Gates of the Arctic – Alaska’s Ultimate Wilderness

NPS/Cadence Cook

Few landmarks bear names on topographic maps here. The park name came from wilderness advocate Robert Marshall, who traveled the North Fork Koyukuk country frequently from 1929 to 1939. Marshall called two peaks, Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain, the gates from Alaska’s central Brooks Range into the far north Arctic. Wind, water, temperature, and glacial and tectonic actions sculpted wildly varied landscapes in this east-west trending part of the Rocky Mountains. Southerly foothills step into waves of mountains rising to elevations of 4,000 feet that culminate in limestone or granite peaks over 7,000 feet in elevation. Then the ranks reverse at the Arctic Divide: Tundra stretches to the Arctic Ocean. Six national wild rivers – Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukuk, and Tinayguk – and other waterways cross the park. many people seek remote wilderness and solitude here. A primary goal of park management is to protect these opportunities.

From November to March, most activity ceases while -20ºF to -50ºF temperatures persist. The dry interior climate sees little snow, but what falls stays to wrap land and rivers in ice and silence. As the low-riding sun starts its warming ascent in March, dogsledders come out. Backpackers and river runners arrive in mid-June, as the rivers become free of ice. No trails or visitor services exist in the park. You must be self-sufficient.
Gates of the Arctic
Gates of the Arctic

Location:
P.O. Box 30
Bettles, AK 99726
Phone:
(907) 692-5494

Experienced hikers in the Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve consider six miles a good day’s travel. There are no established trails, and the dense vegetation, tussocks, boggy ground and frequent stream and river crossings significantly slow your progress. You will find easiest walking above the tree line or in the streambeds, if the water level is low. There are so many rivers in this area that you are likely to have to cross one or more during your trip. The water levels fluctuate continuously due to weather conditions, but the highest levels are generally in the spring during the run-off.

Topographic maps are essential in planning your course of travel. Carry your maps and a good compass (and GPS unit if you have access to one) with you in the field.

Group size limit is 10 people, to minimize impacts to the environment. There are no official trails in Gates of the Arctic, but there are countless ‘game trails’ established by animals. When feasible, use game trails as much as possible, not only for minimizing your impacts on the vegetation, but also for ease of travel. When hiking where no game trails exist, walk in a fan formation, rather than a single file straight line, to avoid creating social trails. Trekking poles are very useful on the uneven and tussock-covered terrain.

Climbing

The most popular climbing areas in the park and preserve are in the Arrigetch Peaks, Mount Doonerak and Mount Igikpak areas. Long-term impacts tend to be greater in these locations. Access to these areas is primarily by float-equipped aircraft and most peaks are considered technical climbs. A good source of climbing information for this area is the American Alpine Club journals.

We currently have no regulations specific to rock climbing, with the exception of installation of fixed anchors, but we do require that climbers follow all park regulations that apply to backpackers and canoeists. This includes cleaning your climbing route and avoiding use of bolts or fixed anchors, as the area is designated wilderness.

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