Although it's one of the most visited parks in the Arctic, Gates of the Arctic is still populated by far more caribou and birds than human visitors.

This enormous park, sandwiched between Noatak National Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park (to the west) and the Dalton Highway or Haul Road (to the east) supports one of the last completely intact Arctic ecosystems. This is a great example of the Alaskan maxim of using waterways as roads, with rivers and lakes helping to thread together the marvellously diverse landscapes you'll find here, from soaring, 7,000-foot granite peaks to wetland forests and the broad, flat Arctic tundra.


Caribou in Gates of the Arctic National Park

Gates of the Arctic National Park highlights

Most famous for having one of the last completely intact Arctic ecosystems. There are no established or maintained roads or trails here unless they were created by animals.

Backpacking and hiking are one of the key draws of the national park. To preserve the natural ecosystems, there are no official trails, however, it is advisable to follow the 'game trails' provided by wildlife. Keep in mind that travel is difficult, and even seasoned backpackers may manage only five miles in a day.

Gates of the Arctic has six designated Wild Rivers which are easily accessible through take-out points making it a great place to explore by raft or kayak, with rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV throughout the year.

The numerous alpine lakes provide an excellent spot for fishing and, for those less inclined to hiking, local operators offer flight-seeing trips to see sand dunes and spend the night camping in remote locations.

Wildlife spotting is a popular activity, with wolves, bears and foxes roaming the national park. Gates of the Arctic protects a large portion of the Western Arctic caribou herd's range, with over 200,000 individuals living in the park. In spring and summer, migratory birds arrive from all over the world, coming from as far as South America to feed and rear their young under the midnight sun.

Did you know?

Gates of the Arctic National Park and the adjoining Noatak National Preserve combine to create one of the largest uninterrupted wilderness areas on earth.

Weather in Gates of the Arctic National Park

Summer temperatures can rise into the low 20s C (70s F). Winter temperatures can plunge to between -30 and -45 C (-20 and -50 F); the climate is relatively dry, with limited but lingering snow during the winter. The rivers typically become ice-free in mid-June.

The sun doesn't set from May through early August; animals and plants take advantage of this never-ending day to get through their life cycles quickly.

The sun does not rise from early December through early January, although you get several hours of usable light ("civil twilight").

Wildlife in Gates of the Arctic National Park

The landscape here is enormously varied, with foothills in the south rising to limestone and granite peaks that soar more than 7,000ft (2,100m) above sea level. On the other side of the mountains, a broad, flat shelf of tundra stretches north to the Arctic Ocean.

You'll also find low-lying wetlands, sparse taiga (black spruce) forest, and stands of boreal forest on south-facing slopes. The park is criss-crossed by waterways that often provide the best means of travel, and provides a true opportunity for remote wilderness and solitude.

Wildlife sightings include caribou (the Western Arctic caribou herd is estimated at 235,000 individuals), moose, black and grizzly bears, wolves, Dall's sheep, foxes and musk oxen. If you're very lucky, you might see a wolverine.

How to get to Gates of the Arctic National Park

You can get park information at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot, a community about halfway up the Dalton Highway ("Haul Road") between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay.

The actual park visitor centre is located in Bettles, which also houses a ranger station. There is also a ranger station in Anaktuvuk Pass. The ranger stations and visitor centres loan bear-resistant food containers on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Access to the park is usually by small plane from the gateway communities of Bettles and Anaktuvuk Pass. Warbelow's and Wright Air offer daily flights from Fairbanks to Bettles.

You can also hike in from the Dalton Highway (which runs along part of the park's eastern boundary) or from Anaktuvuk Pass, but you must cross rivers in both cases and the terrain is extremely rugged, with no trails to follow. Ask permission before camping on Native land, which encircles Anaktuvuk Pass for several miles.

Air travel into this remote location is often delayed due to weather, so budget extra food and supplies in case of travel delays.

Gates of the Arctic National Park facts & figures

  • There are no amenities, services or trails in this 8.4 million acre park, which was established in 1980 to help preserve the Arctic ecosystem.
  • Gates of the Arctic butts up against Noatak National Preserve to the west, helping create one of the largest contiguous wilderness areas in the world.
  • Indigenous people are an integral part of this ecosystem and have been for some 15,000 years.

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