This is something I’ve been thinking about for years. I wanted to be able to rate the trails in the Rubicon area to give those new to the area an idea of what they will encounter before they get there.
I looked in to different scales from different groups: 0-10, 0-5, 1-10, etc. Each had something the other didn’t, I didn’t want to be that guy that says “This is how it will be!”
Luckily, I recently came across a scale from a group I greatly respect. The Overland Journal. I was there getting lined up to give a subscription as a Christmas present. Poking around the website, I came across their trail rating schedule:
(Copied directly from the Overland Journal website)
Improved/Graded Dirt Road
Passable by most standard vehicles, excluding those with low hanging body panels or that are designed for on-road sport driving with ultra low ride and tire section height.
Graded Dirt Road
Still passable by most 2WD vehicles. However, caution is required and lower speeds may be necessary for vehicles with less clearance. Small rocks (less than 5″) may be embedded in road surface. Sufficient room for passing on most of the road. Some steep grades possible. AWD required if road is wet or icy.
Not passable by standard passenger vehicles. High clearance preferred, AWD preferred. Steep grades present, larger rocks embedded in trail (less than 7″). Some loose trail surfaces and shallow water crossings possible. A spotter may be required on the most challenging portions to prevent body damage on vehicles with less clearance. Sand and dry washes may challenge available traction requiring lower air pressure on some vehicles. Trail may be narrow and require backing to allow other vehicles to pass.
Not suitable for 2WD vehicles, or low clearance cross over vehicles. AWD required, low range gearing preferred. Rutted, crossed axle terrain possible, with loose, steep climbs required. Deep sand possible. Some rock crawling possible on loose rocks up to 8″ in diameter. Some larger rocks may be present, possibly requiring a spotter to negotiate. Small ledges possible, with larger embedded rocks present. Water crossing to 12″ possible. Loose surfaces will be present, with tight clearance, smaller margin for error, and the possibility of body damage. Within the capability of any high clearance stock SUV or truck. AWD cross-over vehicles will struggle and may suffer damage due to lack of low range gearing.
High Clearance SUV or Truck required with low range gearing. Trail will be very rough and heavily eroded, with large, loose rocks present and steep, loose climbs requiring good traction and driver skill to negotiate. Wheel placement critical. Skid plates required, along with larger tires (31″+) necessary to prevent damage. Deeper water and mud crossings possible. Parts of the trail may be entirely in a wash, with loose sand and large rocks present. Possibility of rock ledges, and severe crossed axle obstacles. Good suspension articulation required to maintain traction. Rear limited slip differential or traction control system recommended to limit trail and vehicle damage.
High clearance SUV or truck required, taller suspension and tires recommended. Few stock vehicles capable of completing the trail without damage. Very large rocks exceeding 12″ present throughout trail requiring a spotter or heavily modified vehicle to traverse. Very loose and cambered climbs present, also heavily rutted requiring good suspension travel. Tall ledges present requiring good clearance or rocker panel protection. Little margin for error, and possibility of body damage. Tires must be 31″+ with aggressive tread and strong sidewalls. Lower tire pressure, skid plates, and limited slip or traction control required to prevent vehicle or trail damage. Rear locking differential and 32″+ tires recommended.
High clearance modified vehicle required. Not within the capability of a stock vehicle without damage. Trail likely in river or wash bottom with very large rocks present. Deep mud possible requiring aggressive tires and higher speeds. Water crossings in excess of 24″ possible. Heavily rutted and crossed axle terrain present, with large ledges and very steep hills with embedded and loose rocks. Body protection required to prevent damage, with good skid plates and stronger (or spare) steering components necessary. Winching and extraction possible. 32″ tires, rear locking differential and flexible suspension required. 33″ tires and front locking differential recommended.
|outside the scope of this website|
Heavily modified vehicle required. Extreme rock crawling, with very large ledges present requiring winching for shorter wheelbase (SWB) vehicles. Body and drivetrain damage likely. Very cambered terrain may cause rollovers. Water crossings may be hood high, and mud will be very deep and heavily rutted. Vehicles will require heavy modifications. 33″+ tires required, along with front and rear locking differentials in upgraded axles. 35-37″ tires recommended. Winch required on SWB vehicles. Roll cages or full metal roof required. Driver must be experienced.
Custom vehicle, very experienced driver required. Competition-level vehicles on insane terrain with frequent rollovers and drivetrain damage. Full custom vehicles with massive axles, 37″+ tires, cutting brakes, very low gears, 1-ton drivetrain, and custom chassis.
So, applying this to trails around the Rubicon:
Trail rating of 1:
-Forest Road 03: It’s paved from the lake (Tahoe) to the summit. After that it is an improved dirt road due to the gravel put down, at least to the kiosk and bathroom area.
Trail rating of 1.5:
-Forest Road 03 past the kiosk area. Graded by not improved.
-03-04: This is the road from Barker Pass to the Rubicon Trail. It starts as a 1.5, well graded, large rolling dips. BUT, it finishes as a 2.5!
Trail rating of 2.0:
I’m going to put most of the Rubicon Trail from the Tahoe staging area to the turn at Forest Road 03-04. There are a few 2.5 sections as you climb out of the basin, but doable in 2wd by a skilled driver.
-14N39 Richardson Lake Trail: this has been worked on by the Forest Service over the last few years in order to meet S&G100 issues and to reroute an erosion prone climb near the summit.
-16E79 Upper Barker Meadow OHV Trail: this is a rolling trail that doesn’t offer much challenge
Trail rating 2.5:
The Rubicon Trail from the turn at Forest Road 03-04 to Observation Point.
-16E76 Barker Meadow OHV Trail
Trail rating 3.0:
The Rubicon Trail from Observation down to Morris Rock (or The Steps)
Trail rating 3.5:
The Rubicon from Morris Rock to the Springs
Trail rating 4.0:
One could argue that a few of the obstacles on Cadillac are 4.0 but I’ve seen less build rigs maneuver through without issues. It takes a very skilled driver but it can be done.
Trail rating 4.5:
I’m putting the Fordyce Trail in this category. Now not the entire trail but it has MANY sections or obstacles that rate a 4.5.
Trail rating 5.0:
It’s my website, so I would put trail such as those in Johnson Valley in this category. Competition level stuff.
Remember that weather can change a trail rating in a heart beat. Just a little rain on a slab of granite, turns that fine dust in to micro ball bearings. And if that water freezes on that slab, look out. Always travel prepared to spend the night: food, water shelter, etc.
Over the winter, I’ll try and update each trail page with a better description and a trail rating.
For those of you that are regular followers of this site, this upgrade is a direct result of the bear getting my food earlier this summer.
I picked up a trailer box from Harbor Freight, yeah I know not the best quality but I’m just going to abuse it. I have an unusually long bar for my hitch. Even with the box I can jack knife the Jeep and trailer and not hit the box.
I just bolted and welded up a couple of piece of angel iron for support and there she sits. I’ll pull it apart and clean the edges and paint it later.
So, as long as I have the trailer with me, I have a safe place to store my food. It’ll be good for storing tarps, tie downs and other stuff.
Yesterday, I received an email from a forest service employee boasting some great trail work on the Richardson Lake Trail up to Sourdough Hill. The only pictures he included were those of trails demolished and covered in trees and brush. I was horrified!
The series of pictures looked like this…
The next morning, I was up at 5:15am and out by 6:15am to get to the trail to see what the Forest Service had done to one of my trails.
Although the Forest Service had blocked off the last climb to the summit of Sourdough Hill, they had put in a switch back and more than a quarter mile of new trail.
For those of you who’ve never been there, here is a photo of the old route. This does not give you the idea of how steep this trail was originally. The ruts show previous wheel spinning and rain runoff causing erosion.
The old trail can be seen on the right side of the next picture, the new route goes from left to right in front of my Jeep. This reroute was warranted as the old route was a steep, loose, rocky, rutted trail that was causing erosion and was not safe as shown in the previous picture.
A better look up the trail after the switchback…
Here is another look up the blocked off ‘hill climb’…
Up from the switchback…
Back in to the trees. Note the trees cut down in order to create this new trail.
Nearing the summit. Those familiar with the trail should know the radio hut is to your left in this picture. You used to come up to the summit with the hut on your right.
The parking area is the same as before you just approach it from the bottom not the top.
Here is a shot of where the trail used to come up. (The radio hut to my left.)
Poser shot at the summit! A selfie if you count the shadow.
Views on the way down.
Hats off to the Forest Service for the reroute but I need to talk to my contact about communicating the entire story with more pictures.
Okay, it’s a little outside the normal set of trails I write about but what a trip!
In 2016 I won a free pass to Sierra Trek. I dragged my CJ-7 up and down the mountain and had a great time. So much so I signed up to do it again this year. It was the 50th anniversary of the Sierra Trek.
Three of us from the Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo’s got together and ran the Thursday run. We were off at 7am and got to camp a 6pm. A very slow day. No issues, just slow.
Us at the first water crossing:
The Fordyce Trail has some interesting features, some of the trail looks like it’s been carved from the granite:
It is a 13 mile long trail that has some very hard spots. Our group bypassed Winch Hill One but most of the trail doesn’t have bypasses:
I think this was Winch Hill Two. My CJ-7 had this the easiest as the narrower, the better:
Winch Hill Three:
My Jeep looking up at Winch Hill Four:
Friday and Saturday in camp there was a vendor show. I set up my booth and handed out maps and stickers. There were a lot of people there as there were SUV runs, historic runs and an ATV run. Something for everyone.
It was a great weekend as no one in our group broke anything!
If you have the rig, Sierra Trek is something I highly recommend.
16E16 is the only motorcycle single track in the Rubicon area. I’ve been meaning to get my dual sport out on it for more than a year now. Well, I didn’t get the dual sport out but I did hike the trail.
Although this is an OHV trail, it’s primary users are hikers, although, I did see two mountain bikers. If you ride this trail, expect hikers around every turn, especially on weekends. Ride with caution.
The trail is about three miles long. It start at Barker Pass at the top of Forest Road 03. It ends at Ellis Peak but you need to walk/hike the last bit. There is a existing ‘trail’ that looks like you can ride to the top. Don’t! That trail is not legal. It is a loose rocky trail that is difficult and there is no place to turn around at the top! The first peak gives you a 360 degree view of Tahoe and everything west. You can hike a 1/4 mile or so to the actual Ellis Peak, just to the north, if you want to say you made the summit.
I would suggest riding this from the Rubicon end to the Barker Pass end. I started at the Barker Pass end and the trail started with a VERY steep climb. This climb had switch backs and large wood beams had been used as water bars. Tough but not impossible to negotiate on a motorcycle.
Just a little further up the trail there is a very technical climb.
Once past the early ugliness, the trail is really nice. Tight in places but doable. Look closely for the snow on the trail. It was August 6th.
The views from the Barker end were awesome.
The trail changes from wide open areas…
To a tight in the trees experience…
Again, I would suggest an out and back from the Rubicon or Ellis Peak end of the trail. You can get more then 3/4 of the trail covered without getting in to the tricky stuff. If you do the one-way, again, I suggest Ellis to Barker.
I’ll try to get more pictures and details on the 16E16 page of the website, after Sierra Trek.