Home / Adventures / Rubicon Trail 2003

Rubicon Trail 2003, Tahoe California
Date 08/22/2003
Attendees Scott and Stephanie Brady- 1994 Jeep Wrangler Sahara
Russ Versteeg- 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Trail Time 8-12 Hours
Location Tahoe Georgetown, CA
Mapping / GPS /
Waypoint Files
Map / Mapsource / .GPX File

Trail Rating: 4 (1-5 scale)

The Rubicon is the most famous OHV trail in the world, but it is not the most difficult. For a short wheelbase vehicle with rocker panel protection and one locking differential this trail is very enjoyable. Longer (over 103" wheelbase vehicles) or wider vehicles will need more clearance and protection. My Jeep Wrangler has full protection, a 2.5" lift, and locking differentials. This type of vehicle is perfect for the Rubicon. Both Jeep's competed the trail without damage.
Major Obstacle Gatekeeper from the Loon Lake start and the Big Sluice. The Little Sluice is optional and very challenging. None of the vehicles that attempted it while we watched completed the obstacle.


The Rubicon Trail is an exciting challenge that offers fantastic scenery. We started the trail at Loon Lake, and crossed the first granite slab to the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper is a perfectly placed obstacle to keep lesser equipped vehicles off the trail. It is the most challenging section of the trail.

The challenge keep coming after the gatekeeper with large boulders and tight lines requiring constant attention to prevent body damage. The trail leads to the trees and our only recovery of the trip. The Wrangler Rubicon high centered on a fallen log and required a quick pull. The trail was too tight to avoid the tree, and the limited ground clearance of the stock vehicle resulted in the stuck.


The beginning of the trail was quite intimidating due to several vehicles having broken down. a large crowd had gathered and sparks were flying from welders and grinders working on the broken trucks. Our trip coincided with the end of the Toyota Rubithon, so Toyota truck and Land Cruisers were a common site. The later model Land Cruisers (FJ80) suffered the most damage, which was often relegated to the rear bumper, quarter panel and fender flares. More than one FJ80 had the fender flares strapped to the spare tire. More than just caution is required when taking a large, full bodied SUV through the Rubicon.

A common site in the beginning of the trail are the large granite slabs that need to be crossed. These slabs offer beautiful views and many challenges as you climb ledges, traverse cracks and attempt to follow the trail. The slabs are the most challenging section of the trail to navigate and can be even more difficult early in the year, as the tire marks and oil stains have been muted by the spring run-off. At the end of the first major slab you join the original Rubicon trail coming from Wentworth Springs. The original trail is longer and less challenging than the more popular start at Loon Lake.

The trail continues towards Spider Lake and the Little Sluice. By this point of the day most of the crowds were gone, and we had the trail to ourselves. We settled into a rhythm and worked our way through the continuous maze of rocks.

The trail levels out and you are soon faced with the Little Sluice. The little sluice is a 5+ optional obstacle that will require a highly modified vehicle and a means of repair in the likelihood of body and drive train damage. There were several modified Jeep's and Toyota's attempting the Sluice, and despite many attempts and body damage, none of the vehicles made it through even the second boulder! I believe that 36" plus tires and a long travel suspension would be necessary to make it through. Two of the trucks that attempted the sluice had 37" tires.

The bypass around the Little Sluice is located about 20 yards prior to the start of the sluice. You turn left and climb a steep slab to an overlook. The bypass requires that you descend a steep boulder field. There are several options to take going down with various levels of difficulty. At the bottom of the bypass you see the lily pad covered Spider Lake. We turned left at Spider Lake, and begin our decent to Buck Island Lake and our camp site for the night.

We climbed down several open slab areas until we found a suitable camp site, about .5 miles from Buck Island Lake and the crowds. We found a great spot, had a quick diner, and went to bed early. We woke to the sounds of coyotes around midnight.

In the morning we packed up and started towards Buck Island Lake and the start of the Big Sluice. The Big sluice proved challenging, but I was amazed how the trail seemed perfectly suited to a SWB vehicle, allowing us to use the line that 1000's of vehicles before us had. This section of the trail is very narrow, and has larger rocks than other areas of the Rubicon with the exception of the Gatekeeper.
The Big Sluice!

After the Big Sluice, you have a 2-3 foot deep water crossing, and a short drive to Rubicon Springs. Rubicon Springs is a large camping area with great spots for swimming and relaxing. After driving over the famous green bridge, you weave your way through camp, and into the tight tree lined section of the trail prior to Cadillac hill. Cadillac Hill is a narrow, steep climb that works its way to observation point. Cadillac Hill has a few challenges and some very narrow sections. We made it to Observation Point without incident, and took the required photos. The trail after Observation Point gets progressively easier, but still requires attention and wheel placement. About 1.5 miles after the end of Cadillac Hill, the trail no longer requires 4wd, and you begin to see stock vehicles. There are several lakes to see on the way to the Tahoe Staging area and pavement. Lake Tahoe offers beautiful views, and for us, a much needed Hamburger!

Special Note: Russ drove his new Wrangler Rubicon in stock condition through this trail, and required only one pull, due to a downed tree. This was quite an accomplishment, as the vehicle completed the trail with no damage. Well Done.

Video of our YJ going through the Gatekeeper

(right click on pictures to download videos. Left click to view in window)

Video of Russ' TJ clearing the Gatekeeper
View of the first big slab after the Gatekeeper
Video of our YJ descending onto the slab
Picture of the first optional rock field
Video of the YJ climbing through the rock field
The YJ going down one of the optional shelf steps
Video of the YJ going down the step, and dragging the rear bumper
Video of the YJ driving through the water crossing
Video of the YJ crossing the Rubicon Springs bridge
Cadillac Hill
Video of one of the major obstacles on Cadillac Hill (YJ)
Video of one of the major obstacles on Cadillac Hill (TJ)
Granite shelf after observation point
Picture of Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe California
View entire album click here