The cursed bathroom to Tahoe


It’s a solitary and bedeviled bathroom.

The Gold Run Rest Area on Interstate 80 is a free roadside salvation for drivers traveling between the Bay Area and Tahoe, but the facility is frequently out of service. 

Its closure can spur panic in some drivers, as the rest stop is midway on the mountain — 40 miles east until the Donner Pass Rest Area, or 112 miles west for the free restroom on I-80 at Hunter Hill outside Vallejo. 

The Gold Run stop has been closed since Jan. 6, and there is no estimated time for reopening, even as Caltrans actively works to remove snow at the Donner Pass rest stop during an unusually snow-packed winter in the Sierra Nevada.

The problems at Gold Run run much deeper than the snowpack. “Gold Run unfortunately is closed indefinitely because the septic ponds are overflowing,” Caltrans spokesperson Steve Nelson informed SFGATE in an email. “We’ll likely have to keep them closed until the weather stops and a contractor can come in to troubleshoot.”

It’s the latest complication in an ongoing series of obstacles to plague the Gold Run Rest Area, which opened in June 2017 after a $3 million renovation that installed a new septic system and water treatment area. 

The septic system “was riddled with problems” from the start, KCRA reported. The pumps struggled to process solid waste and were often clogged, even after Caltrans installed a new system to grind the matter. Maintenance crews — who apparently flushed their latex cleaning gloves down the toilets and choked the system — added to the woes. 

The rest stop would open and close on a whim. That created issues for residents and property owners in Gold Run, who explained to KCRA that travelers would relieve themselves wherever they pleased. 

The Gold Run Rest Area off Highway 80 on June 12, 2022.

Gado via Getty Images

In 2019, Caltrans approved more than $300,000 to adjust the rest area pumps, and that appears to have worked — until this latest winter.

Caltrans has a permit to operate the Gold Run Rest Area sewage ponds that requires the agency to keep 2 feet of freeboard below the pond’s levee. 

“After the heavy rains in late December 2022, the ponds filled with rain water and the pond level approached the 2 foot mark below the pond levee rim,” Nelson wrote.

He added that the pond water infiltration and evaporation is barely keeping up with the rainwater, and as soon as the level drops back to give the required 2 feet of freeboard, the sewage ponds can begin operating. Then the Gold Run Rest Area can reopen. 

Until then, save the people of Gold Run the embarrassment of spotting you indisposed on their lawn by either planning a bathroom break before the trip or hitting the 76 gas station’s restroom, located five minutes up the hill. 

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