When most people think of the Rubicon, they think of an extremely challenging trail for only the most highly equipped vehicles and experienced drivers. Well, the Rubicon does have that aspect but the Rubicon also offers a milder side. I’d like to share with you more than a half dozen side trails off the Rubicon on the Tahoe side ranging from mild to wild.
As you start out the Tahoma neighborhood, you find yourself on narrow winding paved road with blind turns from the vegetation at the roads edges. The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) refers to the Rubicon as 14N34. Placer County refers to it as the McKinney-Rubicon Trail. Please keep your speed down as a lot of locals like to walk, jog and bicycle this section of the Trail. Dogs and children often run free.
Less than a half mile in, you will see a trail off to your right going over a small bridge. This is the Noonchester Mine road, 14N34A. It is about a mile and a half long and ends with a great view of Lake Tahoe and overlooking Quail Lake. Be aware that public access ends at a private property line. Although travel might not be blocked, it is not allowed by the owners at this time. It is your responsibility to know where you are at all times. The trail is not difficult but longer vehicles will have to think about the switchback turns and the U-turn to get back out.
After you pass the staging area and climb the cobble strewn hill, the Buck Lake Trail, 14N40, will be visible on your right. This trail has been adopted by the North Tahoe Trail Dusters for decades. As advertised, this trail gives you access to Buck Lake about a mile up the trail. There are camp sites along the lake with BBQs in place. This trail has some difficult sections and is not recommended for stock vehicles.
Further up the Buck Lake Trail, after a right turn at the T-intersection and a mile traveled overall, you will find Ellis Peak. (A left turn would have eventually brought you back to the Rubicon.) There appears to be a 75 yard long trail to the top that looks drivable but is not part of the trail. It is a steep, loose, rocky, off camber, dirt section and there is no room to turn around at the top. Consider this your opportunity for a little exercise. Trust me, the 360o view from 8754’ is worth the walk, I mean hike. Ellis Lake is viewable from the top and is also available for camping as you continue to follow the OHV trail around.
Continuing up the Rubicon from the Buck Lake turn-off, just past Miller Lake, you come to the Sourdough Hill Trail, 14N39, on your left. This is an Eldorado National Forest (ENF) route. This trail takes you up to Richardson Lake and the Sierra Club’s Ludlow Hut. The original trail turns right at the lake and had earned a well-deserved ‘difficult’ rating. The current trail, to the left, was cut for logging in the ‘80s and offers little challenge. Consider this the ‘mild’. The original trail was not even listed in the route designation process although comments were submitted to include it. That fight is for a future article, stay tuned. This trail is a favorite for one of my local clubs just to get away for an afternoon or evening. We have a sunset BBQ at the summit and then wheel back down in the dark. If you are impressed with the view from Observation Point, think of the same view from 7923’, almost 2000’ higher than Observation Point.
One mile past the turn for Sourdough, the North Miller Trail, 16E19, comes in to view right after a seasonal pond on your right. This will tie in with the Buck Lake Trail. Bring a current map as there are a few loops and side trails back there. These are Tahoe National Forest (TNF) routes.
Another half mile up the Rubicon and the trail splits. The larger logging road on the right, Barker Pass Road, continues north to Blackwood Canyon, which is paved from the summit down to Lake Tahoe. I think it’s about nine miles out through Blackwood Canyon. The only caution here is that the gates at the lake are closed Nov 1st to May 30th and maybe later due to snow. This would make a great SUV day run. The left hand turn keeps you on the Rubicon Trail.
The Rubicon Trail gets more difficult after the turn from Barker Pass Road. A mile from the turn you’ll find the Potato Patch and the mud hole that was filled in a few years back. Another half mile down the trail and you might see the Miller Meadow OHV Trail, 16E75, on your right. I say might because it’s easy to miss. Locals refer to it as the Hobbit Trail. It turns in to Barker Meadow Trail, 16E79, after it continues across Barker Pass Road, a half mile north.
The Hobbit Trail is a kick in the pants. It is a challenging trail that will never allow you to hold the steering wheel straight because the trail never goes straight; it is always a full left turn or a full right turn. I highly recommend this trail as a day trip from the lake but not after coming off the Rubicon. This is the ‘wild’ one. It mellows out on the other side of Barker Pass Road.
The last side trail off the Rubicon is the Long Lake Trail at the bottom of Cadillac Hill. Go find and reread the last issue of In Gear to learn about that one. It is a must do!
Please obtain current maps before exploring any of these trails. Although the Rubicon Trail is a public right of way and is never closed, the TNF, LTBMU and ENF all have different opening dates for trails on their forests. Check with each entity before exploring as those opening dates could be change, read as delayed, due to trail conditions, as they understandably were with this year’s extreme snow pack and late winter storms.