A Jeep Jamboree Experience with KC HiLiTES: Rock Crawling, Campfires, and Camaraderie

Ask any Jeep enthusiast what trail is at the top of their bucket list. The resounding answer will likely be the Rubicon Trail. Lucky enough for us, we just wrapped a full trip to the Rubicon!

As an official sponsor of Jeep Jamboree USA, KC joined for the most anticipated event of the year. We called some friends, saddled up, and hitched a ride with two of our ambassadors, Adam and Kayla Pfeifer (@oh_that_1_dude and @oh_that_1_chick). This husband and wife duo, each with their own purpose-built rigs, call this area of the country “home” and were excited to take us for a trip on the Rubicon that we will not soon forget.


We met Adam and Kayla at a local landmark, the Ice House Resort, where road-weary travelers can wind down with a cold beer and get the latest trail conditions from the old timers living there year-round. After making our plans for the following day and getting a history lesson from Adam, we headed to the trailhead to see where we’d be dropping onto the trail.


Named for the river that the trail crosses, the Rubicon Trail was originally a Native American footpath connecting the Sacramento Valley with Lake Tahoe. In the 1890’s it was turned into a road, but by 1920 the hotel that once gave drivers a reason to traverse the road had closed, and it quickly fell into disrepair. Over the years, nature reclaimed the road. Now, granite boulders pave the way for those with adventurous souls and four-wheel drive, including the more than 100 Jeep owners taking part in the annual Jeep Jamboree USA event.


We arrived at the staging area in the early hours of the morning to line up with our group, take a look at the other Jeeps that would be on trail with us, and get to know our fellow drivers. The team from Jeep Jamboree USA fired up the helicopter that would be supporting our huge group all weekend, and started shuttling spotters out to the gnarliest obstacles on the trail.

Jeep Jamboree knows that the folks on this run range from novice to highly experienced, and they make it a fun experience for all involved. The experienced drivers with the biggest and baddest Jeeps are placed in the lead groups, while those that were closer to stock or with little off-road experience are placed towards the back of the pack. This allows the more novice drivers to learn from those up ahead and to get more attention from spotters and guides. And us? Well, Adam and Kayla’s Jeeps and their years of experience on the Rubicon placed us near the front of the pack.

Jeeps lined up and ready for the Jeep Jamboree event. Many attendees patiently waiting to start the trail. Jeeps on the trail surrounded by stunning scenery. Jeeps going through a trail between tall trees.

Challenging obstacles came at us one after another while we were surrounded by stunning scenery with granite rock faces, tall ponderosa and redwood trees, waterfalls, and creek crossings. Occasionally, our group would stop for a break, during which Adam would point out various landmarks and show us our next destinations. Kayla would tell us about past experiences on the Rubicon, other events they’ve attended at Rubicon Springs (the main destination on the trail) and where along the route they’ve seen people have the biggest struggles or break downs. As Pearse Umlauf, President of Jeep Jamboree USA, so eloquently puts it: “The Rubicon Trail is the ultimate shakedown run for your rig.” In other words, if there’s a weak spot in your build, this trail will find it.

Adam rock crawling and leading the Rubicon Trail.

We arrived to Rubicon Springs late in the afternoon and were greeted with a beautiful spot to set up camp along the water. After a snowy winter, the waterfalls were roaring and the pools were cool and refreshing after a long day in the hot sun. While enjoying some cold beer and dinner prepped by the JJ team, we all bonded over stories of relief, triumph, and unfortunately, trail carnage.


The next day, the entire group relaxed and enjoyed Rubicon Springs, a privately owned oasis in the middle of the rugged trail. Complete with bathrooms, showers, drinkable water, a full bar, and a “chow hall”, we were wanting for nothing. The caretakers live there all season long and keep the area maintained and well-stocked for visitors.

It’s a rare occurrence to whip out plastic pool floaties and inflate them with a PowerTank, but that’s exactly what Adam did for us. Sliding down the natural waterslide and floating out into a deep pool where others were jumping off rope swings is what this whole trip is all about: having fun together with an amazing community.

All Jeep Jamboree attendees at the campsite surrounded by beautiful trees and a serene oasis.

If there was ever a drink that looked like it might get a little too warm, you can bet it was immediately equipped with a KC koozie! After a long day of laughter and sunshine, the JJ USA team called everyone to the chow hall for a BBQ dinner of smoked brisket and grilled chicken with all of the sides you would imagine. We may have made it this far, but some of the most challenging obstacles were still to come. It was time to rest up.


Our last day on the trail. 6:45am roll call. The sun had barely ridden when we got to the base of Cadillac Hill, one of the most infamous obstacles on the trail. Adam and Kayla put their many hours of seat time to work, and used their skills to help guide others behind them safely to the top. After that, an uphill climb through a large boulder field loomed in front of us.

A trail of Jeeps getting through the toughest trail.

Slowly but surely, Kayla made her way through with relative ease thanks to a great selection of lines, earning her high-fives and fist bumps from impressed spotters along the trail. Meanwhile, Adam was directly behind and using his Rugged Radios and rear view cameras to guide the more novice drivers up one of the most difficult obstacles we encountered yet. At the top, the road eased up and we reached “Observation Point”, a view from the top of the mountain all the way back through the valley we had spent the past few days picking our way through. We snapped a few photos of the rigs with the snow-capped peaks behind them, celebrated the epic finish, and thanked Adam and Kayla for sharing their favorite place and their passenger seats with us.

Together, we crossed this journey off our bucket list, slapped a KC HiLiTES decal on the trash bin at the trailhead that was covered in the stickers of those who’d come before us, and started back for the long road home to Arizona.

White Jeep leading the trail, showing off the driver's rock crawling skills.