Blackwood Canyon & Ellis Peak
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.
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
The Trail 4Runner still in 2WD at this point
Some very cool creek scenery along the way up the hill towards Ellis Peak
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.
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.
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, 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. : )
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 – 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 Lake
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.
THE END: 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.