The Rubicon Trail is the Mecca of off-roading jeep adventures in North America. It sets the bar for which all other trails are judged by, not only for its difficulty but for its beauty. While the entire trail is only about 22 miles long and only about 10 of it are off-road, it runs through some of the most beautiful mountains and lakes in the country, finishing at Lake Tahoe.
With the right vehicle and crew, the trail can be completed in one day. However, it is far more fun to take the 3 day leisurely route. This allows for many stops to enjoy the views, swim in the lakes, have a drink at the “beer tree,” watch other jeeps attempt difficult maneuvers, and cook and sleep by a campfire in the great outdoors.
You don’t want to attempt this trail unprepared. A responsible attempt requires a high performance off-road vehicle with over $10k in after-market parts to lift the clearance and reinforce the entire bottom of the vehicle with steel plates to protect it as it slides over boulders. Fortunately we came prepared.
The off-road section of the trail begins at Loon Lake, a stunning lake with surprisingly clear blue water, not your typical brownish-green dirty looking lake. We drive past Loon Lake in awe, and the excitement really begins to kick in as we peer over our other shoulder down a steep hill to where hundreds of jeeps have gathered for a Labor Day jamboree called the Cantina on the Con near the beginning of the trail.
We stop briefly to air down our tires from 30 to 10 psi to gain maximum traction for the daunting trail. As we are airing down, a large truck that looks like it has been crushed by a wrecking ball crawls past us going the opposite direction towards home. We gawk at the shattered front windshield and twisted truck body and frame. Our excitement gets an adrenaline boost as our mind begins to process the potential danger we are embarking upon.
Sesar, our crew leader is an army veteran officer who owns a jeep shop called “The Chop Shop” and has about twenty years of experience off-roading. We know we are in good hands, but I still have to ask him – “What’s our chance of rolling the jeep on this trip?” “About 30%” he responds. With that, we buckle up and begin climbing across the first few boulders on the trail.
The trail starts off pretty intense. The first section is very narrow with lots of boulders and trees seemingly coming at you from every direction. I have no idea how far the jeep can lean before tipping over, so I grab on to the frame of the truck to brace myself, but Sesar warns me that my hands will get crushed if we roll the jeep. He instructs me how to cross my arms and lean toward the center in the event we roll. I comply but still wonder what will protect me from getting impaled by a protruding rock or branch when we roll. “Just don’t roll” I say. After a few minutes of rocking and climbing over the boulders at 0-3mph, the fear turns to excitement again. This is surprisingly fun! I now understand why Sesar does what he does.
We complete the first section of the trail and stop for a refreshment near the “beer tree,” on a huge granite slab called the granite bowl. We can see for miles in every direction as we toast to our adventure and soak in the incredible views. There are 13 of us in four jeeps, all four of which have been given the full Chop Shop upgrade.
After a refreshing break we load up and continue on to the Soup Bowl, a big boulder pile that regularly attracts crowds of weekend warriors looking to test their vehicle’s mettle. We continue on the trail for the rest of the day, stopping every 30 minutes or so to soak in the views, swap stories, and get to know each other better. We are all friends or family of Sesar, but we don’t all know each other before this trip.
As night falls, we drive in using our headlights to Buck Lake, our chosen campsite for the first night. We devour our first meal since breakfast by a campfire with plenty of wine and Crown Royale. However, it’s not until sunrise the next morning that we can fully appreciate the prime location of the rock slab we slept on for the night.
After coffee and breakfast, a few brave souls take a dip in the cold lake before we pack up and begin the next leg of the trip. It is here that Sesar passes the wheel over to me for my first real off-road driving experience. I am hesitant to drive at first because it looks like a stressful job. Kicking back and letting Sesar and his brother do all the driving had suited me just fine. However, within minutes of bouncing over a few boulders I’m having the time of my life. The Jeep is extremely user friendly and capable of handling the terrain.
He guides me from the ground with hand signals over boulders and between trees, all the while I’m watching his signals as much as I’m watching the road. My leg shakes a bit as I hold the brakes down as hard as I can while the jeep crawls down a steep 2-3 foot drop-off using downhill assist (cool technology). At this point, I’m more worried about his $70k jeep that I’m scraping against the boulders than I am about injuring myself. I have no idea how long I’m driving, but eventually we reach “Big Sluice,” a more difficult section of the trail, and Sesar decides it’s time for him to take over. At this point, I’m pretty content to hand over the wheel unscathed.
We continue our journey, stopping briefly for a few of our crew to backflip off the Rubicon River Bridge into a 3 foot deep stream, resulting in the only Injury of the trip (only a flesh wound). We then barbecue some carne Asada at Rubicon Springs before beginning the treacherous “Cadillac hill,” a steep 1-2 mile rocky incline with many cutbacks (not a good place to roll the jeep).
As if Cadillac Hill isn’t hard enough on its own, we spend two hours towing a stranded Land Cruiser up the hill. Their rear driveline was broken, a common occurrence for anyone attempting the trail without reinforcing the underside with steel protection. We knock on wood, grateful that we have made it this far without any problems.
Eventually, we make it to Observation Point at the top of Cadilllac Hill in time for a beautiful sunset and a meal cooked over an open flame. The next morning we complete the last 1.5 hours of the trail which leaves us at Lake Tahoe where we all high-5 and begin the drive home. While I’m not ready to buy a $70k jeep, I am excited to crash his annual jeep adventure next year: the Moab in Utah!
Thanks! Everywhere I looked I wanted to take a photo!
Fantastic write up Keith! It was great getting to know you on the trail.
Thanks man – that was a pretty epic experience and great getting to know you too!
This looks like quite the adventure! I don’t know if I would have been able to keep my hands off the frame of the truck. You are braver than me. The pictures are beautiful though!
It absolutely was an incredible adventure. I’m very fortunate to have friends with expensive toys! Had we rolled, I’m not sure I would have been able to stop myself from grabbing the frame either!
Wow, you sure got a lot into three days! Sounds like so much fun.
It was a gorgeous trail with so many beautiful lakes and mountains. We had a great crew also to enjoy it all together.
I am blown away by the beauty of the scenery! Witnessing it first hand must be truly amazing and truly scary driving in a jeep through all the rough terrain.
You captured my sentiments perfectly!
you sure had a fun adventure from the look of things, keep posting and enjoy more adventures.
Thank you – that’s definitely the plan!
Really amazing pictures
Thank you. The scenery made it easy to capture great moments!
Yikes!! haha but in my younger years this would have been a dream come true!! As a grandmother I can only hope if my grandsons try this they do so with as much attention to detail and have as much fun as you did!
As long as you come prepared with the right vehicles and crew, it can be done safely! We were fortunate to have The Chop Shop guys taking us on this adventure!
How amazing, I love any kind of road trip adventure and off road sounds even more exciting!
It’s well worth it – Make it happen!
Looks beautiful out there, and looks like everyone had tons of fun
You got that right! Hard to get 13 people together for a trip like this. When it happens, it’s pretty special.
What a stunning photos! I love adventurous trips, there is always so much to see and do!
Thank you – we are all about road trips! So much to do right here in the US!
Oh my god, you guys are so lucky ! I have been wanting to this for so long. Great pictures, thanks for sharing
Thanks! I am very lucky to have family in the biz! I jumped at the opportunity when I got the invite.
This looks super exciting and perfect for a long weekend!
Yep, I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent labor day weekend, thanks!
What beautiful photos! I love road trip adventures!
Thanks, me too!
There are some beautiful images! I can smell the campfire!
Thanks! We loved having campfire time each night.
Looks like you all had a ton of fun! The pics are gorgrous too.
Wow, this looks like a blast! Thanks for sharing your adventures <3 xo, sharon
It was a blast! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
This is amazing! I would love an adventure like this. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that involves off road vehicles and a camping trip! This is a lot of fun!
Oh my goodness those pictures are amazing. I need to do this!
If you get the opportunity, you won’t regret it!
This looks fab! Nevada is on my list as I have not been there yet (been to almost all the States). The Rubicon trails do look fantastic and your photos a beautiful.
Thank you for the kind words! Technically, I think it’s still on the California side of Tahoe so I don’t think we even entered Nevada. But yes, get out to Nevada soon! We go all the time!
That’s it! I need to go camping ASAP! LOL Everything looked beautiful and I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!
I know what you mean- it’s hard to get a bunch of people including yourself to commit to sleep on an uncomfortable mat outside instead of a nice hotel!
This is so awesome! I’d love to go on a trip like that, even tho I doubt anyone would let me drive…
That’s funny! I was also surprised Sesar let me drive! He just said “it’s insured.”
You drove that rig though some of the toughest terrain like a vet.
Great getting to know you and awesome trip.
Thanks Dan! As did you! I Had a blast hanging with you as well and am a big fan of your jeep! I hope we all do the Moab together next year!
Yeah that’s sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it!
Oh looks a nice view! Looks very refreshing.
Very scenic the entire route, thanks!
I LOVE the rubicon! Some of my favorite memories as a child were on there! I dont think we tipped on this trail, but I did often walk the trail next to the jeeps because I was afraid my dad would tip the jeep again!
You are spot on! I hopped out and hiked many times, both to guide the jeep and just to avoid tough sections.
I love all of the stunning shots! They make me want to leave the city for some mountain time.
Thanks! We often feel that need to get out!
This looks like a really great trip. I’m not very outdoorsy though.
It was a great trip but certainly not for everyone!
That looks like such a fun way to go exploring! It reminds me of when I was in Dubai … we took these jeeps out in the desert and rode around. It was lots of fun!
Wow- Dubai would probably be an amazing place to jeep!
This looks like it was so much fun! Your pics are fantastic!
Thank you, it was a blast!
Off-roading through the Sierra Nevada Mountains looks so fun and scenic!
Absolutely beautiful part of the country!
This looks like so much fun! Your photography and the scenery is just stunning! The sky is so blue! Pinned and stumbled so everyone gets the bug in their bum to hop in a jeep and go!
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed reading about the trip!
This is gorgeous!! I love your pictures, lake looks stunning, I have to looks where exactly is that place.
Thank you Renata! The trail begins where highway 193 meets Loon Lake Reservoir, not far from the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe.
Looks like a great time was had by everyone.
Absolutely! We can’t wait to do a different trail!
Such a beautiful place to relax!
Yes the whole area is incredible! Thanks!
Omg, that looks like so much fun…
Scenic and adventurous
Yes – It was a blast, thanks!