Barstow Field Office

Rainbow Basin Natural Area

Rainbow Basin Rainbow Basin Natural Area is located 8 miles north of Barstow, California, off Irwin Road (not Fort Irwin Road). The main acess route is Fossil Bed Road. Rainbow Basin is designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern due to landscape features and paleontological resources in the area.

Many visitors come to see exciting multi-colored rock formations and walk the scenic canyons. A variety of desert wildlife is found here, including the desert tortoise. Vehicle trespass is a major concern, so all routes not signed as "open"  are CLOSED to vehicles.

Due to recent vandalism to the potable water tanks, there is no water available in Owl Canyon Campground.

To find Rainbow Basin:

From Main Street, in Barstow, travel north on First Avenue and turn left on Irwin Road. 

Proceed out of town until you see the sign for Rainbow Basin.
Turn left on Fossil Bed Road and follow signs either to Owl Canyon Campground or the Fossil Canyon Loop Road. 

The loop road returns to Fossil Bed Road just west of this entrance.


Map to Owl CanyonRainbow Basin has outstanding views with geological and paleontological features. Keep in mind that permits are needed to remove any fossils. Activities include hiking, camping, photography, sightseeing, and horseback riding.

There are many places where you can get stranded or lost in this area. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Bring sufficient water, food, clothing, equipment, and first aid supplies for your activity.

Rainbow Basin is a mix of public and private lands, including those held by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Respect private landowners´ rights. Land ownership status can be found on the "Cuddeback Lake" Desert Access Guide. These BLM maps can be purchased from any of the California Desert District BLM offices.

Hiking and Sightseeing

Rainbow Basin has a diverse landscape of hills, canyons and washes. Multicolored rock walls and mesas are accented by changing light conditions, making for many photographic opportunities. The washes are good hiking trails for experiencing the area's natural beauty.

Wildlife viewing is best during early morning and evening hours. In Fossil, Coon, and Owl Canyons, birds tend to gather in thick vegetation. Vegetation is critical for wildlife water, food, and shelter. Washes in Rainbow Basin have been closed to vehicle travel to protect these areas.

Vehicle Touring
Within this Area of Critical Environmental Concern, routes are posted with "open" route markers. Use of passenger vehicles and four-wheel drive vehicles is permitted only on designated and signed open routes. Staging of off-highway vehicles (e.g. ATVs) is not allowed in the Rainbow Basin area or at Owl Canyon Campground.

The Fossil Canyon Loop Road is an interesting route for vehicle touring. Keep in mind that this one-way narrow dirt road is best driven with a high clearance or four-wheel drive vehicles.


  • BROWN markers with route numbers or road names indicate an OPEN ROUTE for use by motorized vehicles.
  • RED markers indicate routes that have been CLOSED to all vehicle travel.
  • No marker indicates aCLOSED route. Within the Rainbow Basin area, travel is permitted only on designated OPEN routes.


Camping is permitted only in Owl Canyon Campground. This campground is first-come first-served and requires a $6.00 fee per site. Each site has a table, shelter and campfire grates in place. A water tank and pit toilets are located in the campground.

PLEASE BRING WATER WITH YOU, as the water tank can run dry as it is used. There are also designated group campsites and an equestrian camp available by permit only.

Backpacking is welcome in the area. Fires are not permitted outside designated campgrounds.


Weather extremes and poisonous snakes are desert hazards common to this area. Rainbow Basin has a flash flood risk as well. Avoid low-lying areas during storms. Remember that rain upstream can cause flooding even though it is not raining in the immediate area.

Along Fossil Canyon Loop Road
Along Fossil Canyon Loop Road

Rules and Regulations

  • Private land owners, legal grazing lessees, and mining claimants in and around the Rainbow Basin area have rights of access.
  • Camping or campfires are permitted only in designated camping areas.
  • All vehicle travel is restricted to posted open routes.
  • Shooting and Hunting is not permitted. All applicable county, state and federal laws and regulations apply.

Camping Opportunities