Trekking in the Sierras

Back in 1964, a small group of Jeepers got the idea of creating a fundraising event for the newly formed California Association of 4WD Clubs (CA4WDC). It would need to be a first-rate event similar to the then-famous Jeepers Jamboree on the Rubicon. Sacramento Jeepers member Ed Dunkley, an encyclopedia of knowledge on Sierra Nevada history and old mining routes, gathered a few folks and began searching for a suitable trail. The chosen route was a long-abandoned wagon road from Cisco Grove, California (near Truckee), to the shores of Meadow Lake and the 1860’s mining camp of Summit City. It had been decades since the “road” had been used, and Mother Nature had played her hand at reclaiming the land.

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After 2 years of surveying, clearing downed trees, and restoring the road, they opened registrations for the inaugural Sierra Trek. It was a simple 2-day affair with just 50 Jeeps, Broncos, and Land Cruisers, and Saturday night festivities included a bonfire and BBQ. Little did Ed know, but he and his posse had launched what would become a family tradition for decades to come.

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As popularity grew and attendance increased, they added a Friday trail ride, the Wild West Saloon, a live band, and 50-foot concrete dance floor.  In 1980 they introduced a moonlight run called Star Trek, and in 1998 the event was expanded to 4 days. In recent years they added hot showers, guided historic and SUV trail rides, and another run called Outer Limits. Today, they even offer quad/UTV trips and a scenic 2-day tour of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

As Sierra Trek approaches its golden anniversary, organizers have pulled out all the stops. In addition to offering nine trail rides over the course of the 4-day event, they’ll have two bands, country-style meals, historical campfire chats, a vehicle show, walking tours of the Summit City Cemetery, and games for the kids. The vendor midway will be lined with manufacturers such as Raceline Wheels, BFGoodrich, Marlin Crawler, and All-Pro Off Road, and their world-famous raffle will be handing out more than $20,000 worth of cool off-road swag to lucky ticket holders.

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During the past 40-plus years, Sierra Trek has attracted participants from around the world; it’s become an annual summer destination for generations of four wheelers. This year’s event will be no exception and is expected to sell out. Event dates are August 11-13, 2016, and it is open to all 4WD vehicles (with a 2-speed transfer case), quads, and UTVs. Access to the Summit City basecamp at Meadow Lake is suitable for campers, trailers, and motorhomes. For additional information or to register for the West’s premier family four-wheel gathering go to

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Sierra Trek’s Summit City basecamp, which rests along the alpine shores of Meadow Lake, is a hub of activity. During the 4-day event participants canoe or fish on the lake, relax along its shores, or hike in the local mountains. Each night after the bonfire is lit, the Wild West chuckwagon crew serves up country-style meals, a band takes the stage, and night owls kick up their heels on the dance floor.

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The Fordyce Creek Trail is the original Sierra Trek route and traces the old Summit City Road from Cisco Grove to Meadow Lake. Although it was once traversed by ox-drawn wagons, it is now highly challenging and reserved for experienced drivers with modified four-wheel drives. There are a total of five “winch hills,” each of which is staffed by a team of skilled guides to help participants along.

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The Sierra Nevada abounds with lonely dirt two-tracks, mining routes, and logging roads. The historic and SUV trips (suited for all four-wheel drive vehicles with a low-range transfer case) take participants back to an era of steam-driven ore mills and rough-and-tumble placer miners. The Wednesday overnight run follows the Tahoe Rim Trail, visits old train tunnels, and stops at the site of the 1846 Donner Party tragedy near Truckee, California.

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With roots dating back to 1967, these photos of the 1984 Sierra Trek look quite contemporary. By this time Sierra Trek had grown to a 3-day event. Most of the vehicles were Jeeps, Broncos, and Scouts, but the new-on-the-scene 4WD Toyota Hilux, which was previously not allowed because it was considered too long, had a small contingent of loyal enthusiasts.

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4wd Driving Skills: A Manual For On- And Off-road Travel
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Chris spent his formative years riding dirt bikes with his dad in the deserts of Southern California and Baja, Mexico, which led to a lifelong quest for adventure. He is handy behind a viewfinder and at the keyboard, and brings four decades of international travel experience to Overland Journal as Editor-in-Chief. His career, which includes work for National Geographic Adventure, Four Wheeler, Hot Rod, and Autoweek, has taken him through 50-plus countries and to every continent. He has also served as correspondent to magazines in a dozen countries and in as many languages. In 2013 he was part of the Expeditions7 team that crossed Antarctica and he has recently been inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame as a pioneering journalist. When not behind the camera Chris can be found on The Office (his sailboat), or undertaking meticulous “research” for upcoming articles in locales such as Tequila, Mexico.