So. Area 51 does indeed exist—officially now. It’s also part of an active military base, patrolled and guarded by some of the heaviest security on Earth or anywhere else. That means what it’s NOT is a tourist attraction. If you find yourself close by, obey all posted signs and don’t even think about trespassing. You will be caught and you will be prosecuted… or worse. What’s more, you might even end up being meme-ified for all eternity. And let’s be real, no selfie or amount of likes are worth that kind of headache.

We can neither confirm nor deny how many aliens Area 51 may be harboring, but we know where else you can safely space out on some only-in-Nevada extraterrestrial action, without fear of arrest (or worse).

So, What is Area 51?

Area 51, a highly classified remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base, was built in 1955 as part of the more substantial Nevada Test and Training Range complex, initially to serve as a test facility for the U-2 Spy Plane. Although it has never been declared a “top secret base,” the area is highly protected and is restricted to both land and air use. Other well-known aircraft tested at Area 51 include the Archangel-12, the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, and even the SR-71 Blackbird (yep, the X-Men’s preferred mode of transportation is a real aircraft).

How Area 51 Got Its Name

Area 51 gets its name from old maps of the Nevada Test Site that defined the allocation of land around Groom Lake as literally the 51st of the many areas that make up the military base. When Area 51 was first established, Lockheed—one of the U.S. Government’s major partners in top secret aircraft and spy plane development—called the area Paradise Ranch in an attempt to attract workers to the project. Today, Area 51 and the Nevada Test and Training Range are part of what is known as the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

Area 51 and UFO Sightings

Since the 1950s, when locals and visitors to this part of the Silver State have spotted top secret aircraft, made of never-before-seen technology, flying at high speeds and performing uncommon aerial maneuvers, they were unsurprisingly mystified as to what they saw. Since these prototypes’ development was top secret, and sightings were rare, it is easy to understand how so many people must have thought the unusual aircraft must have been from another world.

To this day, Area 51 remains a top secret testing facility, and the government and United States Military don’t want you anywhere near it. Currently, the closest you can drive to Area 51 keeps you more than 15 rugged, carefully monitored, and lethally defended miles away. In fact, the restricted airspace above Area 51 actually forms a rectangle with an area of 575 square miles, so don’t expect to get a drone in the sky, either, at least without an immediate response from camo-clad dudes with guns aimed at your face.

Area 51 Tours and Activities

In addition to ghost towns and potential alien sightings, there are plenty of things to do near Area 51. The National Atomic Testing Museum leads monthly tours of the Nevada National Security Site, managed by the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. While the visit does not offer the chance to tour Area 51 itself, you can definitely get a sense for its Martian-esque terrain while piloting your own vessel around the surrounding wilderness. If you’re looking for a robust look at the history of Area 51 and Nevada’s atomic age without traveling out of Las Vegas, be sure to check out the National Atomic Testing Museum or the “Atomic Nevada” exhibit at Nevada State Museum–Las Vegas.

If you don’t have your own vessel, you can still hop on a full-day tour of all the best Extraterrestrial Highway attractions in a luxury vehicle (piloted by an actual ex-air force captain) with Area 51 Tours. The day trips launch daily out of Las Vegas and include lunch, snacks, personalized photography tips, and more Area 51 stories and lore than you can shake your antennae at.

Where is Area 51? Getting There and Info to Know Before You Go

Area 51 Nevada is located in southern Nevada, 83 miles north-northwest of Las Vegas, on the edge of usually dry Groom Lake, which is located on the aforementioned Nevada National Security Site—not at Nellis Air Force Base, as some assume, which is located in North Las Vegas. Although you can find it on a map, don’t expect to get even remotely close. The perimeter of the military base is marked with orange posts and patrolled by heavily armed guards with zero tolerance for would-be tourists or B.S. of any kind. Signage around the base promises that deadly force is authorized against Area 51 trespassers, whether they are attempting to “storm Area 51” during a viral Facebook event or simply hike up to a vantage point. Thousands upon thousands of CCTV cameras and motion censors all throughout the land leading up to the base’s perimeter—plus immediate response times from security forces—guarantee it.

Is the truth really out there? There’s only one way to find out, and it’s on the official Extraterrestrial Highway road trip, easily our most infamous and spaced-out route.

This Location:

Central, Nevada