Rainbow Basin Natural Area
Guide

Introduction

Located in San Bernardino County, California, Rainbow Basin Natural Area is a beautiful space filled with massive rock formations, plenty of land to hike around, and unique vegetation. Many people from all over the United States come to Rainbow Basin Natural Area for its paleontology features. Fossils are prominent in Rainbow Basin Natural Area, but you can’t take them with you unless you have a permit.

The rock formations are painted naturally a variety of different colors and make the perfect backdrop to a group photo. You can walk through the canyons if you want a cooler temperature adventure. Because Rainbow Basin Natural Area is so secluded, it’s important to use the buddy system or tell a handful of people where you’re going for the day.

Something else that visitors should know about Rainbow Basin Natural Area is that it isn’t entirely public. Many spots throughout are privately owned and visitors are not allowed to explore these parts. You can camp within Rainbow Basin Natural Area at Owl Canyon Campground or stay at one of the other nearby campgrounds that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

RV Rentals in Rainbow Basin Natural Area

Transportation

Driving

If you’re visiting the San Bernardino area of California, you’ll be used to the open roads in Rainbow Basin Natural Area. There are specific places where you can use a passenger vehicle or an off-highway vehicle. These roads are all clearly marked with open or closed signs. With Rainbow Basin Natural Area itself, off-highway vehicles are not allowed due to the intense terrain.

If you are considering taking a vehicle to tour around this area, the Fossil Canyon Loop Road is a great spot to do just that. It is a gravel road that is best accessed by vehicles with four-wheel drive. The route to Rainbow Basin Natural Area makes a perfect drive for those interested in renting an RV for a mini vacation.

Something to note when it comes to transportation in Rainbow Basin Natural Area is extreme weather conditions. This area of California is prone to flash floods and should be avoided during or after heavy rains. If you plan on camping in Rainbow Basin Natural Area, be sure to avoid low-lying areas for your own safety.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Rainbow Basin Natural Area

Campsites in Rainbow Basin Natural Area

First-come first-served

Owl Canyon Campground

The closest area where you can rest your head while visiting Rainbow Basin Natural Area is Owl Canyon Campground. This is a campground that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There you will find 22 campsites in total that all have a fire ring and picnic table for campers to use. Though camping is available for both tent and RV campers, there aren’t any modern RV hookups available.

Your rig must also be 85 feet or less in order to camp at Owl Canyon Campground. You will find a single water tap, but it's always wise to bring your own supply. The campground doesn’t allow reservations, and all 22 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are vault toilets available for you to use and many visitors take advantage of this since it’s the only amenity. Looking for fossils is a popular activity that campers enjoy, as well as photographing the beautiful scenery.

Afton Campground

You could also consider staying at Afton Canyon Campgrounds. This campground also has 22 campsites available for both RV and tent campers. There are no modern hookups for RVs and the maximum length allowed is 30 feet. Campsites there are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The Bureau of Land Management offers picnic tables and fire grills at all 22 campsites.

There are pot toilets and piped water available for your convenience. The campground is open 365 days a year and you can check in at any time during your stay. Each campsite can hold up to eight campers at a time, with a maximum of two vehicles total.

If you want to camp with beautiful views of mountains, Afton Campground is a great choice. There is a nearby river that will easily lull you to sleep after a long day exploring Rainbow Basin Natural Area. Last but not least, the stargazing there is reason enough to visit!

Fossil Falls Campgrounds Recreation Site

Another campground available for visitors of Rainbow Basin Natural Area is Fossil Falls Campground Recreation Site. This is the last Bureau of Land Management campground in Rainbow Basin Natural Area. It offers 11 campsites that are equipped with fire rings and picnic tables. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The Fossil Falls Campground Recreation Site has vault toilets and a hand pump water station available for campers.

If you’re looking for a secluded and peaceful area to rest your head during your visit to Rainbow Basin Natural Area, Fossil Falls Campground Recreation Site is a solid choice. Even though this place is secluded, it does lack shade. For this reason, you may want to consider camping here during the winter, autumn, or spring due to the hot summers of California. There isn’t a size limit for RVs and there aren’t any modern amenities available either. Either way, this is a great spot to immerse yourself in nature.

Seasonal activities in Rainbow Basin Natural Area

In-Season

Hiking

Rainbow Basin Natural Area itself may not have many specific hiking trails available, but you are welcome to hike around the land at your leisure. It’s a popular activity that visitors of all ages enjoy. This is a great way to burn calories from a picnic and experience the great outdoors. You can walk around the basin or climb the surrounding cliffs. With that being said, climbing is another popular activity.

Climbing

Due to Rainbow Basin Natural Area being full of cliffs, rock formations, and the basin itself, climbing is a great outdoor activity that adrenaline junkies enjoy. You can free-climb or bring rock climbing materials. It’s important that you know how to work the equipment and tread safely due to the height of some of the boulders in Rainbow Basin Natural Area. Check the sun schedule before heading out to get the most time to climb.

Environmental Education

Something that makes Rainbow Basin Natural Area unique compared to other Bureau of Land Management areas is that it’s used for environmental education. While families come there to teach the younger children about the geography and vegetation around the land, many schools visit Rainbow Basin Natural Area as well. You can learn about wild animals and the local weather in this way. It’s a great way to get immersed in the environment you’re learning about in the classroom.

Off-Season

Wildlife Viewing

Speaking of wild animals, wildlife viewing is a fun activity that the entire family can enjoy, including the elderly and young children. Rainbow Basin Natural Area is packed with a ton of animals roaming around.

Some that are more seen than others are bobcats, coyotes, black-tailed deer, raccoons, and mountain lions. You’re also likely to see plenty of birds soaring around the skies of California if you bring a pair of binoculars.

Photography

Are you traveling with someone who’s creative? Maybe you like to capture fun moments of your trip to bring a bit of the adventure back home with you. Whatever the case may be, photography is a fantastic off-season activity that visitors of all ages can enjoy. Rainbow Basin Natural Area has plenty of beautiful landscapes that make the perfect backdrop for photos. Don’t forget to take photos of the group you’re traveling with as well!

Horseback Riding

Lastly, if you have horses, travel with them to Rainbow Basin Natural Area. There is plenty of room to enjoy an afternoon or two of horseback riding. Depending on the time of year that you visit, you may want to bring extra water to keep your horses hydrated. If you don’t own horses, there is a local place called Black Mountain Wild Horse Territory that has 20 horses that are available to rent for a few hours a day.

Find the perfect campsite.