Trails like the Rubicon are the reason bucket lists exist. The Rubicon trail has been around in one form or another since long before the Jeep was thought of. In the beginning, trappers and loggers had claim to the beautiful wilderness surrounding the trail. Now this region of the Sierra Nevada mountains has seen travelers for nearly 200 years, but not much has changed. Cabins have been erected in a few remote locations, outhouses are found along the now well defined trail, but the same wild nature surrounds the trail as it always has.
The Rubicon is still a formidable trail that has earned a reputation among off-road enthusiasts of all kinds. There is a reason that Jeep named its best equipped vehicle the Rubicon. The trail has plenty of obstacles to keep extremely modified vehicles entertained, but thanks to countless bypasses, fun can be had for the much less equipped 4×4 on the trail as well. Over the Rubicon’s 22 miles, it combines challenging rock sections similar to those of Johnson Valley, rock ledges similar to Moab, breathtaking scenery like Yosemite, and the remoteness of the Death Valley.
Above left: Much of the landscape that surrounds the trail is made up of huge slabs of granite rock. Airing down tires on the rocks as apposed to in the dirt made for a clean operation. Above right: While full size vehicles do regularly traverse the rout, having a small jeep is useful for navigating tight sections between massive boulders.
Above left: The trail quickly combines larger boulders with smaller loose rocks. Locking differentials make quick work of the loose sections. Above center: Chris’ Hummer became friendly with the trees early on in the trail due to camber obstacles. Above right: Large amounts of flex are clearly achievable from the solid axle swapped rig. Taking a page out of the Jeep handbook one could say.
We headed to the trail in our Jeep TJ, sporting an extremely recent AW4 transmission swap, accompanied by Nick Paul in his very well-equipped Jeep JK Unlimited, and Chris Paul in a wildly modified Hummer H3. While the Rubicon is a well traveled trail it is never a good idea to do it alone in case of breakage or various other potential calamities.
The trail can be done in one day by highly modified off-road vehicles, but in order to enjoy the trail we decided to do it in two. We were lucky to face only minor issue on the trail consisting of a broken rim, some loose brake lines, and a leaking transfer case. We ran the trail without a guide, but because the trail is so well marked we had no trouble navigating through the tremendous landscape.
Above left: The trail periodically wound onto different sections of the granite mountainside displaying incredible views. Above right: While not a Mopar, we always love seeing classic vehicles on the trail like this FJ60 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Above left: Before dropping back into the trees the trail look us though some sections where suspension articulation was a must. Above center & right: Shown here is Nick navigating a slick, wet, rock ledge in his Jeep JK.
Above left: Capturing the scale of the obstacles with a camera is tricky business. But this shot was taken with the camera at eye level. So imagine the bumper of your truck just above your forehead and that will give an idea of the size of some of the boulders navigated on the trail. Above center: It is not unreasonable to be a little intimidated when you look out of your vehicle and see a rock trail heading up the side of the mountain like this one. That being said, if an obstacle doesn’t scare you just a little on the first attempt then where would the fun be. Above right: The entrance to the world famous Rubicon Springs.
After this year’s trip to the Rubicon trail, there is no denying that it is a trip everyone with a 4×4 should make. The trail was challenging enough to be fun, well marked enough to be safe and easy to navigate, and the landscape is something we will never forget.
Above left: Chris and Nick navigating up the hill. Above right: Photo opportunities were plentiful on the clear sunny day.
Above left: Here I am as a reference to the size of “Soup Bowl.” Above center: Here is our group exiting the top of the once famous “Little Sluice” obstacle. While this is still a slightly difficult section of the trail it does not compare in any way to the nearly impassable obstacles that used to exist here. Just a few years ago government workers used dynamite to blast the boulders that made “Little Sluice” a notable obstacle and turned it into a rock paved path. Government destruction of trail obstacles is truly a horrifying reality. Above right: Finding a suitable place to relax and eat lunch is easy to do with rock faces and staggering views all along the trail.
Above left: Here is a perfect example of why bead lock wheels are in the plans for our TJ. Here the protruding rock had no trouble pushing the tire off of the bead and causing some issues. Luckily the sidewall on the BFG tire was able to handle the abuse and not fail. Above right: We firmly believe if you buy a winch you should use it now and again. So it was fun to get a little too stuck in a crevice. Our Master Pull winch rope made this recovery a safe operation.
Above left: Depending on the time of year the Rubicon offers several minor water crossings. Above center: The view from our camp was breathtaking. Above right: The Rubicon traverses along a few mountain lakes. With such limited access to the lakes we head Buck Island Lake all to our selves for a swim and lunch.
Above left: It is clear in this picture that our Savvy Off Road aluminum gas tank skid plate got a workout during the trip! But it held up awesome and slid the Jeep off of rocks without a hick up. Above center: Here is the start of the final obstacle; the steep and technical “Cadillac Hill.” This one demanded our full attention as going off the trail would send you for a several hundred feet fall to the bottom of the canyon. Above right: We stopped here at “Lookout Point” to reflect on the trip before we headed out of the trail.