Trail Communications

The Rubicon Trail by modern standards is an isolated place. It's the perfect place to get away from the world where everyone is a button press away from everyone.  However, this relative isolation does cause issues communicating with the outside world, particularly in such a dangerous place where nearly every year someone is lifted out on a helicopter. Over the last 10 years, there have been several fatalities and many life-flight helicopter lifts to deliver the injured to hospital care as fast as possible. How does one communicate with the outside world, when cell service is virtually non-existent? (Yes, there is a "Cell phone Tree near Walker Hill and the Benchmark, but the trail is 11 miles long).

There is also vehicle to vehicle communications.  How do you talk to your buddy that is 100 yards ahead of you that you've just broke something and he needs to come back?  What options are out there?  What is new?  What is old?  On this page we will talk about the two main options available: Ham Radio and GMRS

Ham Radio

Ham Radio communication is by far the best way to communicate on the Rubicon Trail.  Ham Radio is the only radio system that is able to reach outside of the trail in an emergency.  Many lives have been saved over the years, due to the ability of Ham Radio to communicate outside of the Rubicon Trail.

Why Ham Radio?

In 2007, Dennis Mayer of the Auburn Jeep Club was on site during a rollover accident where someone was severely injured.  Dennis felt frustrated that there was no Ham Radio repeater available on the trail to call for medical support.  A location was selected at Spider Lake, and the property owners agreed to the construction of permanent repeater site.  In 2009, this repeater project became the very first fully funded project for the Rubicon Trail Foundation. The "Rubicon Repeater", as its known, enables Ham Radio communications around the Rubicon Trail and outside the trail linking to the powerful 805 repeater system created by Frank Yost which stretches communication to primarily El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento Counties. Over the years this system has helped during many incidents that required helicopter flights, such as hornet bites, trees falling, heart attacks, strokes, rollovers and falls.

The Spider Lake Repeater.

Ham License Classes

The Rubicon Trail Foundation has taught and licensed over 700 users since 2009.  John and Barbara Arenz are the instructors. We typically have 2 full Saturday's for instruction. Saturday #1 includes all day instruction with Barbara Arenz that prepares you for passing your Ham License.  Saturday #2 follows where you can take your Ham Radio license exam and then John Arenz will teach for the rest of the day how to use your radio and practical applications on the Rubicon, including how to talk to a medical helicopter in an emergency. Contact John Arenz to get information on any future classes.

Ham Radio Frequencies

805 El Dorado (805-R)

146.805 -.600 PL123.0 The KA6GWY repeater, covers the west slope of El Dorado County and the Sacramento area and is linked to the Rubicon Repeater

805 Tahoe (805TAH)

145.350 output, 146.205 input PL123.0 The Tahoe Basin KA6GWY repeater, linked 24/7 to the 805 ELD repeater, coverage in the Tahoe Basin.

805 - Simplex (805-S)

146.805 simplex, no PL. This is the repeater output frequency of the KA6GWY repeater. Nice to have so that you can talk to your friends right in front of you, and still listen to the repeater.

Rubicon Repeater - No Link (RUBI-R)

444.9875 +5.00 PL 156.7 The Rubicon repeater is located near Spider Lake, with coverage on all of the Rubicon Trail. Coverage is weaker around the kiosk and east of Barker Meadows OHV trail.

Rubicon Repeater - Linked (RUBI-L)

444.9875 +5.00 PL 107.2 Same as Rubicon Repeater except that when using this PL it links to 805 El Dorado and 805 Tahoe.

Rubicon Simplex (RUBI-S)

444.9875 Simplex, PL107.2 This is the repeater output frequency of the Spider repeater.  Listen to Repeater, but broadcast locally. Note: PL is used because some users decode PL on their handheld radios.

How Do You Use Them?

805 El Dorado (805-R)

This is the main repeater the covers El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento Counties, and beyond. Use this outside the Rubicon, or inside use the Rubicon Repeater Linked

805 Tahoe (805TAH)

This is the same as El Dorado 805, but on the Placer County/Tahoe side.  Use this while driving around Lake Tahoe area.

805 - Simplex (805-S)

This Simplex frequency is great outside the Rubicon when you want to talk someone that is nearby, so you don't want to broadcast out the entire repeater. This allows you to listen to all 805 communication.

Rubicon Repeater - No Link (RUBI-R)

Use the Rubicon Repeater to talk to all around the trail.  Everyone on the Rubicon Trail monitoring will hear you, but will not link to 805 outside of the Rubicon Trail. This contains your communication around the trail.

Rubicon Repeater - Linked (RUBI-L)

This is used when you are on the Rubicon Trail, but you need to reach outside the general Rubicon area. This is perfect for communication with friends/family at home.

Rubicon Simplex (RUBI-S)

This is used when you are on the Rubicon Trail, but you just need to talk to someone that is close by on the trail.  So you don't need the repeater, but you still want to hear what is being said on it.


The Rubicon Trail Foundation has installed in 2022 a GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) repeater on the Rubicon Trail to facilitate in-trail communication.  It is important that users read about the repeater to fully understand the use cases and rules.

What is GMRS?

GMRS is the General Mobile Radio Service.  It is not ham radio and does not require you take a test to get a license.  Many OHV users are switching from CB radio (for the obvious reason that it doesn’t work very well) to GMRS, because it works!


Do I Need A License?

Strictly speaking, yes, though RTF is most interested in the below four rules being followed.  The FCC issues licenses with no test required for a fee of $70.  The license is good for your whole family.  The FCC website is daunting, we recommend Not A Rubicon’s guide if you are having trouble, it can be found here: How to get a GMRS License

What is the advantage to using a GMRS Repeater?

Simple…without the repeater you are limited to line of sight communications, typically folks that are nearby.  Using the repeater, you can talk from one end of the Rubicon to the other, from say, Rubicon Springs, to your friends at Loon Staging, for example.


Is GMRS Good In An Emergency?

It is better than CB, but not as good as ham.  On the Rubicon GMRS repeater, even though people outside the Rubicon will not hear you (like they do on Ham), others in the Rubicon are likely to and can summon help.  For example, if someone is near the cell phone tree or at Chipmunk Bluff they could make a call for you.  Or perhaps a Ham equipped Rubicon user who is also listening to GMRS could make a call for you.  Typically RTF Mid Trail Staff will be monitoring the GMRS repeater between June 1st and September 15th.

What Are The Rules Of The Repeater?

There are four rules on this repeater:

  1. No foul language.
  2. No playing music.
  3. No interfering with other users (jamming).
  4. Please use a non-repeated GMRS channel for talking to your nearby friends, this keeps the repeater clear for use across the Rubicon when needed.


How Do I Use It?

Set your GMRS radio to Channel 18 repeat and PL (CTCSS) tone 18 and it will work on the Rubicon GMRS repeater. For more advanced users, this is 462.625 Mhz +5.00 with a PL of 123.0.  Please follow the 4 rules!