“Off the Beaten Path” Gates of The Arctic National Park, Alaska

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This national park spans over 8 million acres of pristine Alaskan wilderness. With the Brooks Range as its spine, the park has massive mountains, sweeping tundra, deep valleys, and barely any people. Yet despite its wild beauty, it is the least visited national park in the US.

The remote location and challenging terrain mean few people ever get to see it. According to the National Parks Service, this park gets only a few thousand a year.

Making it all the more attractive to true fans of national parks, such as ourselves! Gates of the Arctic is on our personal bucket list, and with that in mind, I created this short guide to sum up how to see it.

How to Get There

Reaching the Gates of the Arctic National Park is an adventure in itself.

Now, here are a few key ways to access the park:

1. By Air Travel

Most visitors arrive by air. The journey typically begins in Fairbanks, Alaska, where several small airlines operate daily flights to gateway communities such as Bettles and Anaktuvuk Pass, with stops in Coldfoot.


Bettles has air taxis, outfitters, lodges, a store, and a park visitor center, making it a convenient starting point for your park adventure.

Anaktuvuk Pass

Like Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass has no road access. You can fly in from Fairbanks and then hike into the park from the airstrip. While doing so, be mindful of native lands and seek permission before camping.

Anaktuvuk Pass also has a Nunamuit History Museum, a store, and a post office.


Tourists getting on board in a small private shuttle plane to Fairbanks in a cloudy rainy day in Coldfoot, Alaska

Coldfoot offers various amenities, including an air taxi, motel, store, cafe, post office, and nearby lodges in Wiseman. Trails and campsites are available for those who want to explore the park on foot.

Technically, you could take the 280-mile journey north from Fairbanks along the Dalton Highway if you prefer driving. Most people opt for a flight from Fairbanks because traversing the non-paved Dalton HWY is not easy and shouldn't be taken lightly.

dalton highway in alaska at north slope

Again, "technically," hiking into the park is possible from the Dalton Highway or Anaktuvuk Pass, but it's important to note that there are no established trails.

River crossings are necessary from both of these access points, so proper planning and gear are essential.

Best Time to Visit

From May to September, summer in Alaska is the ideal time to visit. These months offer milder weather and longer days, ideal for exploration.

Each part of the season has a unique draw. Early summer is excellent for wildlife viewing, while late summer offers glimpses of the Northern Lights.

Winter visits are possible but are recommended only for those with extensive experience in extremely harsh wilderness conditions. Read our guide for extra Alaska travel tips: 25 Alaska Travel Tips That Will Make Your Trip a Success.

Wildlife and Natural Features

The Gates of the Arctic National Park is all about wildlife and natural landscapes, offering a glimpse into Alaska's diverse ecosystem.

The park's fauna includes grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and smaller mammals like foxes, lynxes, and river otters. Avian life is equally varied, from the majestic bald eagles and peregrine falcons to an array of songbirds and waterfowl.

The natural features of the park are as striking as its wildlife. Dominated by the rugged peaks of the Brooks Range, especially the Arrigetch Peaks, the landscape is a mix of glacier-carved valleys, rivers, and unique features like the Kobuk River dunes.

What to see and do in the Gates of the Arctic National Park

Certain attractions and activities stand out when discovering the untamed beauty of the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska.

This remote wilderness destination has untouched valleys, pristine rivers, and towering mountain ranges, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts. Having said that, only very experienced and well-prepared individuals venture to see them on foot.

Most visitors will view the park's scenery from the air. Multiple operators offer sightseeing flights and excursions from Fairbanks. Some of these can be combined with more extensive tours of the area, though I couldn't find any that include a ground-level tour of the park.

1. Arrigetch Peaks

Usa, alaska, gates of the arctic national park, arrigetch peaks. aerial view of the arrigetch peaks

One of the park's must-see attractions is the stunning Arrigetch Peaks. These jagged granite formations are a photographer's dream and a challenge for experienced hikers and climbers.

Their dramatic presence against the wilderness backdrop is a sight to behold and offers a unique opportunity for exploration and adventure.

2. Noatak River

arctic tundra in autumn colors along the noatak river

The Noatak River is another gem within the park that draws visitors from far and wide.

Its winding course is framed by breathtaking landscapes, creating a visual masterpiece that captures the essence of the Alaskan wilderness.

Whether you're into kayaking, canoeing, or simply enjoying the views, the Noatak River offers an unforgettable experience.

3. Alatna River

Alatna River

The Alatna River is a scenic river that originates in the central Brooks Range and flows through the Endicott Mountains, with views of the Arrigetch Peaks.

Ideal for float trips, the river's first 25 miles are shallow and rocky, with small Class II+ rapids, and then it mellows out, offering a peaceful and scenic journey through hilly forests.

Float trips on the Alatna can range from 4 to 14 days, depending on your chosen route and conditions, covering distances up to 184 miles from its headwaters to Allakaket. It's accessible by floatplane, with common put-in sites like Circle Lake.

Hiking in the Gates of the Arctic — Not for Everyone!

There's a reason why most photos of this park show it from the air. Most visitors ever see it by taking a sightseeing flight from Fairbanks.

Beautiful landscape view of Gates of the Arctic National Park in northern Alaska

The people who actually make it into the park on foot will typically be very experienced and adventurous backpackers. With no facilities inside the park, backpacking is the only way to explore the rugged terrain.

River rafting and floating offers an exhilarating way to navigate the park's waterways. The challenge and beauty of the landscape make it a memorable adventure for those with the skills and experience to tackle it.

These are not short floats. Those who embark on them are typically on their own in some of the country's most remote wilderness.

You can join an organized excursion to float the park's waterways. It's probably safer this way, but it's also expensive. This one looks amazing but costs $3500 per person. And you're still experiencing wilderness conditions, so probably not for me.

A scenery of people walking in the beautiful Gates of the Arctic National Park

The Visitors Centers

When planning a visit to Gates of the Arctic National Park, it's important to know that this park operates a bit differently from more well-known national parks. The visitor centers here are not your typical large, amenity-filled buildings; they're smaller and more in tune with the park's wilderness ethos.

  1. Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot: This is probably your main go-to spot for information if you're driving up the Dalton Highway. It's a great place to learn about the park, get safety tips, and understand what you're getting into. Remember, this park demands self-sufficiency and respect for its rugged terrain.
  2. Anaktuvuk Pass Ranger Station: The visitor center here is small but offers essential insights into the park and the surrounding area. It's a good spot to get oriented before you start exploring.

Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in the summer

Remember, Gates of the Arctic is a truly remote and wild park. These visitor centers are there to help you prepare for what's essentially a deep wilderness experience, not a typical leisurely national park visit.

Check out their information and heed their advice seriously, especially regarding safety and preparation for your visit.

Adventure Awaits in the Gates of the Arctic

The way I see it, this park is a little piece of heaven for those extreme hikers, who don't mind hiking with no trails and facing grizzlies at close quarters. The rest of us mere mortals can hope to visit it mostly from above.

In case you need more suggestions for places to visit while in Alaska, save our bucket list: Alaska Bucket List: 13 Destinations You Must Visit (Including a Map).

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