Blackwood Canyon & Ellis Peak

Barker Pass Pacific Crest Trail Head

Blackwood Canyon Road, Ellis Peak Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Barker Pass Road, Bear Lake, Miller Lake, Lilly Lake and McKinny Lake

Blackwood Canyon Road and Ellis Peak Trail – There is a lot to see!

  • Open Gate: May until the beginning of November
  • Difficulty: Beginner-Moderate
  • Distance (OHV TRAIL TO TOP): 3 Miles
  • Distance (Entire Trail from Tahoe Pines to Tahoma, CA): +/-20 Miles
  • Rig Needed: Stock OK
  • Duration: 3-4 Hours no stops, 5-6 Hours with Stops, It took us 6 hours.
  • ATV/ Dirt-bikes: OK
  • Nearby Trails: Tahoe Rim Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Rubicon Staging Area
  • GPS: Bring it!  – Some forks in the road were very confusing.

Blackwood Canyon Ellis Peak - Lake Tahoe Basin

This post is about the Blackwood Canyon/ Barker Pass Road 4×4 trail and not the hike to Ellis Peak.

Everyone seems to get this mixed up; Blackwood Canyon/ Barker Pass Road is a 4×4 Road/ Trail and Ellis Peak is a Hiking/ Walking/ Biking Trail and Motorcycle Trail. The main 4×4 trail that you will be on is actually off Barker Pass Road and you will end up on Blackwood Canyon Road which heads into Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets jump into what makes this trail so amazing.

If you have not driven this trail, you need to go experience it for yourself. Get a crew together, just bring a friend or bring the whole family.

Blackwood Canyon is in the west shore of Lake Tahoe near Homewood, CA and Tahoma, CA and the trails (their are many) go all the way around Homewood Mountain Ski Resort. The trail features beautiful wild flowers, epic scenery and amazing lake views of Lake Tahoe, Bear Lake, Miller Lake, Lilly Lake and McKinny Lake. If you hike to Ellis Peak, you will see views of Loon Lake.

The cool part about the Blackwood Canyon/ Barker Pass Road 4X4 Trail is that it is rated moderate, but it still has that rugged challenging feel. Stock T4R’s and Taco’s will go through; however, it is best to have a little lift. There are some sections on the trail further up the hill that get pretty steep and rocky where it helps to have a little lift. Some of the grade inclines range from 10% – 30% and get rocky as you go up. Prepare to put it 4 low.

The Beginning of the V/ Dirt Road turn-off of Barker Pass Road

The best section of this entire drive is the very beginning. Once you drive down Barker Pass Road, you will come to V in the road and to the left, you would continue onto Barker Pass Road towards Blackwood Canyon Road. If you choose to take the dirt road to the right or straight on Barker Pass Road, that’s where things start to get fun.

The goal is to cut straight up the mountain off Barker Pass Road and it pops you right up onto Blackwood Canyon Road Once you get to the top of the mountain, you will see great views of Lake Tahoe, Twin Peaks and Ellis Peak.’

Starting the Trail

Blackwood Canyon Ellis Peak Trail

The Trail 4Runner still in 2WD at this point

Blackwood Canyon Ellis Peak Trail

Some very cool creek scenery along the way up the hill towards Ellis Peak

Blackwood Canyon Ellis Peak Trail

Half-Way Up the Blackwood Canyon Road OHV Trail

Once you get a little deeper into the trail, you will come across some steep inclines but again, noting that a stock rig wont make it through. If you happen to have a Trail 4Runner or an SR5 4Runner with A-Trac, on these steeper grades and inclines, you want to disable your A-Trac control. If you start sliding on the loose rock, you want your tires to keep spinning until it finds its own traction, and then you are up the hill. Very rare when this happens but it did once or twice. Keep your momentum and you will be fine.

Blackwood Canyon Ellis Peak - The Trail

Reaching the top of the Blackwood Canyon Road OHV Trail

Once you near the top of the trail, things start to get a little more serious and you want to be in 4 Low at this point. This is where the moderate comes in, just make sure you take it slow because there are other drivers and motorcycles on this trail. There is nothing worse than a Honda 450 zipping around a switchback and BOOM.

At the peak of the trail, you will come to a wide open gravel area where you will see Twin Peaks. We stopped here for a bit, grabbed some lunch and then headed over into the Tahoe Rim Trail/ Pacific Crest Trail.

Blackwood Canyon Ellis Peak - Looking at Lake Tahoe

Blackwood Canyon Ellis Peak - View of Lake Tahoe

Heading over the Tahoe Rim Trail & Pacific Crest Trailhead into Barker Pass

Once you drive out of the gravel area, you will start to hit the Tahoe Rim Trail & Pacific Crest Trail which leads over to Barker Pass and Blackwood Canyon Road. This is where you will end up if you take the OHV trail or the paved road. It all leads to the Barker Pass Area.

From here, the options for trails are endless! You can head in a hundred different directions and go overlanding for weeks through the wilderness of Lake Tahoe.

Top of the Mountain: Pacific Crest Trail & Barker Pass

Barker Pass Pacific Crest Trail Head

Barker Pass, Miller Lake, Lilly Lake and McKinny Lake Trail Map

We decided to head down Blackwood Canyon Road which leads over to the three lakes as you exit over to Tahoma, CA; Miller Creek to Miller Lake, Lilly Lake and McKinny Lake. From here on out, you better be prepared for a long winding journey. The drive from the Pacific Crest Trailhead and Barker Pass to Tahoma, CA is about 3 hours at least.

It was a long dive at 2-5 miles an hour but fun. : ) 

Barker Pass Miller Lake OHV Routes

The Lakes: Miller Lake, Lilly Lake and McKinny Lake

As you near towards the end of the trail, you will see the three lakes on your way out. Pictured above in the map (towards the bottom), you will see three lakes and those are Miller Lake, Lilly Lake and McKinny Lake and yes in that order from left to right.

Getting towards the end of Blackwood Canyon Road

At this point we were pretty tired but still had some serious ground to cover. And at 3-5 miles an hour, 5 miles takes a long time. Hang in there and enjoy the ride but it will get rocky.

Towards the end of the Blackwood Canyon Road is part of the Rubicon and it’s filled will boulders and big rocks. On my 2014 Trail 4Runner, at this time, I had a 2″ leveling kit and bottomed out on some boulders. It was a rough moment because the 4runner was brand new. I got over it.

Blackwood Canyon Miller Creek Miller OHV Sign

Blackwood Canyon Miller Creek – This flows into Miller Lake (not much water at the time)

Absolutely stunning scenery towards the end. The three lakes you pass on your way out are breath-taking; calm, peaceful and serene. We sat here for awhile just thinking about life and pondering what was next.

Blackwood Canyon Miller Creek

Blackwood Canyon Miller Lake

Blackwood Canyon Miller Lake - Looking East

Blackwood Canyon Miller Lake - Looking West

Heading out towards the Rubicon Staging Area

We saw this old haul truck and about 5+ other pieces of heavy equipment. It was pretty cool.

Blackwood Canyon near McKinny Creek Lake

THE END: Rubicon Trail Staging Area

Rubicon Trail Staging Area

After we were at the end of the stretch, we saw a brown bear cross right in front of us. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The bear stopped, looked at us and just kept on moving. I got a video of it and am still trying to find it. Hopefully one day, I will locate the video and upload it.

Additional Map Images showing where pictures were taken

Rubicon Trail Staging Area Map Blackwood Canyon - Tahoe Basin Map Blackwood Canyon Barker Pass Map

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1 year ago

Can you camp along the trail if you find a suitable area? Can’t find any info for this.

4 years ago

Where is the trailhead for all this? Is it accessible during the winter right now?

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