Gates of the Arctic National Park
Located: Alaska - Established: December 2, 1980
The Park: The name of this park comes from wilderness advocate Robert Marshall, who traveled Alaska frequently between 1929 and 1939. Marshall called two peaks, Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain, the “gates” through Alaska's central Brooks Mountain Range that opened up the door to the far north section of the Arctic.
If you’re looking for a true wilderness experience above the Arctic Circle, the 8.4 million acres of this park will provide you with all you can handle. Mostly untouched by humans, Gates contains no roads, no trails and no established campgrounds!
The terrain is challenging and visitors who plan to visit for an extended period are highly encouraged to be proficient in outdoor survival skills! Cell phones don’t work here and there are no visitor facilities inside the park.
Getting there: It is possible to hike into the interior of the park from Wiseman located on the Dalton Highway or from the Anaktuvuk Pass. However, to get to the Pass, you will need to fly into the small Nunamiut village first. Most visitors choose to Air Taxi into the park. During the summer months, Air Taxis depart from Fairbanks and Bettles regularly. We took a regularly scheduled flight on Wright Air from Fairbanks to the tiny town of Bettles located just outside the park boundaries. From Bettles, we charted a floatplane that took us to both Kobuk Valley and Gates.
When to visit: Gates is open year round although summer is about the only time the park is accessible for the average adventurer. Winter months are frigid and pose all sorts of challenges. We visited Gates in mid August and found it to be cool and rainy; however, the mosquitoes and gnats weren’t as pesky as we were told they would be.
What to do: Gates is a genuine wilderness with no established trails. Hiking about the dense vegetation, boggy grounds and frequent stream and river crossings will make for slow progress. Six miles a day is considered a good day’s hike! If you don’t have a good set of wilderness survival skills, consider hiring a guide to help you explore the backcountry or float you down one of the many rivers that meander through the park.
For a more leisurely experience, hire a bush pilot to take you on a flightseeing tour of the park. Your air taxi will be equipped to land either on water or on natural gravel “runways.” We hired Brooks Range Aviation to fly us to Kobuk and Gates of the Arctic. This charter was not cheap! And much to our surprise it was also a BYOF excursion. (Bring your own food!) You'd think for a couple thousand dollars, the "airline" would offer you at least a snack! Or for that matter, mention to you prior to departing that you might want to bring a sack lunch along for the trip!
Where to stay: There are no lodges inside Gates; however, there is lodging in Bettles (we stayed at the very pleasant Bettles Lodge) and in Coldfoot and Wiseman. The Bettles Lodge, located just south of the park border makes for a pleasant “base camp” for those visiting Gates and/or Kobuk. From Bettles, charter a Bush pilot to take you into the interior of the park.
As for camping, there are no established campgrounds in the park. So find a spot that suits your fancy and pitch the tent! Be sure to pack carefully and bring everything you need, since there are no supply stores anywhere to be found.
Memorable Moment: Slipping off the pontoon of our Float Plane and falling into frigid waters of Walker Lake with my Canon 5D Mark II camera in hand represented the most memorable moment at this park! Hence, limited photographs of Gates as my camera drown while submerged momentarily in the lake! Observing the vastness of the wilderness from the air gives one a sense of what it would be like to explore a truly remote part of the planet!
Trivia: Humans have lived on and off the land in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve for more than 12,500 years.
Banner: One of the many rivers that meander through the park.
Experience these Check List:
- Number one - getting there is job one!
- Stop by the Visitor Centers in Fairbanks or Bettles
- Take a Flightseeing Tour
- Don’t fall in Walker Lake!