Backpacking the Rubicon Trail in Desolation Wilderness

Details: Rubicon – Desolation Wilderness, South Tahoe

Length: 20 miles

Trip Motto: “I do love a good lake swim!”

View on the way to our campsite

Long Labor Day Weekend Backpacking Itinerary:

This Labor Day weekend, we took an extra day and backpacked to Rubicon in Desolation Wilderness, South Tahoe. And it was delightful. I love September holidays in south lake Tahoe, because northern California often has an Indian summer, meaning long, balmy days bathed in golden light.

Now, we did not like our original destination at all. The area was very open, and there were people camped on all sides of us, so very little privacy. The water was murky and muddy, and we just were not feeling the vibe at all. We were pretty exhausted from hiking almost ten miles, and then a few more searching for another quieter campsite on the other side of the lake: spoiler alert, we didn’t like the other side any better! So, we set up our tent, went for a rather muddy swim, and made a plan for the next day.

Feels like we’re camping during the apocalypse

Now, this backpacking trip was a little strange because of the wildfires in Santa Cruz and Fremont. The air quality when we left Oakland was pretty normal. The air become more smoky as we reached Tahoe. The grey skies, eerie pale yellow glow and bright fushia sun over the mountains felt like something out of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Fuchsia sunrise

The next morning we woke early, and set out for another lake on the map, Fox Lake. On our way there we found the most beautiful, totally secluded alpine lake surrounded by granite and sweeping, epic views. We immediately went back, grabbed our backpacks, took down the tent and set off for our lake.

Ahhhh, insert angels singing

We had a wonderful weekend swimming at our secluded lake, sipping coffee and sampling PB Chocolate protein bars while taking in the sweeping views, lounging and enjoying the balmy weather and reading. It was soul restoring. Brad found a rope swing and had a great time with that, but I had visions of not letting go in time, or flopping into the water a weird way and tweaking something.

Couldn’t resist having our morning coffee here for those views

We had a bit of a weather change during our last day, the wind picking up like crazy during our hike back and we returned to the car and an almost empty trailhead. After we returned home, we found out that more wildfires had started and they were evacuating our area – Loon Lake and Rubicon Trailhead! We had an amazing trip and felt very safe, we even saw other hikers on their way up the mountain as we were leaving. It sounds like new fires and a change in the weather caused the evacuations, but it was still pretty alarming.

Just some lake lounging!
Found a spot we like!!! SECLUDED AF

We had a bit of a weather change during our last day, the wind picking up like crazy during our hike back and we returned to the car and an almost empty trailhead. After we returned home, we found out that more wildfires had started and they were evacuating our area – Loon Lake and Rubicon Trailhead! We had an amazing trip and felt very safe, we even saw other hikers on their way up the mountain as we were leaving. It sounds like new fires and a change in the weather caused the evacuations, but it was still pretty alarming.

Up next on the blog: An epic ten days road trip camping through Utah!

How to Spend a Wonderful Winter Weekend in Lake Tahoe

Oh, how I love Lake Tahoe! Brad and I usually visit a few times a year – once in the summer, once in the winter and if we’re lucky, once in the fall, but I dream about it year round. About a three and a half  hour drive from Oakland, Tahoe is a gorgeous destination for a long weekend. Our favorite place to stay is South Lake Tahoe, at the Lakeshore Lodge and Spa. We love the deck, fireplace, hot tub, pool, and perfect lakefront views. This trip we stayed at The Hard Rock Hotel as a free holiday through the Kars 4 Kids program, so we mainly stayed around Heavenly Village.

Here are some of our favorite things to do for a fabulous winter holiday:

Go for a hike and breathe in the breathtaking views:

Lake Tahoe Hike
Beautiful views, beautiful Tahoe

Hikes are gorgeous and plentiful in Lake Tahoe! We drove straight to Heavenly and chose a trail at Van Sickle National Park. We used the All Trails app.

Hiking Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Hike

Have some lunch at Heavenly Village: we like California Burger Company. Grab a place by the outdoor fire pits, order a happy hour boozy slushie (I highly recommend the Cherry Limeade),  a gourmet burger with onion rings, and if you’re lucky soak up the sun! Enjoy the live music and views of the surrounding snow topped mountains. The bustling, joyous atmosphere can’t be beat.

Outdoor Fire Pits Heavenly Village
Enjoying the sunshine and vibes at the outdoor fire pits at Heavenly

Go snowshoeing! Rent your gear from Rip N Willies, Choose one of the many gorgeous trails, marvel at the sprawling cabins along the road on the drive up, and enjoy sweeping views with almost no people! Hiking through the glittering snow, the scent of pine in the air, fresh stag prints in the snow, and the panoramic views was incredibly peaceful. We had glorious weather – sunny and about 50 degrees in January. Aside: snowshoeing really takes it out of you. Brad swears our trip was only 3 miles, but it felt like at least 6! Tip: The earlier, the better for a hike.

Gorgeous hiking views south Tahoe
Breaktime! Taking in the gorgeous views, while dreaming about breakfast at the Driftwood Cafe!

Brie Tahoe Snowshoeing

We've got this! Snowshoeing with Brad
We’re going on an adventure!

Stag prints in snow south Tahoe
Fresh stag prints ❤

Sweeping views south Tahoe Winter

Grab  a fantastic breakfast at The Driftwood Cafe. Homey, cozy cafe with super friendly staff at Heavenly Village. Serves brekkie until 3pm. We woke up early, went snowshoeing and then for pancakes. It was a perfect day!

Breakfast time Driftwood Cafe

Nightlife: Lounge by the fire pits, enjoy some live music at Basecamp Pizza and check out one of the bustling eateries at Heavenly Village. We like Azul for the vibrant scene and shrimp fajita bowls. We also really like McDuff’s – a rustic scottish pub in South Lake serving comfort pub food with a chill vibe.

Wine by the fire Tahoe
Flickering flames, bubbles and perfect winter vibes. How’s that for a wine pour?!

Alpine Union – Bar outside of Hard Rock cafe with patio and expansive fire pits. We swear we saw Fitz & The Tantrums performing here one year, before they were famous!

Fire Pits at Alpine Union Lake Tahoe
Alpine Union’s expansive fire pits ❤

Check out the listings for cabins for sale and drive around dreaming about living in Tahoe year round!

Final notes: Winter trips to Tahoe are a completely different experience to summer. Summer holidays all about enjoying the glittering, cerulean lake, swimming in the refreshingly frigid, take your breath away water, hiking one of the many glorious trails, picnics, and lounging on a deck sipping your drink of choice while the sun sets magenta and fire orange over the mountains. I plan to write about a summer Tahoe getaway in an upcoming post.

More Tahoe Pics: