Although this area is significantly smaller than the adjacent Mt. Charleston Wilderness and La Madre Mountain Wilderness, the terrain consists of beautiful vertical red and buff sandstone cliffs, capped by limestone in some areas, that are deeply incised by narrow, twisting canyons carpeted with vegetation. The area contains one perennial stream. Elevations range from 4,400 feet to some of the high points including Mount Wilson at 7,070 feet and Rainbow Mountain at 6,924 feet in elevation. This wilderness is located approximately 12 miles west of Las Vegas, Nevada, and is jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.
Here you will find Jurassic sandstone cliffs with great examples of cross-bedding, which reveals their origin as sand dunes. You can also find older limestone that has been thrust over the younger sandstone. The geologic scenery of the Wilderness is associated with the Keystone Thrust which extends for more than 45 miles through the Spring Mountains.
The range in elevation in this area provides for a variety of life zones. Here you can find ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, juniper, ash, manzanita, silk tassel, bitterbush, apache plume, scrub oak, willow, and hackberry. This range in habitat and the area's unique geology and microclimates support several endemic plant communities, plants that are found no where else in the world.
With a keen eye you can spot desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, ringtails, rock squirrels, white-tailed antelope squirrels, and Merriam's kangaroo rats. You may also spot golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks, great horned owls, Anna's hummingbirds, yellow warblers, western tanagers, and black-throated gray warblers.
Evidence of Prehistoric culture adds to the uniqueness of this wilderness area. Please preserve and protect these sensitive resources.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness.
The east side of the area is easily accessed from the scenic drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Access is also available from paved roads to the west and south of the wilderness, as well as from dirt, four-wheel drive roads to the north.
Lost Creek, Icebox Canyon, Knoll Trail, and First Creek Canyon can all be accessed from the 13-Mile Scenic Drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Bridge Mountain Trail can be accessed by taking State Route 160 to Lovell Canyon Rd (FS Road 45537) to Rocky Gap Road (FS Road 45549).
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002 - Public law 107-282 (11/6/2002) To establish wilderness areas, promote conservation, improve public land, and provide for high quality development in Clark County, Nevada, and for other purposes
The Rainbow Mountain Wilderness provides a unique and beautiful backdrop for hiking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and camping. Bring a field guide to discover one of Rainbow Mountain’s endemic plant communities found nowhere else on earth, or enjoy a trip back in time, pondering the meaning of the many petroglyphs and pictographs telling stories of the area’s earlier inhabitants.
Rock climbing, canyoneering, and scrambling do not require a permit (e.g., to use removable or existing fixed protection). However, other permits for use of the area (e.g., new permanent fixed anchor routes, overnight bivouac camping, late exit parking) may be required where applicable. Seasonal or permanent route closures may occur in order to protect resource values. Please contact the BLM or USFS for additional information.
Hunting and trapping is permissible in the wilderness in accordance with state and federal regulations.
Participants must be in possession of a valid state hunting or trapping license and tag. Specific area closures may be in effect. Please contact the BLM or USFS for more information. If hiking in the backcountry during hunting season, please dress in brightly colored clothing so that you are visible to hunters.
Safety and Current Conditions
Always use caution when climbing the sandstone and limestone formations within Rainbow Mountain Wilderness. The sandstone, in particular, is very brittle and can easily break off – especially after a desert rain – therefore climbing when the rock is still wet is not advised.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.