The Rubicon trail is a 22-mile stretch that is technically a road, although certain sections are passable only by the most determined and capable 4x4s. A crown-jewel destination for off-roaders, the Rubicon trail is a scenic jaunt that leads to Lake Tahoe. However, this ‘trail’ isn’t a great choice for a first time 4x4 expedition. Negotiating some of the challenging areas strewn with giant boulders, requires real experience and skill behind the wheel. It's serious test for even the toughest four wheel drive vehicles.

The Surprising History of The Rubicon Trail

History of The Rubicon Trail

The Rubicon trail has an interesting history. Spanning all the way back to pre-European settlement, through the Gold Rush and the Gilded Age. The trail may have fallen back into the wilderness were it not for the contemporary love of 4x4 vehicles. As well as the dedicated groups that are determined to keep it open.

The nearest town is Georgetown, which is really more of a village. However city life isn't far, this wilderness passage is also only about 75 miles from Sacramento. Nonetheless, situated deep in the mountains, the Rubicon trail hardly qualifies as a road in the normal sense.

As OHV trails go, the Rubicon trail is not only considered to be among the most scenic and adventurous in California, but also among the best four wheeling stretches in the world. Several groups work together to protect the area. Including El Dorado County and a group of volunteers that call themselves, “Friends of the Rubicon Trail” (FOTR). Because of this support, the trail includes dedicated management and facilities. It also has its own website, maps and areas for rescue helicopters to gain access.

The Rubicon Trail's Early History

The Rubicon Trail History

This rough road has been a natural bypass since humans first began inhabiting the majestic mountains and forests of the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra Nevada wilderness. The 22 miles connect a major water source, Lake Tahoe, with prime hunting and fishing grounds in the Sacramento Valley. The Rubicon trail was first developed by the invading Europeans who used it as a passage through the wilderness, via stagecoach.

The area’s hot springs were also a popular draw. They were explored and visited by native tribes until Europeans spilled into the area in the mid-19th century. The trail began to widen in the 1840s thanks to increased traffic from the gold rush. But it wasn't until the early 1890s when it was developed into a loosely defined “road”, in order to reach the Rubicon Mineral Springs Resort and Hotel. A second resort at Wentworth Springs then guaranteed a flow of traffic through the area.

The Rubicon Trail Becomes an Off-Road Destination

The Rubicon Trail Off-Roading

In the late 19th century, car travel was much rougher than it is today. The first car to actually reach Rubicon Springs via the entire trail was driven by a woman, in 1908. Press coverage in San Francisco newspapers at the time absolutely marveled over the feat. By the late 1920s, the fad of bathing in natural springs had come and gone, which resulted in the Rubicon and Wentworth Springs resorts shuttering their businesses. 

In the 1930s and 40s the trail was rarely used, but in 1953 an off-road rally (“jamboree”) was held here, and that event sparked slow and steady renewal of car traffic. Thanks to it’s reimmersion in the 1950’s, the Rubicon trail has since become a premier destination for OHV traffic.

The road got its name from the Rubicon river, which it crosses not far from the shores of Lake Tahoe. That river was named, for reasons we may never uncover, after its far more famous predecessor, the Rubicon of Julius Caesar.