If you haven’t heard of Gates of the Arctic National Park, it’s time to learn about this majestic wonder of nature. It lies so far north that it’s quite difficult to reach. But once you get there, it’s totally worth it.
In this article, we’re highlighting 10 incredible things you didn’t know about Gates of the Arctic National Park that might convince you to make the trek.
Where Is Gates of the Arctic National Park?
While the adventure of accessing the park starts in Fairbanks, Alaska, the park itself is located entirely north of the Arctic Circle. The North Slope and the Arctic Coastal Plain are to the north, and the Yukon River’s upland drainages lie to the south. The park has more than 8.4 million acres to explore if you can get there.
10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About Gates of the Arctic National Park
Whether you’ve heard of Gates of the Arctic or not, we’re willing to bet there are some things you didn’t know. At least until now. Read on for some interesting facts about this remote park.
1. Why It’s Called ‘Gates of the Arctic’
A local explorer, Robert Marshall, traversed the North Fork Koyukuk arctic region, the southeastern access point to Gates of the Arctic, quite frequently in the 1930s. Coming across two mountain peaks, Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain, he was reminded of a gate-like entryway. Marshall dubbed the area “Gates of the Arctic.”
2. There Are No Roads and No Trails in This National Park
You read that correctly. There are no roads and no trails in Gates of the Arctic National Park. However, you can still access the park via flight or on foot.
Access starts in Fairbanks, where you can schedule a flight with one of the small airlines that service the northern villages. Dalton Highway is a popular access point for many hikers, along with the village of Anaktuvuk. You better be up for a challenge. This isn’t a park meant for the faint of heart.
➡ While you might not be able to drive to Gates of the Arctic, if you live in the contiguous U.S., you can drive all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska, to catch a flight to the park.
3. The Entire Park Lies North of the Arctic Circle
With 8.4 million acres translating to more than 13,000 square miles, this entire wilderness area lies completely within the Arctic Circle. Mountain peaks start at 4,000 feet above sea level and rise to more than 7,000 feet. You’ll encounter diverse terrain here throughout the Brooks Mountain Range, along with unpredictable weather, abundant wildlife, and miles of remote beauty.
4. Gates of the Arctic Is the Least Visited National Park — For a Reason
With its remote location and lack of campgrounds, established trails, amenities, roads, and visitor centers, it would make sense that this is the least visited national park. Gates of the Arctic averages only around 10,000 visitors annually. You can compare that to America’s most visited park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at 12 million visitors. There may not be roads in Gates of the Arctic, but there aren’t crowds, either.
5. There Is a Nunamiut Inupiat Village Within the Park
There may not be amenities within the park, but there is a village. In addition, there are several villages on the perimeter of the park, each with fewer than 400 people. The only village within the park itself is the Inupiat Village.
Anaktuvuk Pass was once a caribou migration route, resulting in nomadic peoples settling here. While most of the villagers have left over the years, there are still just over 300 people residing on the pass, one of the last known Nunamiut Inupiat Villages. The original nomadic Nunamiut peoples left in the early 1900s because of the declining caribou population.
6. The Park Is Home to Six National Wild and Scenic Rivers
One of the most sought-after activities in the wilds of Gates of the Arctic National Park is rafting. With six national wild and scenic rivers to choose from, it’s easy to see why. Each adventure will be unique, with each river offering its own characteristics ranging from Class I to Class IV rapids and various take-out and put-in options.
There are several air taxi operators that you can work with to get you to your access and take-out locations. But whatever river, watercraft, or air taxi you choose, you’ll be surrounded by valleys, canyons, mountains, wildlife, and remote beauty.
7. Gates of the Arctic Covers 8.4 Million Acres
This national park, along with Noatak National Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park, covers more than 8.4 million acres. With that much landmass, you’ll find several ecosystems here. Those include forested regions full of black spruce, white spruce, aspen, and birch.
You’ll also find jagged edges and rocky cliffs in the mountainous regions alongside diverse wildlife. With creatures such as muskox, fox, and wolverine, along with caribou, grizzlies, wolves, and more, your wildlife sightings should be stories to tell for years to come. In 1980, Congress decided to protect this whole area to maintain its unique character and remoteness.
8. Temperatures Are Consistently -20 to -50 F From November to March
Many outfitters are only operational during the late spring through early fall months in Gates of the Arctic. And with temperatures consistently below 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months, that makes a lot of sense.
Rivers can start freezing in September, snow falls eight months out of the year, avalanche danger is high during winter, and extremely cold temperatures are common. However, the park is open all year. Most visitors arrive during the short summer months when temperatures average 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun shines continuously into the night.
➡ There’s no wrong time to visit Alaska! When you decide to visit will ultimately depend on what you want to do while you’re there. Learn more here: What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska?
9. There Are No Services or Facilities Within the Park
You won’t find any services or amenities within Gates of the Arctic. That means no roads, no bathrooms, no established trails or campgrounds, no potable water spigots, or any other conveniences you might find at other national parks. Just Mother Nature at her finest.
Hikers and rafters can wander anywhere they want to go, as long as they have the skill level and gear to do so. And don’t think a cell phone will get you out of a harrowing situation while visiting. There’s no cell service, so wherever you wander, you need to be self-sufficient and able to handle any emergency.
The Gates of the Arctic National Park isn’t an easy adventure. The terrain is diverse and challenging. The weather can be the same. But if you come into this national park prepared, it may just be the best national park experience you’ll ever have. And while there are no services within the park, there are four visitor centers in the surrounding villages and Fairbanks to help you prepare for your wilderness excursion.
10. The NPS Advises Against Visiting If You Are Not Proficient in Wilderness Survival
If you’ve never been backpacking or hiking in challenging terrain, this isn’t the park for you. You’ll have to carry everything in with you for the entire length of your trip and carry all of your trash back out. You’ll need to be able to keep you and your hiking mates safe. In addition, you have to leave no trace of your visit.
To orient yourself to this once-in-a-lifetime experience, stop at one of the four visitor centers. The staff there know the area more than you do, so ask for their expertise. If you still really want to explore this hidden gem but don’t have the skills, there are opportunities for flight-seeing trips and other guided adventures.
➡ Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is another hidden gem in Alaska worth exploring. Find out why: 9 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know About Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska
What Makes Gates of the Arctic National Park Special
Gates of the Arctic National Park is a very special place. Its remote location entirely in the Arctic Circle is definitely one reason, but the opportunity to explore such a place without all the crowds really makes it stand out.
We visit national parks for their pristine beauty, and so do millions of other people. Gates of the Arctic certainly has pristine beauty. It’s also one-of-a-kind with its far north location and interesting challenges.
Gates of the Arctic Isn’t for the Unprepared But Offers the Adventure of a Lifetime
Come to Gates of the Arctic National Park unprepared, and you could be in for a rough trip. However, show up prepared with the skills, gear, and attitude required for a place this remote, and your visit could be the adventure of a lifetime.
Would you ever visit a place like Gates of the Arctic? Drop a comment below.
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