When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in 49 BC he set in motion the beginning of the Roman Empire and changed the history of the world. “Let the die be cast” and the sounding of his trumpet forever associated the Rubicon with venturing into the unknown, and so fitting the Rubicon Trail in California’s El Dorado Forest shares this famous name.
Perhaps the most famous 4-wheel drive trail in the world, it has been my desire to explore this popular destination for almost 25 years. Life has a way of getting in the way, and multiple times trips have been planned and cancelled for various reasons. The allure of this trail is that not just anyone seems equipped to tackle the route, which is an unmaintained county road. Various websites warn of having the proper vehicle, modifications and skill set. While anyone can pay a fee and attend the nearly all-inclusive Jamboree events, if you are looking for something less structured and more intimate a small group is the obvious choice. I have had the opportunity to run some great trails over the years, but few compare to what the Rubicon offers.
The trail is a gateway into the wilderness like no other. While the Rubicon does see heavy use on weekends and holidays, our early June mid week adventure gave us the unique opportunity of enjoying the trail with only an occasional visit from other groups. You will need to pack in and remove every item you need to sustain yourselves while visiting the trails,(this includes your feces) so packing smart becomes the rule for a family planning on running the trail. Your vehicle will need to be in top condition, and you should know it well. You will need to rely on your abilities to get you out of any situation that may arise, and the chance of getting stuck is probable.
For our trip we choose the Kawasaki Teryx 4 side by side off highway vehicle (OHV). In all 7 vehicles made up our group all using the Terax4, so we shared parts and tools within our group to save on the amount of equipment we would need to haul in with us. After a lifetime of OHV travel in everything from Jeeps to motorcycles and custom-built rock crawlers, I have found the Teryx 4 a perfect fit for my exploration into the backcountry. It’s good fuel economy, coupled with low maintenance lightweight, capabilities make driving most terrain a breeze and it offers a smaller environmental footprint than some of my other past OHV’s. (Our trip used only about 3 1/2 Gallons of gasoline for the trip in both directions.)
Travelling the Rubicon Trail requires your vehicle be registered for the street or carry an OHV registration. If you are an out of State OHV users you may be required to purchase a temporary California Green sticker. There is plenty of parking at the Loon Lake trailhead if you are towing your vehicle on a trailer, which is the way we transported our Teryx 4 to the Rubicon. Your vehicle should be free of leaks, and you must carry a spill kit in the event of a mishap on the trail. There are additional requirements such as a fire extinguisher you will need to bring as well.
Camping on the Rubicon trail is an experience like no other. The trail offers you the chance to explore on foot the scenic backcountry, but you will need to keep your vehicle inside the 50-foot perimeter of the trail. This presents a unique experience that you may not get backpacking into the wilderness. The ability to carry Camera equipment that is cumbersome, more luxurious sleeping accommodations, better food choices, and a few cold beverages for around the camp fire. I found myself enjoying hiking the trail at times, while my 16-year-old son drove our vehicle with my wife.
The challenging terrain of the trail is likely the best feature in keeping this remote location from becoming over run. Our Teryx 4 made short work of the trail, and my son who was new to driving had little difficulty navigating the obstacles, but the potential is high for under-equipped or larger vehicles. Knowing your limitations is paramount to finishing the 22-mile route without incident. Sheriff deputies patrol the trail so help may not be far away, but cell phones do not work what so ever. The route is marked but difficult at times to follow as it winds across large granite slabs with few features to easily follow the route. The faint marks of tires at times will be all that guide you on this precious resource. You will not find the hum of an RV generator, delineated camping spots, or the comfort of some of our concession driven state and national campgrounds. What you will find is an opportunity for those who physically can’t backpack into the wild to enjoy the same features that afford those elite few who can carry a pack and walk for miles.
The Rubicon Trail is a perfect example of John Muir’s vision “I am anxious that the Yosemite National Park may be saved from all sorts of commercialism and marks of man’s work other than the roads, hotels etc required to make its wonders and blessings available” (From John Muir’s letter to President Roosevelt Sept 1907). Thru the work of activism groups like the Rubicon Trail Foundation, and Friends of the Rubicon volunteer’s have kept this historic route open to travelers, and give a glimpse of the wilds of the back country to those physically unable to visit some of our wilderness areas, and offer a gateway to the youth of tomorrow to find interest in preserving our natural resources. In a time when the next generation seems content to rely on a virtual reality, it is the limited opportunities like the Rubicon Trail that introduce the wonder of uninterrupted beauty to the stewards of tomorrow. It is a shame we don’t have more trails like the Rubicon that can offer a glimpse into our countries wilderness and foster the balanced use of those resources. If you plan your own adventure into the Rubicon, please make sure you leave no trace, and haul out everything you haul in.
Please visit the Rubicon trail Foundation, and friends of the Rubicon for information on responsible use of the Rubicon Trail.
For the complete Kawasaki Teryx4 Rubicon Trail Photo Album please visit this link.
Want to see how we packed for three adults for our three day adventure on the Rubicon Please see this article for more information. Prepping a UTV for the Rubicon.