Loon Lake to Rubicon Reservoir

Quick Guide:

8.3 miles one-way; 2 days/1 night; Permit Required; Bear canister required; Rating:10/10

Description: Located in Desolation Wilderness of the Sierras near Lake Tahoe. Moderate hike. Water for filtering is available along the trail.

Trailhead: Begin at Loon Lake Campground. Trail starts at Overnight Wilderness Parking Lot. Restrooms on-site. Water available.

Permits: You must have a wilderness permit with you at all times. Permits can be obtained online at: http://www.recreation.gov/. For the destination zone, select 06-Rubicon. Trailhead entry – 001 Loon Lake. Exit – Loon Lake. Print out your permit and carry on your person during the trip. With your permit, you will be able to camp anywhere within your zone.  (Extra option): If you wish to camp at Loon Lake prior to starting your hike, dispersed camping is available. 


My buddy and I decided last minute to go on a backpacking trip for the weekend. We had originally planned for Hetch Hetchy, but high temperatures made us rethink our plan. We booked for Rubicon Reservoir in June 2016. We purchased our permits online for $16 total the Thursday before our trip.

On Friday, we made the drive from the Bay Area to Loon Lake Campground. Tip: Avoid leaving the Bay Area around rush hour traffic. It could easily add an extra hour or two sitting in traffic. If you can, I advise leaving after the morning rush hour or early afternoon. If that doesn’t work for you, you can leave early on a Saturday morning to get to the trailhead. We had planned for dispersed camping at Loon Lake for Friday night. Make sure to input yourself for Loon Lake Campground on Google Maps. That is key to not getting lost. We had just set our destination for Loon Lake and we ended up getting lost. We ended up lost on a dirt trail and had to turn back around easily adding an extra hour. For dispersed camping, continue past the campground entrance for Loon Lake. You will most likely see other cars pulled over onto the side of the road. We saw that some other campsites had a fire pit set, but we camped in a little grove away from the water. Note: If you are able to time your trip so that it coincides with a full moon, do it! The moon illuminating over Loon Lake is simply stunning.

Dispersed camping in a grove at Loon Lake

On Saturday morning, we drove the few minutes back towards the campground. From the entrance, follow the signs for the Wilderness Parking Lot. At the parking lot are two restrooms, and a station to fill up with water. Make sure to stay hydrated folks! The trail started off easy, but by the third mile, you reach a rocky and steep ascent. I don’t normally use trekking poles, but they would be helpful on this trail, especially if you are prone to rolling your ankles. After about 3 miles of hiking, you will have hiked around Loon Lake and up to a nice vantage point. At this point we stopped for the view, and to hang out with other hikers and a dog!

Man’s best friend

Continue the hike up through the pass. Along the way, you will catch a glimpse of Spider Lake. Once you reach Buck Island Lake, you might be able to hear the loud echoes of off-roading. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend camping here. We did see more people stopping for camp at Rockbound Lake which is the next stop. I believe you would need a Zone 1 permit to camp your first night there. (If you have a permit for multiple nights, only your first night is required in your designated zone.) Before you reach Rubicon Reservoir, you will have to cross a small stream. People have left walking sticks to help you traverse the rocks, or if you are nimble enough, there was a fallen log available for crossing.

Make sure to dip your feet into the reservoir once your reach the destination! The water was ice cold when were there in late June, but refreshing nonetheless. Find a nice place to set up your camp, and then hang out by the water. Make sure to catch the sunset on the ridges west and south of the reservoir. I’d also recommend staying up for some stargazing. There are nice slabs of granite suitable for laying across and free falling into the sky. Also try to catch the sunrise if you can. We started the hike back along the way we came early morning Sunday and arrived back to our car in the afternoon.

Overall, this was a pretty moderate backpacking trip for those who haven’t been in a while. Again, I’d rate this trip as a 10/10. It had pretty much everything we were looking for on our trip. Beautiful, classic Sierra scenery. Lots of green, granite, and blue water. Lightly used trail once you pass the first 4 miles.

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