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Be Tuned In! A Rubicon Trail Primer [Part II] Be Tuned In! A Rubicon Trail Primer [Part II]
Part II of the Rubicon Trail Primer by Kurt Schneider.  In the Jeeping world, it never hurts to be fully prepared for whatever obstacles... Be Tuned In! A Rubicon Trail Primer [Part II]

Part II of the Rubicon Trail Primer by Kurt Schneider.  In the Jeeping world, it never hurts to be fully prepared for whatever obstacles come you way. In Part I we covered things like go with a buddy, know how to fix your junk, and be prepared. Now here is the rest of the story.   Enjoy.

The Editors


5. Know the Rules

Youngsters enjoying the “Slabs” of the Rubicon Trail — start them young!

Every wheeling area has its own specific rules that you must follow, and the Rubicon is no exception. As I have already written above, clean up any spills, pack out your poop and your trash. Those are just some of the basics.

To make it even more confusing, the Rubicon itself is a county road, but the forest around it is National Forest. (Actually two forests: Eldorado National Forest and Tahoe) There are also a few spots on or near the trail that are private property.

Most of those you must stay off of, but there are a couple of exceptions. For example, when you drive into Rubicon Springs, you are on private property. If you are going to camp there (which I highly recommend! The Springs are awesome!), you need to pay a fee. The Rubicon Trail Foundation also has its own property. Each of those areas has its own specific rules that you must follow to ensure our access to the trail.

Rear mounted trash bags are common on the Rubicon

In that the Rubicon is a county road, all the normal driving rules apply. You must wear your seat belt, and you cannot drink and drive. And yes, it is patrolled by the Eldorado County Sheriff.

Since all the forest around the trail is National Forest, which does not allow wheeled motorized vehicles off designated routes, you CAN NOT drive more than 35 feet from the center line of the trail. This means that if you are camping a ways off the trail, you cannot drive into your campsite.

If you want a campfire, you will need a campfire permit and must check with Eldorado if campfires are permitted at that time.  Fire restrictions are serious business with the Eldorado National Forest and County.

Know the rules before you go. If you do not know them all (I did not list them all here), I highly suggest contacting the Rubicon Trail Foundation and the Eldorado National Forest before your trip.

Another reason for contacting the Rubicon Trail Foundation is to find out what is currently going on with the trail. During the spring run-off, we try to discourage people from using the trail because you may stir up sediment which dumps into the streams and lake and gives the anti-access folks ammo to close down the trail for everyone.

There are also times when major events like the Jambos close down the entire trail (with a county-issued parade permit) if you are not part of the event. You need to keep up with the trail conditions and the slated runs and events.


6. It is not just about wheeling

Creating memories for our sons while camping at Dirty Dozen along the Rubicon River

The Rubicon is so much more than just a 4×4 trail. Done correctly, it is a journey; it is an adventure. It is not just about wheeling.

It is about camping under a sky filled with stars with your family. It is about swimming in beautiful high country lakes clearer than Lake Tahoe. It is about hanging out with close friends around a camp fire under the towering pines. It is about jumping into a waterfall of cold water after a long day on the trail. It is about connecting with nature, finding your center, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

John Muir of all people abhorred the word “hiking.” Hiking to him meant that you were just trudging through the forest with your head down to get to a destination. He preferred the word “saunter.” Sauntering is more like a leisurely stroll, where you are looking around and enjoying everything around you.

That is exactly what the Rubicon is about. It is about the entire experience of it. If you just want to wheel over some rocks, go somewhere else. If you want an adventure and an experience, go to the Rubicon. Take your time and enjoy more than just the wheeling.

There are many hidden gems on the Rubicon if you know where to look.

John Muir was also once asked, “If you could only spend one day in Yosemite Valley, what would you do?” His answer was, “I would just go down to the river and cry, because that is not enough time to enjoy it.” It is the exact same with the Rubicon.

It is not a “day trip” kind of trail. You will want to spend at the very least two nights on the trail, if not more, to really enjoy it and see many of its wonders. If you spend any less time, you are really doing yourself a disservice.

On a map, and to the eyes of someone who has never done the trail, it does not look very long. But if you are a first timer to the trail, by the time you get to Buck Island Lake, you will begin think, “Will this thing EVER end?”

Crawling over the rocks at two to three miles an hour, and stopping occasionally, the trail takes much longer than you would expect. Traditionally, the trail is run west to east, from Georgetown to Lake Tahoe. Running the trail east to west is referred to as  running the trail “backwards.”

The boys cooling off in Buck Island Lake.

Most people now reach the Rubicon by driving up Ice House Road from Highway 50 and the enter the trail at Loon Lake. As a beginner, that way would be your best bet. However, the original old-school route began in the small town of Georgetown on the Divide.

If you truly want to experience the trail as it was run historically, start in Georgetown, gas up there and eat at the Georgetown Hotel. Then on the road up the hill, make sure you stop at Uncle Tom’s Cabin for a cold refresher before entering the trail through Wentworth. (That is not entirely the EXACT historical route, there is another way to Wentworth,  but it is close enough.) While this takes longer for most people, it is the true path of the Rubicon.

But now, what you have all been waiting for, the question that has been asked a million times: will my vehicle make the Rubicon trail?

7. Have  a capable rig

Jeep Wagoneer! TOTALLY capable….ish.


Answering the question, “Can my vehicle run the Rubicon?” is much more complex than most people realize. As in point number 1 in this article, it is all a matter of perspective and driver skill. I have seen my buddy Eric run nearly all the trail in two wheel drive his Jeep pickup, and I have seen people break down in tears in frustration driving a fully built JK.

This brings up a major issue that is starting to appear in the off-road industry.

In the old days you could not buy a fully decked out vehicle with lockers, gears and 4 to 1 transfer cases from a dealer’s lot like you can now. We slowly added those things to our vehicles as we could afford them, and spent a lot of time building our wheeling skills without them. Things like, learning what lines to take, where to place a tire and how much throttle to use.

When eventually we did add all those upgrades, they were just an addition. We did not rely on the vehicle and the skinny pedal, we relied on our skill. There is now a huge population of wheelers that are doing the exact opposite.

Your vehicle may very well be capable, but driving a fully equipped vehicle without the proper skill set can actually be dangerous. Especially when someone uses the gas pedal to get over an obstacle instead of taking the correct line.

Quite frankly, just because your vehicle can do the Rubicon does not mean that you can, or should, if you have not built up the proper skill set.

With that said, at the bare minimum I would recommend a rig with at least 33 inch tires, (although 35’s would be much better) a suspension lift and a rear locker. You could run the trail with open differentials, but it will take picking the right lines, a lot of hard work and a lot of rock stacking. Lockers make a huge difference. Body damage on the trail is common, so you will also want some type of body armor like rocker guards. If you want to keep your JK pristine, keep it parked at the mall.

Meh. It will buff out. Who needs doors to open anyway?


Now, I know I said there were only seven points, but I am going to sneak in an 8th one because this one extremely important:

8. If you are going to wheel the trail, Work on it!

Del Albright (founding Trail Boss) leading an FOTR work-party.

The Friends of the Rubicon and the Rubicon Trail Foundation conduct multiple work parties on the trail every year. These work parties are necessary to minimize resource damage and keep the trail open to the public.

We desperately need volunteers to help out with these work parties. While a good number of people always show up, there is always the need for more. Many hands make light work. You don’t need any special knowledge or skill-sets, you just need a rig and a willingness to help.

Don’t let the word “work” scare you away, these events are a blast. By participating in a work party as a volunteer, you will not only be fed, but you will also meet a lot of trail regulars who are really good people. It is a great way to build your 4×4 network and get to know other wheelers.

There is also a sense of immense pride that you will get by helping to ensure that our crown jewel of a trail stays open for future generations. I believe that this year, the focus for the FOTR work-parties will be on the Tahoe side of the trail. If you are willing to help, please contact the Rubicon Trail Foundation for more info.


READ PART I of the Rubicon Trail Primer.

More on being ready for the Rubicon Trail here.

ModernJeeper Adventures, the Rubicon Trail trip here (August 2019).

More links to the Rubicon Trail history, facts, rocks and more…

Untold story of the Rubicon and how we stopped a gate:

A Rubicon Trail primer to help you get ready:

Little known trail facts and Steve Morris tribute:

Jarbidge Shovel Brigade helps start Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR):

Kurt Schneider Land-use Advocate

Kurt Schneider has been involved in Off-Road Motorsports his entire life. Literally growing up in the back seat of his father's Wagoneer, Kurt's childhood was spent camping and four wheeling over nearly the entire country. For the past two decades, he has been very involved in many aspects of the off road industry as a land-use advocate, a writer, a race team promoter and manager, a racer, and educator. He is a founding member of the Kyburz Krawlerz 4x4 club, and has been relentless in fighting to keep public lands open to public. For Kurt, off roading is not a hobby; it is a lifestyle.