Don't Panic Travel Guides, Las Vegas

Don’t Panic: Visiting Area 51

Area 51, Las Vegas Road trip

I love the idea of aliens and government cover-ups.  I don’t spend much time really thinking about either one, but, with even a passing interest, I know plenty of myths and theories about Area 51.  I was always under the impression though that Area 51 was a base on some unknown, unmarked desert plain, and, though I might want to see it, I would never be able to actually find it.  However, some fantastic cosmic aligning occurred in Las Vegas, and over the course of a night, I had three separate unprovoked conversations about Area 51…apparently it’s not as hidden as I thought it was.  I made my way though discussions about the three daily flights from the Las Vegas Airport to Area 51, remarks about the various sights out in the desert, and finally I was able to weed out an e-mail with detailed directions out to the Black Mailbox and the Back Gate.  That was it, I was going, and I went.

For all the mystery and rumored cover-up surrounding Area 51, getting to the secret base’s doorstep is actually really easy.  At only two and a half hours from the Las Vegas Strip, Area 51 makes an easy day-trip (6-7 hours total), and one of the cooler places you can tell your friends you’ve visited – because, let’s face it, who ever thought a trip to drink and party in Vegas would end up at the back gate of Area 51.  Here’s a step-by-step guide of how to get out to Area 51 and what to see while you’re there.


  • Get a full tank of gas.  The drive is super easy, full of beautiful empty scenery, and has hundreds of miles without gasoline.  The entire trip took us about one and a quarter tanks of gas, the majority of which was spent on the way there because it’s mostly a gentle steady climb up.  There is a gas station where you can fill back up on the return trip in Alamo.
  • Read up on the theories and sights around Area 51.  The major Area 51 attractions are only sights and fences, so any trip out is only as exciting as what you know about the myths behind the mountains.  Of course you’re probably familiar with the Alien Theories, but there is  a lot more to the history of the place.  Having been there and read what I read before I went, I can now say that even if there aren’t aliens there, the government is definitely covering huge secrets up in this area.

What to Bring:

  • Cash or Card – The A’Le’Inn accepts credit cards but they also sell $1 items that we paid for with cash.
  • Camera – You’ll definitely want to take pictures, at the very least to prove you did find things on your trip.  Warning- There are signs on the Back Gate that say you cannot take pictures, use caution.  Also, every site I read and all the locals we spoke with were very clear that you cannot photograph the guards or the ‘Camo Dudes’.  The Camo Dudes will get fired if their picture gets out and the guards might EMP your car or arrest you.  As we drove up, the guard at the gate walked into a building – so it’s clear they don’t want to be photographed and simply get out of the way, but be careful.
  • Gas – Make sure you leave Las Vegas with a full tank, and you’ll probably have to refill on the way back.

The Route and Sights:

(For Google Map directions search: HC61 Box 45 1 Old Mill Rd Rachel, NV 89001. In my Nav it came up in Alamo, NV)

  • Leaving Las Vegas get on the I-15 North and head out of town for about 25 miles.
  • Exit exit 64 for US-93 N/Great Basin Hwy. You’ll take a Left at the end of the off-ramp and head straight out into the desert.
  • Stay on US-93N for 80 – 90 miles.  Towards the end of this leg of the trip, you’ll pass through Alamo and Ash Springs.  These small towns are the last place to get gas before you head out in the desert.  Total you’ll be traveling between 90 – 140 miles before you get back to a gas station, we did it all on the same tank of gas, but judge your vehicle.
  • Just past the Shell, Turn left at US-93 N/Great Basin Hwy.  When we were there, this is a abandoned cinder block building at the turn.
  • As you turn onto US-93N, you’ll spot a fork in the road, you’re going to be turning Left.
  • Turn left at NV-318 N/NV-375 N/State Hwy 375 (aka Extraterrestrial Highway)
  • The rest of the trip will be based around driving down NV – 375 N.  The only thing to be on the lookout for is the free range cattle, especially at night.

Sight #1 – Extraterrestrial Highway Sign

Turning from US-93 onto State Hwy 375, you see the first Extraterrestrial Highway Sign.  The Highway was given it’s name in conjunction with the release of “Independence Day”, and there is plenty of room to pull off and take pictures before you head on.

Sight #2 – Tourist Stop – Alien Research Center

About a mile from the Extraterrestrial Highway Sign, there is a small roadside attraction named the Alien Research Center.  The museum and gift shop are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  It wasn’t open when we drove by, but we did stop for pictures by the giant alien statue. This is as touristy as the entire trip gets, if you can’t get Area 51 memorabilia here, A’Le’Inn has some further down the road.

Sight #3 – The Black Mailbox & The Front Gate

Between mile marker 30 and 29 is a square white mailbox (it was formerly painted black, which gave it the name the Black Mailbox).  For a long time it was thought that this was the mailbox for Area 51 – it’s not.  However, this mailbox is a demarcation of the road that heads down to the Front Gate of Area 51.  There was too much snow on the day we went to drive down the road, but everything I read left me with a few tips.

  • The unmarked road just past the Black Mailbox is way more bumpy then the other road down to the Front Gate, which spurs off HWY 375 just after you crested the previous hill.
  • The Front Gate is only a giant sign that says keep out – the Back Gate is way cooler.
  • You are more likely to come across ‘Camo Dudes‘ heading to the front gate.  (They are private contractors not there to hurt you, just to make sure you don’t try to do anything crazy.)
  • It’s about a 20 mile drive down to the Front Gate.

Sight #4 – A’Le’Inn

This restaurant/bar/gift shop is as close as Rachel gets to a tourist stop.  It’s a bit of a must-stop for true alien enthusiasts, and many of the locals are easy to talk to about what they’ve seen in the night skies.  At the very least, they have postcards which can be mailed from Rachel (though they don’t always have stamps).  In addition, A’Le’Inn sells the most comprehensive book on Area 51 and the surrounding area.  We tried the “World Famous Alien Burger”, tasty.  Also, further conjunction with the release of “Independence Day”, there is a time capsule buried next to the restaurant that will be opened in 2050.

Sight #5 – The Back Gate

The dirt road to the Back Gate spurs off HWY 375 between mile marker 12 and 11.  It is the only road within the mile markers, and there is a stop sign for traffic coming from that road.  The best way I can think to describe where this road is, as you come off the hill before the road, you’ll be able to see the few houses that make up Rachel, Nevada, it’s almost immediately on your left.  If you’re leaving Rachel, it will be the first road on your right.  If you pass it and hit the A’Le’Inn, someone there be able to point it out to you.

The back gate is great because there is actually a gate set-up in the middle of a field with a few cameras and a guard shack.  Don’t photograph the guards.

  • It’s roughly eight miles from HWY – 375 to the Back Gate.  The first five miles are dirt, the last two or three are paved – Yes, it happens just like that; cow pasture, dirt road, new paved road, gate.  It’s totally awesome.
  • There are more likely to be free range cattle along this stretch of the road.  The locals in Rachel told us to be very wary around them.  Apparently these cows charge and have taken out a few cars.  Don’t honk, spook them, or attempt to drive by if they are in the road.
  • You’ll know when you are at the gate, and don’t try and cross.  In fact, we were told to stay at least 10-20 feet away.

Beyond the Unknown

Despite whatever may or may not be going on at Groom Lake, the Air Force openly carries out regular testing and training missions in the valley around Rachel.  Look for Red Flag and Green Flag days to see US and Allied forces racing through the area at only one-hundred feet off the ground.  Who knows, maybe you’ll see one of the prototype planes they’re building on the base.


  • Area 51 is a military base.  Whether or not there are aliens behind the mountain, there is still strict military protocol that doesn’t like to be bent or tested.  Don’t try and cross the fence, you will be fined and arrested.  Don’t taunt the guards, you can be arrested.
  • Careful driving around the Free Range Cattle.  They can total your car, and it is a LONG way back to a repair shop

The best part of the trip out to Area 51 is that it really lives up to the idea of a top secret destination; there aren’t really any tourist sights, there aren’t any roadsigns pointing out the sights, and there is barely anybody there.  The first thing my Dad said when I told him where I visited was, “If there was ever anything there, it’s gone now.  If it’s mobile, it’s been moved.” Which is possibly true (I have since heard rumors of a secret base up in Colorado).  But, the best advice I can give anyone interested in going is to go, and don’t worry about the logistics.  There could definitely be aliens and UFO’s there.  Let your imagination run wild.  This place lived up to every expectation I had, which is rare.  It felt just like I wanted it to.  So, if you’ve ever had an interest in Area 51 – you should definitely go.

Have you ever been up to Area 51?  Seen any UFO’s in the sky?  Do you know anything about this other Colorado base?