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The Rubicon Trail is a 22-mile-long route, part road and part 4x4 trail, located in the Sierra Nevada of the western United States, due west of Lake Tahoe and about 80 miles (130 km) east of Sacramento.
The western maintained portion of the route is called the Wentworth Springs Road; it begins in Georgetown, California, a hamlet in California's Gold Country. The road continues from its intersection with State Route 193 towards Wentworth Springs, where the trailhead for the unmaintained portion of the route exists adjacent to Loon Lake. The trail portion of the route is about 12 miles (19 km) long and passes in part through the El Dorado National Forest as well as the Tahoe National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. The eastern maintained portion of the trail is called the McKinney Rubicon Springs Road, and leads to Lake Tahoe.
There are entrances to the trail, either at Wentworth Springs or at the Loon Lake spillway. The Wentworth Springs entrance, at Gerle Creek, is the original entrance to the trail, and starts with an obstacle known as Devil's Postpile (not to be confused with Devils Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes). The Loon Lake route is shorter, first crossing the Granite Bowl, a large open rock valley. (The Loon Lake entrance previously had an obstacle known as The Gatekeeper. It was demolished in 2005 to regulate trail erosion).
The Wentworth Springs entrance to the trail joins the trail from Loon Lake shortly before Ellis Creek. After driving through the relatively mild section beyond Ellis Creek the Walker Hill obstacle is encountered. It includes a rocky climb followed by a notch that can either be straddled or side-hilled.
A short distance beyond Walker Hill is the Soup Bowl. The Soup Bowl is a short climb with a series of ledges that are difficult to climb. High clearance and long wheelbases help with this obstacle. After passing the Soup Bowl, the Little Sluice awaits.
The Little Sluice, also known as the Sluice Box or simply as "The Box", is close to Spider Lake. It is the most difficult section of the trail, and as such can be bypassed in two ways for vehicles that cannot ascend the main trail. The most common bypass route is to the left of the obstacle known as the long bypass. The second way to bypass the Little Sluice is to drive up Toyota Rock. Toyota Rock is to the right towards Spider Lake (so named because it resembles a spider from above), just before the large rocks in the Little Sluice, and leads to the slabs that surround Little Sluice. The large rocks in the Little Sluice were reduced in size in the fall of 2012 by El Dorado County in order to reduce concentrated camping and the "spectator" atmosphere at the Sluice. The section is still difficult, but difficulty has been reduced.
After passing the Little Sluice the next obstacle is Thousand Dollar hill (also sometimes called Million Dollar hill). It is a rock ledge followed by a steep grade, facing downhill if driving the trail towards Lake Tahoe. As of 7/15/2012, Thousand Dollar Hill has been closed. This obstacle had a moderately difficult bypass (the original trail), which is now the only route open.
The trail splits again about a half mile past this point, the lower trail continuing on the granite slabs (aka Indian Trail) or the upper trail through the Old Sluice. Both routes lead to Buck Island Lake. The granite slabs are off camber but are an easier and much quicker route to take.
After passing Buck Island Lake the trail continues towards the Big Sluice. This downhill section contains a switchback with a rock drop-off and an off camber rocky section, leading to the Rubicon River Bridge and then into the private property of the Rubicon Springs.
Rubicon Springs is on private property and must be respected as such. A cabin (in the same spot as the former 2-story hotel) houses the caretaker family. A seemingly endless number of camp spots is available around the springs, as well as a helipad for emergencies and for large events to fly supplies in. Most large events will set up base camp in the Springs because it is large enough for hundreds of people to camp. Notable annual events are the Jeepers Jamboree (maximum of 500 vehicles), the Jeep Jamboree (200 vehicles), the Toyota Land Cruiser Association's Rubithon (approximately 150-200 vehicles), and the Marlin Crawler Round-Up (approximately 150-200 vehicles).
After Rubicon Springs is Cadillac Hill. Cadillac Hill is a series of switchbacks up to Observation Point, starting with a rutted out section with many exposed tree roots. After turning a hairpin the trail becomes very off camber and contains a series of boulders to maneuver around or over. After that is a steep stairstep obstacle to climb. At the top of the hill is Observation Point, a good place to see where you have just driven and to take a short break before the long dirt road to Lake Tahoe. There are a few small sections of rocks after this but nothing that poses a significant obstacle.
In 2001, the Lahontan Water Board contemplated filing an order to force closure of the east end of the trail near the Tahoe Basin. In order to prevent this closure, FOTR (Friends of the Rubicon), a grass roots user driven organization was formed, and the group built more than thirty erosion control devices on the trail in order to prevent erosion and siltation of the watershed. The Lahontan Water Board dropped their effort, and FOTR was successful in keeping the trail open and have conducted many work projects on the trail each year since then.
The initial organized effort to close the trail involved embroiling El Dorado County in an effort to manage the trail. This effort resulted in the Rubicon Trail Master Plan, which the county rejected because it was projected to be too costly. Most of the costs involved were for monitoring, not for fixing problems on the trail.
When the Master Plan effort failed, multiple complaints were filed with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board. The complaints were that the trail was causing erosion and siltation of the watershed, sanitation issues were not being addressed, and that OHV's were spilling oil on the trail. These complaints resulted in a Draft Cleanup and Abatement Order that would have closed the trail had it been implemented as written. During the hearing, before issuing a final order, testimony was heard from El Dorado County, the Eldorado National Forest, and the Rubicon Trail Foundation. The result of that hearing was a more manageable order requiring El Dorado County and the Eldorado National Forest to repair the trail, build bridges, obtain an accurate user count, conduct education and planning efforts, report regularly to the board, and provide more law enforcement on the trail. The Cleanup and Abatement Order is still in effect, and the agencies are up to date with the completion timelines required by the order.
The Rubicon Trail Foundation, Friends of the Rubicon, El Dorado County, and the Eldorado National Forest continue their efforts to keep this "crown jewel" of OHV routes open.
Part of the trail is used as a testing ground by Jeep. The Rubicon variant of the Jeep Wrangler is named after this trail.
Many large events take place on the trail, ranging from Jeep-only events (Jeep Jamboree) and 4x4 enthusiast events (Jeepers Jamboree, TLCA's Rubithon, Marlin Crawler Round-Up) to family trips to special events organized just for SUVs and stock 4x4s that could not otherwise complete the trail.
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