One cool road trip in Tahoe’s Crystal Basin

Despite being a Tahoe visitor and resident for over 30 years I never seriously investigated the area between US-50 and I-80 and west of Desolation Wilderness known as Crystal Basin, assuming it was just miles and miles of tedious, low-altitude, and washboarded dirt roads.   I was a wrong! Not only are Ice House Road and Wentworth Springs Road paved, they’re quite popular with the motorcycle and sports car set, combining lots and lots of sweeping curves with reservoir and panoramic views.

Crystal basin map.

Crystal basin map

So I set out yesterday, picking up the loop by driving down to South Shore and turning onto Ice House Road near Kyburz, heading counter-clockwise around the loop.   After about 21 miles there’s a turnoff to Robbs Hut atop Robbs Peak.   It’s a short, very smooth dirt road, though a locked gate means you have to hike about 3/4 mile each way.  On top  is the most meticulously mainted USFS fire lookout I’ve ever encountered:


Robbs Peak lookout.

Here’s the view to the east looking at the western side of Desolation Wilderness and the Crystal Range:


The cabin in the foreground, though apparently not the lookout itself,  is available for rental year-round.   Many curves later one comes to Loon Lake:


Just beyond Loon Lake is the entrance/exit to the infamous 4×4 Rubicon Trail.


It doesn’t look so tough from here! Right….   Finally, a few miles from Georgetown and a half mile or so down a dirt road is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Dating from 1864 and still being run as a store it’s a popular and traditional stop for the motorcycle and 4×4 crowd: