This otherwise undistinguished peak offers the only public view of Groom Lake and the secret military base known as Area 51. The base is still very distant -- about 26 miles away -- but on a clear morning with good binoculars, you can make out most of the buildings and any aircraft (or flying saucers) taking off from the tarmac. (sample telescope view)
Tikaboo Peak is essentially a side peak of Badger Mountain, which is part of the Pahranagat Range, one of the seemingly endless series of north-south ranges in the Great Basin desert. The surrounding terrain is barren scrub, but the approach to the summit passes through a thin evergreen forest that can be cool and pleasant in the summer.
The most popular hike takes less than an hour each way, trailhead-to-summit, but the full expedition from Las Vegas usually ends up taking all day.
UPDATE - SEPT 2015: The dirt road from US-93 to the trailhead has deteriorated considerably in recent years. The first 18 miles are very sandy and deeply rutted. You need an SUV or other high-clearance vehicle. Do not stop your car in the sand or you might never move again.
There is a USGS survey marker at the summit, so humans have visited here for years, but the peak was first "discovered" as an Area 51 viewpoint in the early 1990s. At the time, the Groom Lake airbase could be seen from two much closer hills -- Freedom Ridge and White Sides (now both closed). When the Air Force threatened to withdraw this land, base watchers felt challenged to find another viewpoint to replace it.
The first to visit the peak as a potential viewpoint into Area 51 was probably Peter Merlin, who says he visited the summit around 1993. However, at the time the closer viewpoints were still public, so Tikaboo was unnecessary. There was interest in Tikaboo only when the Air Force announced plans to withdraw the closer viewpoints in 1994.
The Interceptors Trail
was first blazed by Tom Mahood in the Spring of 1994. Since then, there have been hundreds expeditions to the summit, especially after the closer viewpoints were finally closed in April 1995. Visitors have included several large public outings (photo
) and dozens of TV crews. Lately, interest has waned, and the peak is probably visited only a couple of times per month in the summer.
Other potential viewpoints, including Badger Mountain and Mt. Irish, have been surveyed, and none seem to offer a satisfying view of the base. Short of chartering a plane and flying along the edge of the restricted airspace, Tikaboo offers the best legal view of the base.
The most popular trail, the Interceptors Trail
is accessible by a 25-mile dirt road off of US-93, south of Alamo. The drive from Las Vegas takes about 90 miles on the paved highway, followed by about 45 minutes on the dirt road. Details are found in the description of trail.
UPDATE - SEPT 2015: The dirt road from US-93 to the trailhead has deteriorated considerably in recent years. The first 18 miles are very sandy and deeply rutted. You need an SUV or other high-clearance vehicle. Do not stop your car in the sand or you might never move again. At 6 miles from US-93, you may encounter a wire gate. You can legally pass it, but you must leave it in the same position you found it, which can be a challenge.
The summit and complete access route are on public (BLM) land, so you are free to visit and camp anytime. The land you pass through is used to graze cattle, which are the only other visitors you are likely to see.
Campfires may be restricted during drought conditions, but otherwise you can build a fire near at the trailhead, where you will find plenty of firewood.
It is illegal under Nevada law to park or camp within 300 yards of a cattle water trough. (See "Camping")
The nearest military land is over three miles away, so the chances of running into military border patrols are very slim. In hundreds of expeditions to the summit, there have never been any incidents of cameras or film being seized (which was a problem on the nearer viewpoints that have now been closed).
When To Climb
The peak is snow-free May through November, and April 1 is usually considered the earliest date to visit without snow gear. In the other months, snowfall varies greatly from year to year, and the peak could be free of snow in any month, but it is difficult to tell without visiting. Snow, when it comes, is usually no more than a foot deep. The chief problem with snow is that the last five miles of the dirt access road to Badger Spring could become impassible. The road can also be impassible when the snow melts in April and is replaced by mud.
The best time to hike is the summer months. At 8,000 feet, the air is relatively cool compared to the deserts around Las Vegas. Still, you should always bring plenty of water!
The best time to arrive on the peak is very early in the morning, since the sun will be behind you when looking west toward the base. Evening is the worst, since you are looking into the sun, and the base tends to disappear in the glare.
Camping is allowed anywhere on BLM land (that is, almost anywhere in the outback of Nevada) without any fees or permits. There is a reasonable limit of 10 days in the same location.
According to Nevada law, you cannot camp or park within 300 yards of any spring or watering trough used by cattle, because it scares them away. The main impact of this restriction is that you cannot camp or park at Badger Spring at the base of the mountain, but you can camp anyplace else.
The most popular place to camp is at the saddle described along the Interceptors Trail
Good news! There is no longer any need to speculate on the current weather conditions on the peak. In 2011, a government contractor install a weather station on the peak on behalf of the Department of Defense. Full historical data and a live feed from a fixed camera are available here
. (Data from a movable security camera, installed on the same mast as the fixed camera, does not appear to be available online.)
The chief form of bad weather is high winds, which could happen any time of year. (Consult a wind forecast if you can find one.) In the summer, high winds will only be an annoyance, but they could be painful the rest of the year.
Liquid precipitation is rare, but lightning is more common and could be a hazard at the summit.
The winter snow could surprise you on the last five miles of the road, since the trailhead is in a valley that is partially protected from the sun. There could be significant snow at the trailhead even if you see none on the approach. (In Las Vegas, a good way to predict snow at Tikaboo is to look up at Charleston Peak, which is visible from much of the Las Vegas Valley. If you see snow there, then there is probably snow on Tikaboo.)
The chief danger in climbing this mountain is your car breaking down on the dirt access road. In the worst case, you would have to hike 25 miles back along a desert road to the paved highway before anyone is likely to find you. Since this would probably involve spending at least one night in your car, it is advisable to bring a sleeping bag.
The danger of breaking down is greater in the winter or early spring when snow or mud might trap you on final five miles of the access road and nighttime temperatures fall well below freezing. Breaking down in the summer is less threatening. There are plenty of cattle water troughs in the area, so you won't die of thirst, and the temperatures aren't as extreme as the lower desert.
There are no services whatsoever along the roughly 90 miles of paved and dirt road between I-15 and the trailhead, so you should stock up with fuel and food before you leave. As you head out of Las Vegas on I-15, the last gas is a Love's truck stop at the junction of I-15 and US-93. Be sure to fill up! Basic services like gas and food are available in Alamo about 10 miles north of the turnoff to the trailhead on US-93.
Cellphone coverage is spotty once you leave the paved highway and depends on your carrier. You have a higher probability of getting coverage at the summit than at the trailhead.
Maps and Information Sources
Tikaboo peak is shown on the Badger Spring, NV 7.5 Minute topographic map.
The peak was first described in the Area 51 Viewer's Guide
by Glenn Campbell. (Now available as a free PDF