For a visit to the untamed Alaskan wilderness, where your survival depends solely upon you, find your way to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. There are few named locations on a map of this park. In fact, there are no roads, no services, no visitor center—just mountains, rivers, wildlife, and solitude.
Visitors come to this region above the Arctic Circle to really get away from it all, at a rate of fewer than 10,000 people per year!
History of Gates of the Arctic National Park
The Brooks Range has been inhabited by nomadic peoples for more than 12,000 years, as is proven by the stone tools and projectile points that were found in the region. More recently Inupiat tribes have come through the park as hunters since 1200 AD.
It wasn’t until the Klondike gold rush that white men filtered into the area, looking for an easier way to find the precious metal than they had on the Yukon. They were largely unsuccessful but opened the way for more exploration throughout the region.
By 1929, Bob Marshall, who spent a decade exploring the park, noted the scene before him, with Frigid Crags on one side of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River and Boreal Mountain on the other. He called this portal “The Gates of the Arctic.”
By the 1960s, proposals for a national park in the region were made, but it wasn’t until 1978 that Gates of the Arctic National Monument was created. Two years later it became Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
Why Visit Gates of the Arctic National Park?
Because there are no roads into Gates of the Arctic, visitors must take an air taxi or hike into the park. Drive your RV to Fairbanks, as there are several RV parks that can act as your home base in this part of Alaska. Then catch a bush plane into any region of the national park for hiking and backpacking in the summer or snowshoeing in the winter.
Places to Go
There are no visitor centers, museums, or exhibits to see in Gates of the Arctic National Park. What it lacks in ‘buildings,’ the park makes up for in spectacular outdoor attractions. Here are a few that will take your breath away:
6 Wild and Scenic Rivers
These six rivers have been designated as National Wild and Scenic Rivers, meaning that the rivers have outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values that need to be preserved.
- Alatna River – This is the west gate of Gates of the Arctic and flows south.
- Noatak River – This river drains the largest mountain-ringed river basin in America that is untouched by human activities.
- John River – This river flows south through the Brooks Range of Alaska.
- Kobuk River – This is another west gate, but it flows west through the forested preserve.
- Tinayguk River – This is the east gate to Gates of the Arctic, flowing south.
- North Fork of the Koyukuk River – This tributary of the Koyukuk River is an east gate, flowing south.
Designated as a National Natural Landmark, Walker Lake is the perfect example of varied ecological communities of the far north. It is located on the south slope of the Brooks Range.
At 8,276 feet, Mount Igikpak is the tallest mountain within the park and part of the Brooks Range.
Things to Do
With over 8 million acres, there are a lot of activities that can be enjoyed. Here are just a few of the most popular ones:
Because there are no trails in Gates of the Arctic, a good map and compass or GPS unit are a requirement for hiking in this untouched wilderness. When planning routes, keep in mind that ground cover, dense vegetation, and frequent water crossings will increase hiking times a great deal.
Plan accordingly and carry essentials like a first aid kit, plenty of water, and signaling items like a mirror. (Cell phones don’t work here!)
Backcountry hiking is the best reason to explore Gates of the Arctic National Park. Because the park is immense, visitors can stay for weeks without seeing its many attributes. If you take a bedroll, tent, food, and water into the region, you can search through this vast wilderness.
There are no designated trails, and hikers are reminded to avoid creating trails by walking side-by-side, rather than in a line.
Because the park is a continuous wilderness area, there are no designated campsites within its boundaries. Backpackers and campers can set up tents and are reminded to follow the “leave no trace” rule of thumb. So as not to establish trails or campsites, they are encouraged to set up camp in new areas.
Sport hunting is allowed seasonally in the preserve, but not the park. Hunters should be very familiar with Alaska hunting regulations and have licenses and tags.
Travelers through the park will have no problem spying wildlife in this almost untouched wilderness. Expect to see grizzly bears, black bears, caribou, wolverines, Dall sheep, fox, wolves, and porcupines. Birds are also numerous during migration seasons, and many of the rivers and lakes are home to trout and grayling.
When to Visit Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic is a wilderness park, open year-round to those looking for solitude and exploration. Time frames to come to the park are dependent upon visitors’ activities. If winter camping, snowshoeing, and dog mushing are tops on your list of undertakings and you are prepared for temperatures that venture down to -50 degrees, then the region offers millions of acres on which to play.
Summer visitors may be looking for a challenge to hike and camp by any of the six national wild rivers within the park. You can also use a guide service for a multi-day trip that includes fishing for grayling and trout during those 23 hours of sunshine every day.
Where You Can Stay
With no roads into the park, your RV can act as home base for you in Fairbanks, where several campgrounds are located. Take a plane into the park for a day of wilderness exploration, or a week of backcountry survival. Then head home to Fairbanks, where your soft bed and home-cooked meals await you! Here are three campgrounds with RV hookups from which to choose:
Getting to and Around Gates of the Arctic National Park
Transportation is the operative word at Gates of the Arctic, and you will have to provide your own. Most visitors enter the park via bush plane or by hiking in, as there are no roads. Even the Dalton Highway is five miles away, with a river crossing between it and the park.
Plan ahead with reservations for flights. However, leave room for weather-related delays, which are numerous. Once you are in the national park, soak up that feeling of peace and tranquility, knowing that the rest of mankind is hundreds, if not thousands of miles away!
It is hard to capture in words just how big and wild Gates of the Arctic National Park is. The magnitude of the ‘big outdoors’ can be found in places like the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands National Parks, but at this amazing location, there is the knowledge that you are truly alone.
Your day’s activities are dependent only upon you. There are no lines of photographers waiting to get that perfect sunrise shot at Mesa Arch, and no trail master keeping your mule in line as you depart Phantom Ranch to head up and out of the canyon.
There are no limitations here, except those you put upon yourself. I guess you could say that Gates of the Arctic National Park is limitless in its provision of outdoor exploration, challenges, and successes.
Would you want to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park? Leave a comment below!