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Tahoe 4x4 Trails, The Rubicon Is Just The Beginning


The Rubicon Trail lies right between the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness Areas. Wilderness areas have very strict restrictions. Lake Tahoe really is a land of many uses.

When Jeep decides to add the name "Rubicon" to their high end 4x4 model, then you know that the Rubicon is a gold standard in the 4x4 world. Or, is it platinum? I can never remember which metal is at the top. What I do know is that the Rubicon Trail crosses over a trail of quartz, feldspar, and mica...or granite, as it heads over the Sierra Nevada mountains toward the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. But, do you know that the Rubicon Trail isn't the only game in town for 4x4 trails? In fact, we have quite a few other 4x4 trails with better views and they don't even require an overnight adventure. Some of these trails are enough to complete during an extended lunch break. Others might be a bit more ambitious. So, who is ready for some Tahoe pinstriping, a little fun in the dirt, and an adventure up and over the rocks around Lake Tahoe? And, who thinks they know where some of the other more fun local trails might be?



Rules And Regulations - This Is Lake Tahoe After All


It's always good to be prepared and self-sufficient when headed out on a 4x4 adventure. I'm not going to cover any of the basics, as for what to pack and how to maintain your vehicle. I'd like to assume that most people headed out for a Lake Tahoe 4x4 adventure have already prepared themselves with that information. But, as noted above, there are very specific DMV certifications that need to be adhered to. And, the land around Lake Tahoe is managed by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/ltbmu/home), which may have different restrictions than the USDA Forest Service (https://www.usda.gov) in effect to preserve Lake Tahoe's precious natural resources. As always, Tread Lightly (https://www.treadlightly.org) and help maintain our public access to these amazing spots throughout Lake Tahoe. Please be sure to be up to date and current on any rules and regulations.

They Say The West Shore Is The Best Shore

The West Shore is definitely the most famous 4x4 area for Lake Tahoe. Just look at the popularity of the Rubicon Trail (https://www.rubicontrailfoundation.org). In all honesty, the West Shore does have it's own little, funky, vibe. But, to say that it's the best might be a bit pretentious. One thing that is true about the West Shore is that it is definitely on the quiet side. There are an abundance of multi-million dollar homes along the shoreline, with a bunch of amazing cabins tucked up the hill. My best way to relate the West Shore with the rest of Lake Tahoe is to compare Homewood Mountain Resort (https://www.skihomewood.com/mountain/where-the-mountains-meet-the-lake/) with some of the other ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. The views rival any from Heavenly, Mt. Rose, or even Squaw, but the crowds are non-existent, your proximity to the lake can't be beat, and you don't need the latest gear or outfit to enjoy the mountain. Homewood also has quite a few cool events throughout the seasons, including the Adventure Van Expo (https://www.adventurevanexpo.com/lake-tahoe). I think that a lot of 4x4 and off road enthusiasts would appreciate some of the cool rigs on display during the Adventure Van Expo. The event has expanded to include a LOT more than just vans. Feel free to check out our blog about the inaugural Adventure Van Expo (https://www.tahoeadventuretrex.com/tahoeadventuretrex/adventure-van-expo-comes-to-lake-tahoe). But, let's get back to the trails.


There are two ways to access the Rubicon Trail. The first would be from the West by heading up to Loon Lake from Highway 50. The second would be to head through the Tahoma neighborhood along the McKinney Rubicon Springs Rd. to the staging area on the East side. Either way is up to you. But, be prepared. Once you commit to the Rubicon Trail, it's a 22 mile 4x4 off road adventure with no services or assistance, unless you're willing to max out the credit cards and beg for assistance. To be better prepared, it's always a good idea to go in pairs. And, always pay close attention to the weather. Storms can roll in any time of the year. And, it's not uncommon for vehicles to get snowed in during the Fall and not recovered until Summer melts the snow. So, enjoy the trail at your own risk. But, once you're finished, feel free to stop in for a bite at one of the West Shore's great watering holes/pizza joint.


I always enjoy stopping into West Shore Pizza (http://pizzatahoe.com) for a well-deserved recharge on the way back home. And, that's where I first heard the phrase, "Tahomies". The west shore definitely has it's own special niche and the people embrace it. "Tahomies" do a great job looking after their community. And, they may even be willing to offer assistance for stranded or weary travelers. But, if not, West Shore Pizza will be a nice place to get some cell service, refuel, and wait for your friends or even your recovery effort to get underway.


No, This Is Not Oahu's North Shore

The North Shore has a lot more than what is on the map. But, some of those trails are multi-use, instead of dedicated 4x4 routes. These suggestions will help avoid any confrontations associated with the multi-use systems.And, these trails aren’t meant to be a multi-day epic, like the Rubicon. But, these trails offer an opportunity to get another bird's eye view or escape the crowds down below.


Mt. Watson and the area nearby has a pretty well developed system of dirt and paved roads to escape the crowds and test your 4x4 skills. This area is not for extreme rock crawling. But, you may experience a bit of overgrown brush to add some extra pin striping. As far as trails go, this is possible in everything from a stock Suby to a good 4x4. No need to bust out the full on buggy for this adventure. Plus, this area is also a part of the Tahoe Rim Trail (https://tahoerimtrail.org). Make sure to heed the warnings, because the Tahoe Rim Trail is for mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, backpacking, trail running, but not for 4x4 adventures.


Take Highway 267 up to Brockway Summit, then turn West on to the paved road 73E. Drive about 6.5 miles and turn South on a dirt road FS #16N49 to #16N50 which will take you to Watson Lake. From here, it's possible to reconnect with 73E to return back to Brockway or even take a small hike up to the Mt. Watson summit. Make sure to have an accurate map, gps, etc. and don't lose your way. Otherwise, your small 4x4 adventure may turn into an epic journey.


Now that you made it back alive, it's time to head into town for a refuel. One of our favorites is Tahoe Tap Haus (https://tahoetaphaus.com). The beer selection is broad enough for almost any palette. And, their sliders were some of the best ever, especially paired with the queso borracho. Isn't that what life is all about, celebrating adventures with yummy food and drinks.


Which Was The Good Witch - East Or West?

When you think of magical views high above Lake Tahoe, the East Shore almost can't be beat. Don't expect to find Dorothy or any tornadoes on this Eastern adventure. But, you can definitely expect to have a magical view of the sunset from high above Lake Tahoe. And, since there are really two ways to tackle the East shore's best 4x4 route, you could actually grab some yummy food before and after the journey. But, that's just my culinary opinion. We always need fuel for the journey. And, that's what Tahoe Trail Bars are for (https://tahoetrailbar.com). Don't let your hunger force you to make bad or hasty decisions out of hanger. And, be prepared for when you might have to walk out from a 4x4 adventure.


In all practicality, I do like to be prepared when I head out for 4x4 fun. Food, although I do joke about it, is always nice to have. And, this 4x4 trail makes for a great picnic spot overlooking Lake Tahoe with an amazing panoramic. I especially love the vista from Genoa Peak as it looks out and across Lake Tahoe towards Emerald Bay. So, when I suggest a picnic for this 4x4 trail, it's only mildly out of jest.


If you are coming from the Incline Village area, I'd recommend stopping at T's Mesquite Rotisserie (https://www.tsrotisserie.com) before heading towards Spooner Summit and that side of the trail. They have a cucumber salad that really complements their tri-tip and chicken plates. Plus, you can get tortillas to make a yummy meal for the entire family to share. But, what if you're coming from the other direction and South Lake Tahoe? Well, Verde Mexican Rotisserie (http://verdemexicanrotisserie.com) can have you covered with their family meal. Just make sure to get a few extra napkins. You're probably going to need them.


The Genoa Peak Rd. is also called Forest Service Road #14N32. This 4x4 trail offers some of the most spectacular views of any road in the entire Lake Tahoe Basin. As I've probably overstated, the sunset views might be unrivaled. This forest service road connects Spooner Summit to Kingsbury Grade offering 9.5 miles of jeep road along the Eastern rim of Lake Tahoe. There are two distinct access points for this trail. Access for this trail from the East is behind the Nevada Division of Transportation Maintenance Station near Spooner Summit, off of Highway 50. If you're accessing the road from the West, then it'll be from the gate at the end of North Benjamin Rd., off of Kingsbury Grade.


This trail is not technical, as it undulates and follows the contours of the rim. But, don't expect it to be a quick trip. The 9.5 miles can take a couple hours. And, you're going to want to stop to admire the views, eat your picnic, and take in everything around you. You might even be lucky enough to see a paraglider enjoying the thermals off of Kingsbury along with many of our local birds.

Southside Bombers Can Actually Be Seen From Time To Time

One of my favorite trails is also one of the easiest to access. It's quick, beautiful, and can challenge everything from stock 4x4 rigs to full blown buggies. Plus, there are views of Lake Tahoe, as well as the Tahoe Valley Airport. Depending upon which time of year, you may see some military aircraft passing through on a training mission. Or, you may see the continuous line of private jets bringing in the celebrities for the American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament ((https://americancenturychampionship.com). Our local 4x4 club, the Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo's (https://www.laketahoehilos.com) help maintain this area, as well as providing many other contributions to the community. Feel free to thank them for their hard work. I've seen how our trails have benefitted from their stewardship.


As I said, this trail is an easy access from town. But, that doesn't mean you need to rush or hurry through. There are amazing views, as well as challenging routes which can tackle a good amount of time. But, if you're looking for a quick adventure while in South lake Tahoe, then Twin Peak offers a little something for everyone.


The maps state that the mileage for Twin Peaks is anywhere from 1-1.5 miles. To be honest, I've never felt the need to clock it on the odometer. I've hurried up Twin Peaks to get a 4x4/hike with the kiddos. And, I've also tested my rig on trails like Twister and Metal Masher. Overall, this is a fun little spot to get out and enjoy what the backyard possesses.


Access is from the Sawmill Pond parking area off of Lake Tahoe Blvd. From there, it's a quick series of whoops and potholes before the trail starts to climb. At this point, it's a good idea to make sure you feel comfortable with the terrain and your vehicle is in good working order. If not, TURN AROUND!!! There have been instances of people rolling their vehicles because they didn't know what they were doing, felt uncomfortable, or were too inebriated to manage. Most of the trail is comprised of sand or dirt. But, there will be a few rocky sections with bypass alternatives. Another great feature is that these rock sections have winch line anchors strategically placed for prevention or recovery. Enjoy the adventure and see what your vehicle is capable of. At the very least, if you do need a recovery, then this may be one of the cheapest spots to discover any possible issues you may have with a vehicle.


Now that you wrapped up your Tahoe 4x4 adventure, you can head down the road to celebrate with a beer at South Lake Brewing Company (https://www.southlakebeer.com/aboutslbc). Your server may have just gotten his own 4x4 fix before heading into work. But, hopefully you do wait until after the 4x4 adventures are through. Most of our 4x4 trails still adhere to our same motor vehicle laws. There's no need to come on vacation and leave on probation.

The highlighted routes are the ones that we detailed. Feel free to contact us for any additional information.

We hope you enjoy Lake Tahoe's 4x4 trails. And, we also hope that you don't do anything to jeopardize any of our access privileges. We're very fortunate to live and play in such an amazing area. But, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. Here are a couple links to some more Motor Vehicle Use maps from the Forest Service for the Lake Tahoe Basin - (https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm9_046262.pdf) and (https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm9_046264.pdf). Hope to see you on the trail.


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