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Rubicon Peak

Location: West Shore – Lake Tahoe, CA
Duration: 1-2 hours
Elevation Change: 2,200′ – from 6,800′ to 9,000′
Recommended Map: Rockbound Valley & Meeks Bay, California

Elevation Profile:

rubicon elevation profile


Map of General Route:

rubicon trail map

A Tahoe classic, this is the peak you can’t take your eyes off when you look toward the Sierra Crest above the west shore. The crux is figuring out where to park, since a few homeowners love to get skiers ticketed and even towed for some unexplained reason. Take a cab. Rubicon Peak has been skied by locals before anyone ever lived in this area, and is a beautiful old-growth forest cruise in a fairly avalanche free zone.  I have tried to influence new parking on hwy 89 were a great flat parking area could be constructed across from 4 ring road. Our local BC ski advocacy group Tahoe Backcountry Alliance is trying to convince USFS and El Dorado County to open the locked gate up high in the neighborhood, where there is plenty of room to park near the water tower. Please call USFS, El Dorado’s Sue Novasel and ask for access to our mountains in the winter!

The view from the top of its 100’ Class 3 summit scramble is not to be missed if your a rock climber. You could make class 5 moves if you aren’t careful, and only 2-3 people fit on top.  I usually go up the north side, but it is possible on the west side too. The view is ok if you don’t climb the sketchy rock peak up there, don’t get into trouble. Finding the summit of this cone-shaped mountain is easy. Finding your start location is very difficult with the tree cover. The upper North and East aspects are excellent. There’s also a nice quiet west side to ski down to Stony Ridge Lake in times of deep snowpack.

To reach the historic, year round Rubicon Peak Trailhead, Turn off of hwy 89 onto Scenic Drive, 14 miles south of Tahoe City. Then go left on county road 2538, right on Woodland, left on Manzanita, right on Lakeview, Right on Crest, left on Forest View, left on Highview, and right onto a steep dead end street. If you forget to bring these notes, just drive as high as you can in the neighborhood and look for the water tower and gated dead end road. There are sometimes a few spots to park down lower on the west side of Hwy 89, just south of this neighborhood. You probably won’t get there first, and they are not technically legal. You are more likely to get a ticket right after new snow. Damn, just when you want to go there!

Here’s the parking deal according to Eldorado and Placer County. You can’t park anywhere but your own driveway from Nov 1 to May 1, unless you are off the highway BEYOND the snow stakes. Unless you carry around a team of snow blowers, good luck achieving this. The rule was pushed into place by the Meeks Bay Fire Department, who wanted a guaranteed clear path on all roadways during winter. Cal trans probably agreed quickly, as there was less chance for having to call tow trucks when cars were abandoned during snowstorms. The rule was put into place right after the record-breaking snowfall we received in 1982, when people just abandoned cars in the middle of Hwy 89.

Here’s the problem. If it’s a sunny day, and the snow is plowed all the way to the stakes, and you aren’t blocking a fire truck or snowplow in anyway, and you’ll be back in 2 hours, you’re going to get a ticket anyway. Even if you’re just running into a friends house for 15 minutes. There are a few signs in South Shore that say “no parking when snow removal conditions exist”. Makes perfect sense. But we have still seen skiers get tickets right next to these signs for no real reason.

Another problem. The Sherriff department sub-contracts some of the ticket writing work to traffic police, who come up from the foothills and bay area. I have been told that these folks don’t deviate from the rules for any reason. Nov-May rule tickets are often written in neighborhoods and even outside businesses like the movie theatres….even if you are definitely not hindering any snowplow or emergency vehicle travel. So the local law enforcement cuts us some slack usually, while the rent-a-ticket writers never do.

Here’s the solution. Put more of these signs “no parking when snow removal conditions exist” signs up and add more details if necessary. Let people get ticketed or towed if they mis-judge the potential for snowplowing, or block the road based the biggest possible measurement of an emergency vehicle. For the rest of us, please allow us access to our hometown public lands from these quiet little pullouts. Or, build more parking, which I’ve been told point blank, is very out of the question. Designated parking lots have certainly been built for smaller user groups. Contact  USFS,  Placer County and Eldorado County Supervisors and tell them you want access to your Lake Tahoe’s Wilderness in the winter too. Not everyone wants to go to a ski area. These days you can’t. It costs too much and there is 2 hour grid lock traffic that leads to a full parking lot half the time! Plus there are those mean icy moguls there.

If you do get a ticket for the Nov to May rule, you can write a letter asking to be excused for whatever reason you might have. I have been relieved of paying a few tickets because I took pictures to prove I wasn’t blocking any snowplow or fire truck efforts on that particular day.

Back to Rubicon Peak. This was one of the first popular backcountry ski destinations due to it’s reliable powder, awesome views, and relative safety. Locals parked on this high, lonely dead end road for decades, bothering and blocking no one. No neighbors can even see the parked cars. In one recent year this neighborhood seemed to be patrolled daily by the local sheriff. I asked what the real problem is, but just got the Nov to May rule answer.

More on our local law enforcement. I know many of these guys personally, because they like to ride bikes and backcountry ski. I know a few others because I’ve received parking tickets. I know some more because I read the paper. We have an all-star crew of people working in the local law enforcement, and it’s one of the reasons I feel all warm and cozy about my beloved Tahoe Community. These guys rock, and always stop to talk or help. That sadly either leaves us with the answer that they need to collect extra ticket revenue, or their bosses put winter backcountry recreation at the bottom of the list of importance. This is unfortunate especially since people have come to explore the Tahoe Backcountry in winter since day one, dating back to a guy named Mark Twain. John Muir didn’t come to Tahoe to park his horse at the casinos either. I have contacted quite a few county officials and law enforcement about these parking issues many many times, and gotten nowhere. They don’t want to deal with public access. No one does in government. The public needs to fight for it. Please help by politely asking for some slack on the Nov – May rule.



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