Driving the Rubicon Trail
You know those Jeeps you see with "Rubicon" printed across the hood? They're named after the Rubicon Trail, a 22-mile route through the Sierra Nevada outside Lake Tahoe that's chock-full of some of the most technical, beautiful off-road driving in the country.
You know those Jeeps you see with “Rubicon” printed across the hood? They’re named after the Rubicon Trail, a 22-mile route through the Sierra Nevada outside Lake Tahoe that’s chock-full of some of the most technical, beautiful off-road driving in the country. Last week, I got the chance to drive a section of the road and came away with a real lesson in what modified off-road vehicles are capable of.
Above: A spotter from Jeep Jamboree USA helps a tricked-out Jeep navigate a tricky off-kilter spot on the trail.
Native communities originally used the Rubicon Trail to travel from the Sacramento Valley to Lake Tahoe. It was also used by European settlers who were moving west. By the early 20th century, it had turned into a maintained road. In the 1950s, however, the trail fell into disrepair—a bad thing for regular drivers but a great thing for the off-road community.
Lauren Murrell (right) and several other off-road enthusiasts and journalists were on the Rubicon to test BFGoodrich’s new KM3 tire. The KM3 was built to be driven at a low PSI, thus increasing traction, and it comes with extra-strong sidewalls that will put up with the kind of jagged rocks that litter the Rubicon.
Volunteers in El Dorado County, where the trail is located, do lots of work to ensure the Rubicon stays in good shape. For example, they built dozens of water bars to control any sediment that might run off the trail in the rain. During peak driving season, volunteers also hand out “wag bags”—plastic bags for human poop. There are maintained Porta-Potties at various spots along the trail, but the bags ensure the rest of the trail stays clean.
The Rubicon Trail runs across both private and public land and rises above 7,000 feet in some spots. Completing the entire route usually takes a couple days.
Deputies from El Dorado County patrol the Rubicon Trail to ensure drivers stay on the trail and camp in the appropriates spots. They also aid in rescues and help with general trail education.
Scott Frary makes sure his Jeep is properly lined up over an obstacle.
Stock 4WD vehicles have run the Rubicon Trail, but it’s easier if you have some recommended upgrades suggested by Jeep Jamboree USA: 35-inch off-road tires, skid plates and rock rails, and front and rear locking differentials. They also recommend bringing extra food and water, as well as tools, spare parts, and some kind of satellite communicator, like a Spot or Garmin InReach, just in case something goes wrong.
John Williams, a Ford Performance Racing School instructor and owner of the Utah-based Impulse Off Road build shop, was one of the people who guided my group through the Rubicon.
The views from the trail did not suck.