie Rock drop-off, reaches another small overlook and then begins a gentle then steep descent into the Old Sluice.
Old Sluice - The Rubicon Trail
Old Sluice – The Rubicon Trail
The Granite Slab and Old Sluice rejoin just past the bottom of the Old Sluice. From here, the Rubicon Trail crosses over the dam at Buck Island Reservoir and skirts the edge of the reservoir to head down the Big Sluice.

The Big Sluice is another challenging section when crossing the Rubicon Trail. This long downhill section offers rock after rock to crawl over. The Rubicon Trail then crosses over a bridge over the Rubicon River and down into the Rubicon Valley. It passes through Rubicon Springs, continues further past the Eldorado County boundary line and enters Placer County.

Big Sluice - The Rubicon Trail
Big Sluice – The Rubicon Trail

Thus, crossing the Rubicon Trail presents challenge after challenge for 4×4 drivers and is the ultimate in 4×4 Trails.

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