Looking north from the base of Rubicon Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Up, up some more, then even more. That’s what hiking Rubicon Peak is all about—the ascent. In about 2 miles the elevation gain is more than 2,000 feet. My glutes on the way up and calves on the way down felt every foot of that climb.

The scenery, well, that’s what makes the effort worth it. It doesn’t take long before Lake Tahoe is behind you. Looking forward it’s obvious this swath of forest on the West Shore has been thinned. The openness is nice because the trail is single track. The second half of the route is steeper and eventually the trail diverges into many options. While there are cairns to help direct you, they are all over the place. Pick the route that looks best to you. This isn’t an ordinary Tahoe trek with nice switchbacks. Those barely existed.

At the start it looks like it will take all day to reach Rubicon Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

From Highway 89 travelers, most notably headed south, can get glimpses Rubicon Peak with its unique rock formation. It’s from the tiptop that one gets the best views—essentially the entirety of Lake Tahoe from north to south. While this peak is in Desolation Wilderness, neighboring Granite Chief Wilderness is visible to the north.

With winds about 25 mph in Tahoma the afternoon we climbed, we opted to not scale the last 100 feet of rock. Rock climbers will find this last bit fun as it’s rated a class 3. Gusts were even worse where we were; to the extent I didn’t feel steady on my feet especially with the talus slope. Even not getting to the summit at 9,183 feet, the hike was well worth it because of the views and sense of accomplishment even for a short excursion.

While one dog and two kids were out on this particular day, this isn’t the hike for every dog or every child. The steepness, zero water for canines, and uneven/loose rock at the top would be reasons to think twice about who goes on the trail. It’s definitely one of the hardest 2-mile climbs I’ve done based on the slope and elevation gain. I would not do this hike in spring with any snow on the trail.

Reaching the top of Rubicon Peak takes some rock climbing skills. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • From South Lake Tahoe go north on Highway 89. If you hit Tahoma, you have gone too far. Turn left on Scenic Drive, right on Woodland Drive, right on Brook Drive, left on Crest Drive, right on Forest View Drive, left on High View Drive, and right on Highland Drive. Go through the gate to park so you are not on a residential street. The trail is the dirt road ahead. Do not go up toward the water towers. (Scenic Drive has two entrances off Highway 89. This route is from the southern entrance.)
  • The elevation gain was 2,112 feet. The lowest elevation was 6,931 feet, with the highest being 9,045 feet.
  • Dogs on leash welcome.
  • For more ideas about where to hike in the greater Lake Tahoe area, check out The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes or Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks.


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