Dedicated to the sport of off-roading in Jeep vehicles and smart trail use.

We welcome you! This site founded November 2000. Visit us of often to see the information grow.

Main Page Trail Review Trail Maps Forum Trail Tips Jeep Information Links

Rubicon Trail, Rating "10"

Click for Homewood, California Forecast

Special Notice: On July 13, 2004, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors declared a state of local emergency concerning the use of Spider Lake-Little Sluice. The area is south of and adjacent to the Rubicon Trail. A significant amount of human fecal waste has been deposited within this area creating a health and safety threat to the users of the Rubicon Trail and adjacent lakes and streams, which in turn flow into the American River Watershed. The area reopened November 10, 2004, however we're asking that everybody stay at least fifty feet from the lake and pack ALL waste out. Please read about the closure and sanitation ideas

  Location: The Rubicon Trail starts just past Loon Lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills and ends in South Lake Tahoe. On Highway 50 from Sacramento turn left on Ice House Rd. Follow the signs for Loon Lake, then go past the camping area. Go across the dam and down onto the granite slab. That's where the adventure begins. If you are going for the first time, go with someone who knows the trail. The beginning of the trail and several places in between are not marked. 

  Description: The Rubicon Trail is the "granddaddy of trails." Most of 18 miles of trail consists of large boulders and rocky terrain. The other parts of the trail go across huge granite slabs which have steep inclines and sharp drop offs. This trail is not for the faint at heart! It does offer some spectacular scenery if you wait long enough for the dust to settle. You can camp along the way at Spider Lake, Buck Island Lake or about 12 miles in there is the Rubicon Springs Campground. This will take a beginner about 6 to 7 hours, or a seasoned wheeler about 4-5 hours if you drive straight through to the campgrounds at Rubicon Springs. The last leg of the journey is about 6 miles (1-2 hours) to paved road. 

  Recommended equipment: Almost any type of  4x4 vehicle has made it through, but some are easier than others. Stock Jeeps will do the job, but expect body damage. Vehicles with a long wheel base will have a little trouble with some sharp turns. Skid plates, rocker guards, and tow hooks and straps are a must. It is highly recommended that someone in your group have a winch. The less the vehicle is equipped the more work and damage you can expect.

   Accommodations: Camping is allowed along the trail and at Rubicon Springs. Rubicon Springs is a fee area and there are no showers or bathrooms (just outhouses). There is camping at Loon Lake at the beginning of the trail and many hotels about an hour from the end of the trail in South Lake Tahoe. 


  A personal account of "Rubicon"
By Mark Stoller

  "My heart was pounding, and my right leg was shaking from pushing with everything that I had, to maintain a slight amount of control over our descent. At this point my only objectives were to keep us pointed downhill, avoiding a roll over, and to miss any obstacle that would have brought our descent to a sudden and potentially expensive stop."

  The above is what took place on a trip through the “Rubicon Trail” with my brother, your website host, as we dropped into the Big Sluice with my 1960 CJ5 that was still sporting the original 9” drum brakes. If you have driven an early model Jeep with the factory, Coaster, Brakes, and 33” tires you understand exactly what the downhill portions of the trail were like for us. Throw in some water crossings, which completely eliminated all braking, and you can probably imagine the adrenal rush I was having. If you think that braking was our only problem on the trail, guess again. When your driving a Jeep that is 37 years old, and you don’t have a very clear concept of how your vehicle needs to be prepared for serious 4 wheeling, you are going to be in for a real adventure (I could insert “a clue” at this point but since its my story I won’t).

Dam Starting Point Loon Lake

 Our group of vehicles, 5 Jeeps and 2 Landcruisers, left California’s Central Valley and headed for the trailhead early on a Friday morning. I should have known that we were in for an adventure right out of the gate, when the temperature gauge read 225 degrees while we were attempting to keep up with the rest of our group. With 5.38 gears and long inclines, which required us to radio ahead and let the rest of the group know that we were backing off to avoid a serious problem. We arrived at the trailhead without any further problems.

Just coming around from the upper Loon Lake Dam spillway.

  On the very first obstacle we watched one of the Jeeps in front of us blow a locking hub approximately 35’ through the forest, and I broke the parking brake drum on the back of my transfer case in to a couple dozen pieces. This would not have been quite so bad if I hadn’t just gotten the parking brake working for the first time since I purchased my Jeep. Did I mention that we were only a few hundred yards into the trail?

  The next bit of excitement came as we were going through Granite Bowl and one of the Jeeps blew out a driveline. Out came the on board welder on one rig, a die grinder off another. After a couple of hours, the driveline had been welded together. I also had a little welding done on my clutch linkage during this break. The day was half gone and we were still within a quarter mile of the trailhead and I was really wondering what I have gotten myself into.

Granite Bowl Area (This Jeep needed A push, NOT!)


Somewhere between Granite Bowl and Little Sluice Box.

This Jeep made short work of everything with it's 350 Chevy and lockers front and rear.

We stopped to watch some Toys play at  Little Sluice Box.

  Things were going pretty well for us, other than the fact that the engine temperature was borderline until past the Little Sluice Box. We were in a narrow section of trail after Little Sluice Box and one of the cruisers popped a bead on a tire and as it turned out the spare did not fit. This completely blocked the trail.

  During this time my battery decided to short out and die. As the sun was going down, we made the decision to pull the battery out of another Jeep, and put that battery in my Jeep to get it running. Then changed the battery back, after mine was started. This occurred because the trail was so tight and there would be no way to get it close enough for jumper cables with the rig having the broken bead between us.

  Now the Jeep was running again but the trail was still blocked, so we would have to climb up and around the crippled cruiser if we were going to have a chance of getting to camp with my crippled rig. After a few tries and some winch usage we made it around and continued on toward camp in to the dark. Neither my brother, nor I knew exactly where camp was in the dark. As we were going down into the granite canyon, we were not sure of where the trail. This required my brother to walk in front with a flashlight looking for scrapes or oil spots on the granite to determine the direction of the trail. I did my best not to stall the Jeep, if I stalled I knew with my shorted battery we would never start my rig and we would have to make camp short of the rest of the group.

Camp at Buck Island Lake Saturday Morning.

  We made it into camp at Buck Island Lake after 10:00 PM. By this time the adult beverages in camp were more than welcome. A nice bath in Buck Island Lake was needed after a day of trail dust and dirt. We found out that one of the CJ’s that had gone ahead to make camp had been on its side. Another Jeep of our group got in around mid-night after rolling over completely over once. They had to upright the vehicle after hiking back up to the cruiser with the broken bead to borrow a High Lift jack. It was amazing no one was hurt after seeing the rollover damage.

  On Saturday morning we found a spare for the one cruiser that had broken the bead up on the mountain. We sent one Jeep back up to take them the spare. An hour later they both where back in camp. I swapped batteries with one of the Jeeps that had dual optima batteries and we were on our way. Other than finding out we had filled the storage compartment under the seat at the water crossings, waiting in line at some of the tougher obstacles like Big Sluice Box because we were sharing the trail with the Annual Toyota Run, and the miscellaneous adrenalin rushes, as described at the start of the story, day two went pretty well.

Short cut through Buck Island Lake.

  While standing in front of the Jeep we discovered part of our overheating problem. The electric fan was wired backwards and was trying to blow the air outward. I never claimed to be a genius.

  The waterfalls at Rubicon Springs provided a very refreshing shower that was followed up by a barbeque with enough food for an army. We were out of ice and had to cook everything we had. We did hide just enough ice for my brother and me to have cocktails on the rocks!

  In the morning we noticed that we had a visitor overnight. We had bear tracks going right through our campsite! After some miscellaneous vehicle repairs, we crossed the water again and headed for Cadillac Hill. This water crossing, of course, eliminated my brakes for the next few minutes, but they dried just in time to tackle Cadillac Hill. Cadillac Hill provided some exciting moments but no tragedies. The rest of the trip out to the asphalt was fairly uneventful. Upon reaching asphalt we aired up and headed for the Grand Auto Supply in South Lake Tahoe to Purchase a replacement battery, which we quickly installed for the drive home. The drive home was a shaking experience, due to what was left of the parking brake drum causing a driveline vibration that could loosen the fillings in you teeth.

  For some reason, after going through all of this, I still have the Jeep and even attempt more of these adventures. This trip also caused my brother to purchase his own Jeep, it’s a YJ, but I try not to hold that against him. These adventures also inspired him to start this web site. This may prove that insanity can be hereditary.

Mark Stoller

Rubicon Springs-Area History

1844 - John Fremont sighted Lake Tahoe while leading the U.S. Army's first official exploratory expedition across the Sierra Nevada and into California. His journals brought Tahoe to the attention of the western world.

1850 - Rubicon Springs probably discovered by early day trappers, explorers, and survey parties traveling the Georgetown-Lake Bigler Indian trail.

1853 - Joseph Calhoun "cock-eyed" Johnson and an anonymous Placerville Herald correspondent broke trail from Hangtown up the Rubicon Gorges south to Lost Corner dropping down to Meeks Canyon to the creek, then bay. They were met by a band of 70 friendly Digger Indians (probably Washoe). The bay was filled with speckled trout. The Indians told them tales of how Lake Tahoe was formed. They added these to their own upon returning to Placerville.

1859 - The first bridge to cross the river at this site was built of logs.

1860 - General William Phipps staked out a 160 acre homestead on Sugar Pine Point. He was one of the first known permanent residents of Lake Tahoe.There was a logging camp at Sugar Pine Point for awhile which explains the lack of sugar pines in the area. Phipps protected his 160 acre homestead from the saw.

1861 - John McKinney and John Wren, both Georgetown pioneers, established a hay ranch on the summit of Burton's Pass (adjoining the El Dorado - Placer County lines.)

1862 - John Mc Kinney moved to the lake at Burton Creek's outlet. Burton and Company cut 75 tons of wild hay from meadowland flanking Burton's Creek and shipped to South Tahoe. Stephen and Joseph Meek (Meeks and Co.) cut 25 tons of wild hay from surrounding flatlands of Meeks Bay.

1863 - McKinney established Hunter's Retreat (log cabin, tents, sapling pier & 3 fishing boats.)

- The first cabin was built by a black trapper and trader. It was a favorite stopping point for travelers, loggers and trappers traveling the Rubicon Trail. Today it is a popular place for four-wheelers and other recreationists to stop and rest.

- Upson Bay (McKinney's) received 8ft of snow in 12 hours. Agustus Colwell bought 900 acres lakeshore property, from McKinney's property line at Burton's Creek 1 1/4 miles east to Sugar Pine Point. He built a steam powered sawmill near the future site of Moana Villa. John and George Hunsucker (miners from Kelsey, E D County, felled pine trees and built their cabin south of Rubicon Springs (taking credit for their discovery), bordering on Rubicon River. Their cabin was at the foot of Rubicon's frowning granite gorge. It was the log cabin that evolved into what was known as Rubicon Soda Springs Resort.

1869 - McKinney's Retreat comprised 160 acres (13 lakefront), catering to Nevada's mining nabobs for hunting and fishing.

- McKinney built the boathouse on the wharf used as a clubhouse and bar.

- Colwell closed his sawmill and began selling property, holding only the land adjoining McKinney's. The Hunsuckers had added outlying shacks and a pine corral for their stock at Rubicon Springs. Word was that the hunting was excellent (thousands of mule-tail deer were slaughtered and the hides packed down to Lower Hell Hole)

1878 - George Thomas and James Andrew Murphy, winter residents of Coloma and native Californians, settled at Meeks Bay. They enter the cattle business, herding their milk cows from Coloma to Meeks bay in the summer. They saved to buy the land from the Central Pacific (who had acquired it through an extensive railroad grant.) A few days before the sale was to take place, Duane L. Bliss bought the land, representing Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company. Bliss promised the Murphy brothers that they could buy the land for the original price after it had been logged.

- The Hunsuckers began bottling spring water and selling it at Georgetown and McKinney's. They had a hard time supplying the demand. Health seekers from Nevada were now beginning to come to Rubicon Springs.

- the Murphys bought the Meeks Bay land for $250 in gold eagles.

- Mrs. Sierra Phillips Clark, "Vade", (daughter of Joseph W. D. Phillips who owned Phillips Station on Johnson Pass road) bought the Rubicon Springs from the Hunsuckers and added Potter's Springs 1 mile away - beginning the RESORT. She got El Dorado County to make the trail from McKinney's over Burton's Pass to Rubicon into a one-way road.

1888 - Phipps sold his property to W. W. "Billy" Lapham who opened a resort and called it "Bellevue" (French for Beautiful View). Rooms cost $2.50 per night.

- Vade built a 2 1/2 story hotel at the Springs, with curtained glass windows, 16 small rooms and a parlor with horsehair furniture and a foot-pedal organ. She used white linens and polished silverware to serve 3 meals per days (sometimes 100 people). On busy weekends, visitors slept in tent, cabins, or under the stars. She also put in service a 4 horse six passager coach to McKinney's. It took 2 1/2 hrs to cover the 9 miles.

- The Murphy bothers (from Meeks Bay) along with their sister Frances' husband, Luke Morgan, from Georgetown, leased McKinney's Resort from the Westhoff family. The Indians also relocated to McKinney's living off the tourists. For 25 cents they were given community meals (left overs from the tourists meals.)

- A fire destroyed the Bellevue.

- Colwell's oldest son, Ralphy Lewis C. built the Moana Villa in a dense grove of yellow pine his father had left uncut. (2 1/2 story lodge, cottages, tents, clubhouse over the water, 500 ft pier for steamer landing - a bathing house next to the white fence dividing his property from McKinney's)

- Isaias W. Hellman, a San Francisco financier, purchased the property where the Bellevue had stood.

- Hellman built a large mansion for a summer retreat. Vade Clark (now Bryson) sold Rubicon Springs to Daniel Abbott who replaced the friendly signs with "Enter at your own peril"

1904 - Vade leased the Springs from Abbott for 4 years.

- May Ralph Colwell of Moana bought the Springs. Vade left for good. October flash floods caused the Rubicon River to rise 8 feet overnight with mud and water rushing through the Rubicon Springs barn and nearly ripping the hotel and outbuildings off their foundations. One of the resorts best horses "Mike" drowned and floated down the river. (someone guessing he'd end up at Hell Hole, 9 miles down the gorge)

1909 - Colwell bought the Rubicon Springs Resort, combining Moana with a health resort. He was assisted by 3 sons to run the 2 resorts.

- Frank Pomin leased the Moana for 3 years so the Colwell brothers could focus on the springs.

- Pomin built a lodge on a knoll to the east of Tahoma.( a large rustic-finished resort hotel with cottages)

- Joseph Bishop, a San Francisco chimney sweep,and Colwell's brother-in-law, bought a parcel between the Moana and Pomin's. He built a hotel and cottages and called the resort Tahoma meaning "Home Away from Home"

- Mr. Hellman died and his daughter, Florence Ehrman, inherited his estate. Tahoma Resort was leased to Mr. and Mrs. John J. Planett for 2 seasons. >From 1922-26 Tahoma see sawed between the Planetts and Bishop.
- Rubicon Springs began losing its appeal as a resort.

- Tahoe Cedars track was developed by H. L. Henry, who intended to start a motion picture colony here. It included extensive 2nd growth forest south across the Tahoma Resort bounding the property of Richard Kirman and I. W. Hellman. The subdivision included nearly 1,000 lots: streets were laid out, powers lines run, and a water system installed. Some of the original property owners were: Lon Chaney, Lina Basquette, Ernest Belcher, the ballet master, and writer Francis Rawling Illes.

- Frank Swind from LA bought the Tahoma and hired Marcel Maes to run it. It now had a dance hall, dining room, rocked-in swimming pool built out to the lake and a renovated 2 story hotel plus cottages and tents. (during the 30's, it passed through the hands of several owners.

- May 8th the winter residents of the West Shore joined hand to hand to shovel from Tahoma to Tahoe City (including Frank Pomin, Albert and George Colwell......) Tahoe Cedars property was sold to disciples from around the world, of Aimee Semple McPherson in the Four Square Gospel (Angelus Temple). Sixty lots were designated to be campgrounds for the followers who could not afford to buy land. Dispute between Aimee and her mother caused plans for the Four Square Gospel settlement to dissolve. H. L. Henry repossessed the property and began selling to the public.

1930 - Colwell sold Rubicon Springs to the Sierra Power Company.

David Chambers bought Moana Villa from the Colwell's, adding it to their resort.

- El Dorado County replaced the bridge.

- A steel bridge was constructed by the county.

- 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." The last weekend of July each year, four-wheelers follow the tradition of these "pioneers."

- The nordic ski events of the Olympics were held over a period of seven days in Tahoma.

- a summer camp for troubled boys was built with recycled wood from a Tahoe City building that had been taken down (between 6th & 7th and Fir & Alder)

- the State of California purchased the Ehrman property from Esther Lazard (Mrs. Ehrman's daughter. Some furnishings were auctioned off by Butterfield & Butterfield that summer.

- The California Association of 4-Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC) begins working closely with the U.S. Forest Service, Placer County, and the Lahontan Water Control Board on issues surrounding the McKinney-Rubicon Road in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The goal of this collaborative efforts to insure recreational access and to protect the water quality of Lake Tahoe.

- Planning for a basin-wide effort to improve the water quality entering Lake Tahoe included water shed improvements along the McKinney-Rubicon Road. These improvements were funded by State of California Bond Acts, OHV Trust Fund dollars (Greensticker funds as some of us refer to it) as well as Placer County. The improvements along this route included the construction of rolling dips, water bars, rock-lined ditches, sediment basins, hardened water crossings, and rockwork structures as well as the bridge over McKinney Creek just below the staging area. These improvements remove sediment and decrease vehicle interaction with watercourses. As a provision of receiving the funding, Placer County agreed to maintain these improvements for a minimum twenty-year period (1986-2006).

- Bridge refurbished through the efforts of several volunteers and four-wheel drive clubs.

Lahontan Water Quality Control Board (who have authority over all water quality issues in the Tahoe Basin) became concerned with the deterioration and lack of maintenance of these water quality improvements. Funded by the OHV Trust Fund, Placer County, and federal monies applied for and received by CA4WDC, the county embarked on the maintenance of these improvements. Additionally there were concerns from private property owners about tow vehicle parking, and people doing "highway readiness" activities in the Homewood subdivision. There were also concerns from the OHV community about the accessibility and safety of the staging area located one mile in on the route. It was determined that the best course of action was to pave the route from the subdivision to the staging area and handle all run-off using culverts under the roadway. This process took two years which included the maintenance and/or reconstruction of all the improvements between the staging area and the rim of the basin.

- Bridge refurbished through the efforts of CA4WDC and several four-wheel drive clubs and individuals.

- Placer County received a letter in December 2000 from Lahontan Water Control Board of Notice of Violation of Cease and Desist Order Against Placer County for Discharging and Threatening to Discharge Wastes From the McKinney Springs Road to McKinney Creek. Placer County was thereby put on notice that Lahontan Water Quality Control Board feels that Placer County has not performed its duty as rendered to ease the run-off and sedimentation off the route and has required Placer County to address these issues. A fine of $10,000 per day was threatened. Initial plans/alternatives were developed, one of which was a gate.

- Del Albright forms Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR), with the help of the Pirates of the Rubicon, BlueRibbon Coalition, CA4WDC, CORVA, AMA, United FWDA and several individuals who had heard about the gate option. FOTR is an informal coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to keeping the Rubicon Trail open and available to all recreationists. Working with Placer County, El Dorado County, the USFS, private businesses, many organized recreation groups, and other land management agencies to ensure our famed Rubicon Trail remains as one of our crown jewels of motorized and mechanized recreation. Del was elected to the position of Trail Boss, FOTR.

- FOTR conducts several work days and work weekends to repair the McKinney section of the road (Placer County) in complete cooperation with the county, USFS, and several Tahoe Basin control agencies. Rebecca Bond, Placer County Road Engineering leads the efforts as Incident Commander, McKinney/Rubicon Road Drainage Repair Incident.

2004 - El Dorado County declares state of emergency and closes Spider Lake - Little Sluice for 120 days due to unsanitary conditions from human waste.

Main Page Trail Review Trail Maps Forum Trail Tips Jeep Information Links

Jeep HorizonsContact UsTerms of Site UseAdvertisers