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Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park - An Overview

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Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

A hiker pauses to look at the Arrigetch Peaks shrouded in smoke.

© Teri McMillan for the NPS

Contact Info:

Mail: Bettles Ranger Station, P.O. Box 26030, Bettles, AK 99726

Phone: 907-692-5494

Overview:

Walking into the Gates of the Arctic is as grandiose as you may imagine it. The land is virtually untouched and visitors will be surrounded by untouched lands that are more stunning than can be described. If you are looking for an intimate encounter with nature, this national park delivers 8.5 million acres of it.

The park lies above the Arctic Circle, alongside the Brooks Range – one of the world’s northernmost mountain ranges. It holds six Wild and Scenic Rivers – Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukak, and Tinayguk. And along with Noatak National Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park, Gates of the Arctic protects majority of the western arctic caribou as well as other wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves, and foxes.

Climb any ridge in the park and be prepared for amazing views of colossal mountains and a dozen glacial cirques side by side. The land is truly remarkable. Visitors will feel like they touched down onto another world – isolated and untouched beauty all around.

History:

If you look carefully, evidence of those who lived in or passed through the area before can be found. Inupiaq and Athabascan people, as well as their ancestors traveled long distances throughout the central Brooks Range surviving on plants and animals available during each season. Their descendants now live in nearby communities and continue to to hunt and gather in the park and preserve.

Other visitors included early explorers, scientists, and gold miners. Their broken-down cabins and artifacts still remain as reminders of the land’s rich history. The area was proclaimed a national monument in 1978 and established as a national park and preserve on December 2, 1980. Today, mountain climbers, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts have added to the park’s history.

When to Visit:

Weather is unpredictable so expect snow or rain in any month. Fall and summer are your best bets. Although summer is short, the days are long and temperatures are typically mild. Keep in mind June and July are home to gnats and mosquitoes. Fall colors peak mid-August through September.

Getting There:

You can walk or fly into this national park though many prefer the latter. From Fairbanks (Find Flights), scheduled flights run in Anaktuvuk Pass, Bettles, and Ambler. From these points, as well as Coldfoot, you can take an air taxi. Those who want to hike into the park, park along the John River and hike in.

Visitors may also choose to drive from Fairbanks along the unpaved Dalton Highway and hike into the park from Wiseman Point.

Fees/Permits:

There are no fees!

Major Attractions:

The land is vast and visitors should plan enough time to explore the wilderness. A great way to visit is a combination river-hiking trip. There are no trails in the park so contact Bettles Ranger Station for suggestions on what to bring and areas to visit.

Rivers and lakes serve as your main travel route. Alatna River is ideal for first-timers. A wilderness float trip typically takes 4-7 days traveling through stunning tundra to the forested Koyukuk River.

Hunt Fork Lake is a great area to bunker down for a few days. The water levels are low and the river runs into lush forests as it joins the Koyukuk River.

Kobuk River begins at Walter Lake and runs south through mountains, footlands, and canyons. About 140 miles from Walter Lake is the Kobuk village where you can stop, or downriver downriver to Ambler and then to Kobuk Valley National Park.

North Fort Koyukuk starts at Summit Lake and travels through Boreal Mountain and Frigid Crags, continuing to Bettles.

Noatak flows 450 miles from Gates of the Arctic into the Chukchi Sea. It produces one of largest wilderness basins on the continent.

Tinayguk runs through a large glacier-cut valley before joining the Koyukuk River. This route is seldom visited, but is unbelievable for those who venture.

Camping is ideal on gravel bars but remember that summer rainstorms can raise water levels. Most rivers are highest in May and June.

Hiking offers the best opportunity to explore wildlife. Remember to plan wisely using a map and compass.

Accommodations

There are no campgrounds within the park as only backcountry camping is permitted. Also within the park walls is the Alatna Lodge. Costs is $4,150 per person for three days and includes airfare from Fairbanks and activities. Nahtuk Wildreness Cabins are also located in the park and cost $2,950 per person for three nights. Fare includes airfare.

Outside the park, try Slate Creek Inn located in Coldfoot or the Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge in Fairbanks. (Get Rates)

Special Advisories

Gates of the Arctic is not your average national park and there are certain things visitors need to know before visiting. Keep these tips in mind as you carefully plan your trip:

  • Bring all supplies with you. There are no visitor centers in the park and Fairbanks is your closest resource for full supplies.

  • All visitors should be well-skilled in the outdoors.

  • Firearms may be carried for protection.

  • Grizzly and black bears should be considered unpredictable and dangerous. Do not attempt to get close to any bears for any reason.

  • River crossings can be difficult with rapid currents and freezing waters. Be aware of signs of hypothermia.

  • Eskimos and Native Alaskans use the park for fishing. Respect them as well as their property.

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