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The Ultimate Guide to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is the gateway to one of the last wild lands on the planet. This Alaskan park is known for its massive spires, granite crags, unpredictable weather, and varied landscapes, from crystal-clear glacial lakes to expansive, treeless tundra. Each year, approximately 10,000 tourists come to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to discover the natural wonder and beauty of America’s last frontier. 

How To Get to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Where Is Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve?

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is in north-central Alaska. This park is composed of nearly 8 million acres of land, about the size of the entire country of Switzerland. Gates of the Arctic National Park is part of the Brooks Range, which is the northernmost part of the Rocky Mountains. 

Nearest Airports to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

The closest airport to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is Fairbanks International Airport (FAI). By car, this airport is approximately 8 hours from Bettles and 6 hours from Coldfoot, 2 of the gateway towns to the national park. 

Fairbanks International Airport offers countless flights to cities around the world via popular airlines such as Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. There are also many smaller airlines for traveling to and from the park and the surrounding towns.

Bottom Line:

Traveling to Alaska to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is easier than you think when flying into Fairbanks International Airport.

Getting to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is unique in that you cannot drive to the park directly. You must enter this park as the Alaska Natives did thousands of years ago: on foot or by boating in. Today, you also have the option of flying in, as well.

You can access the east side of the park by car on the Dalton Highway, parking on the side of the highway, or parking at the visitor center in Coldfoot. From here, you can hike in or get an air taxi. The National Park Service has a list of service providers who can provide transport as well as directions on how to arrive.

Getting Around Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Since you can’t bring your car into Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, you’re left with just a couple of options for exploring this national park. Most visitors will hike or fly from place to place in the park. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your itinerary. 

What To See and Do in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

There’s no shortage of adventure in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. From birdwatching to fishing, wild rivers to national natural landmarks, something is sure to intrigue you. Let’s take a look at the long list of things to see and do in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. 

Birdwatching

Long tailed Jaeger and antler
Image Credit: NPS

Because of the endless summer sunlight, many migratory birds spend their summers in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. There are approximately documented 145 bird species in the park, making it an excellent place for birdwatching.

Birds that call this land home include raptors, songbirds, and aquatic birds. The best places for birdwatching include near Coldfoot, Anaktuvuk Pass, Bettles, and along the Dalton Highway. Early morning and evening offer the greatest chances of spotting birds in Gates of the Arctic National Park

Climbing

Mountain climbing is one of the most popular activities at Gates of the Arctic National Park. Mount Doonerak, Arrigetch Peaks, and Mount Igikpak provide some of the best climbing opportunities in the park.

The best way to access the mountains is to be flown into the areas. All of the climbing adventures at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve are ranked as technical climbs, so you should be well-trained and prepared for extreme conditions. 

Fishing

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is an angler’s paradise. The glacial waters in the park are home to a great number of arctic fish, including arctic grayling, lake trout, arctic char, northern pike, and various shellfish. You need a valid fishing license.

Flightseeing Tours

One of the best ways to experience Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is by flying over the park. There are several options for booking a flightseeing tour in the nearby community of Coldfoot and Fairbanks. These tours typically showcase the glorious Brooks Range, the land, and the waterways of the park.

Bottom Line:

Taking in the beauty of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve from above will take your breath away and create memories to last a lifetime.

Hiking and Backpacking

Gates of the Arctic National Park Preserve Hiking
Image Credit: Josh Spice via NPS

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve has over 8 million acres of land to explore by backpacking and hiking. This park doesn’t have any designated hiking trails, so if you’re a hiking enthusiast, be prepared to blaze your own trails. Often, hikers need to bushwhack to get through different areas or cross rivers and streams.

Hiking and backpacking are fantastic ways to explore the park and offer excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, camping, and photography.

Hunting

Hunting is permitted in Gates of Arctic National Preserve, but it is prohibited in the national park. As long as hunters are over 16 years old and have valid licenses, they are welcome to hunt in Gates of the Arctic National Preserve. The primary animal hunted in this national preserve is the Dall’s sheep.

There is an overabundance of Dall’s sheep, so hunting them helps keep those numbers manageable. When planning a hunting trip at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, read the hunting regulations before your trip. Several rules are in place to protect other tourists, the locals, and you. 

National Natural Landmarks

There are 2 National Natural Landmarks that should be at the top of your itinerary when visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Arrigetch Peaks and Walker Lake are both incredible sights to behold in this national park.

Arrigetch Peaks is a set of granite pinnacles that resemble outstretched fingers. These pinnacles tower thousands of feet over the surrounding lands and have been a significant landmark to the Alaska Natives of the northwestern part of the state for centuries.

Walker Lake, on the other hand, is a remarkable example of the relationship between geology and biology in a mountain lake.

Photography

As America’s northernmost national park, Gateway to the Arctic offers opportunities to capture landscapes, water systems, and wildlife that can’t be found in most other parks. Photographers have been able to capture the majestic snow-capped mountains of the Brooks Range, crystal-clear glacial lakes, wild rivers, mesmerizing animals, and breathtaking sunsets and sunrises.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Killik River
Image Credit: Christopher Houlette via NPS

There are 6 rivers that run through the Gates of the Arctic National Park. These rivers include the Kobuk River, Alatna River, John River, Noatak River, Tinyaguk River, and the North Fork of the Koyukuk River. These waterways have been used for centuries by humans and animals. Pack rafts, inflatable canoes, rafts, and other collapsible boats are great options if you spend time boating through this national park. The waters are generally Class I and II, though a few are Class II to IV rapids.

Bottom Line:

For unbeatable views of the landscapes and wildlife of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, be sure to set aside several hours to spend on the waters.

Visitor Centers and Ranger Stations

There are 4 places to visit throughout the park that serve as visitor centers or ranger stations.

Bettles Ranger Station and Visitor Center

Bettles Ranger Station and Visitor Center is outside of the park boundaries in Bettles, a common place for visitors to set up a home base during their stay. This station is small and offers several exhibits, park films, interpretive programs, and tools for planning adventures at the park. 

Anaktuvuk Pass Ranger Station

Anaktuvuk Pass Ranger Station is open from April to September. When the station is closed, there’s an outdoor display area. This is a great place to learn about the park, ask rangers questions, and borrow bear-resistant food storage containers if you plan to camp.

Arctic Interagency Visitor Center

The Arctic Interagency Visitor Center is in Coldfoot, right on the Dalton Highway. This is a great place to grab maps of the park, chat with park rangers, learn from displays and exhibits, and pick up souvenirs to commemorate your trip.

Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center

Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center is in Fairbanks, inside the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. This visitor center offers world-class exhibits, an informative movie, and staff to help you plan your itinerary. 

Best Times To Visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

If there is a particular event or activity you wish to participate in, there may be a better time than others to plan your trip. Let’s take a look at the best times to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to help you decide when to plan your trip. 

Best Month To Visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Ideal Weather
Image Credit: Christopher Houlette via NPS

If you’re seeking ideal weather when visiting the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, plan to visit in August. With less rain and temperatures ranging from the upper 30s to the low 50s, August has excellent weather for camping, hiking, and exploring this beautiful national park. Be sure to be prepared to add or remove layers of clothing, depending on the time of day.

Least-Crowded Month To Visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

If you really want to avoid crowds at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, plan your visit for the month of November. November temperatures are frigid, which is why there are hardly any visitors, but still generally less extreme than its coldest months. Temperatures in Bettles range from 10 to -10 degrees and at Anaktuvuk Pass from -17 to -25 degrees.

Bottom Line:

If you aren’t worried about cold conditions, you can enjoy a solitary experience at the Gates of the Arctic National Park in the month of November.

Best Time To Visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve for Boating

July is the best time to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve for boating throughout the park. This summer month is one of the busier months, but the park’s so large that you won’t have to compete with other tourists. The temperatures range from the low 50s to the 70s, and the water levels are perfect for boating.

Cheapest Time To Visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

The cheapest time to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is in the month of November. This is also the month when there are few visitors, making flights and accommodations a better deal, as well. 

Annual Events in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

There aren’t any annual events in Gates of the Arctic National Park, thanks to its remote location.

Where To Stay in and Near Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

The remoteness of this national park means there aren’t a lot of options for accommodations.

Inside the Park

Camping Gates of the Arctic National Park
Image Credit: Ken Ilgunas via NPS

The only option for lodging inside the park’s boundaries is to set up camp in the great outdoors. There are no developed campgrounds in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, so if you are considering this during your stay, be prepared for wilderness camping. Though this is a primitive choice for lodging, it is an excellent opportunity to take in the raw beauty of Alaska and immerse yourself in nature.

Towns Near Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Nearby towns have options for lodging, dining, and recreation.

Anaktuvuk Pass

Anaktuvuk Pass is within the boundaries of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, sandwiched between the Anaktuvuk and John Rivers. This remote village is inhabited by the Nunamiut Inupiat people.

Anaktuvuk Pass has 2 options for lodging as well as a camping area. There is also a local grocery store. 

The town offers several day tours on airplanes and a museum devoted to preserving the history of the Nunamiut. 

Coldfoot

Coldfoot has limited lodging and dining opportunities, including a rustic inn and a small café. 

Coldfoot is in the foothills of the Brooks Range and has sweeping wilderness areas that are awesome for wildlife viewing, rafting, backpacking, dogsledding, fishing, and hiking. There are also tour operators who provide flights and tours.

Bottom Line:

Coldfoot is a wonderful place to set up a base camp during your Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve vacation. There are many opportunities for visitors in this small town.

Where To Eat in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

There aren’t any options for dining in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and hardly any options for dining nearby. If you plan to spend any length of time in this national park, you will need to be prepared to carry in all your food.

Coldfoot Camp Trucker’s Café

Coldfoot Camp Truckers Cafe
Image Credit: Coldfoot Camp Trucker’s Café

Coldfoot Camp Trucker’s Cafe is in the Coldfoot area of Gates of the Arctic National Park. This café is open from 5 a.m. to midnight daily and serves classic American dishes.

This café offers a breakfast and dinner buffet each day.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Facts

1. A Young National Park

Gates of the Arctic National Park was first established as a national monument in 1978. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was passed and Gates of the Arctic was established as a national park.

2. Original People of the Park

The original people of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve area were the Inupiaq and Athabascan. These nomadic tribes thrived by fishing and hunting throughout the area. Their ancestors are still living within the park’s boundaries in a remote village called Anaktuvuk Pass.

3. What’s in a Name?

This national park got its name from conservationist Robert Marshall. In 1929, Marshall was exploring the North Fork of the Koyukuk River and thought the surrounding mountains looked like a gate. 

4. An Abundance of Animals

Many animals call Gates of the Arctic National Park home. Some of the remarkable creatures that live here include caribou, grizzly bears, black bears, Dall’s sheep, beavers, muskox, and lynx.

Hot Tip:

The park offers bear safety tips on its website, including advisories, how to report bear encounters, and tips for using bear spray.

5. A Massive Park

Gates of the Arctic National Park is the second-largest national park in the U.S. National Park System. This park stretches over 7 million acres and has an additional 948,000 acres in the national preserve.

6. Gold Rush

The Klondike Gold Rush and the Nome Gold Rush in the late 1800s brought many prospectors looking for gold. 

7. Least-Visited National Park

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is the least visited national park in the entire U.S. National Park Service system. 

8. A Village in the Park

Anaktuvuk Pass is a thriving village where the Inupiaq and Athabascan tribes still live today. This small town is a great place to visit to learn about the culture of the people who originally settled in these lands. An entire village is located in the Gates of the Arctic National Park. 

9. No Roads Running Through

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve has no roads running through it or even entering. Anyone who wants to enter the park has to float, hike, or fly into it. 

10. Claim to Fame

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is most famous because it’s the last completely intact arctic ecosystem on the planet. 

Final Thoughts

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is a rugged land filled with sweeping views, magnificent wildlife, and raw beauty that will take your breath away. From fishing to hunting and from mountain climbing to flightseeing tours, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this national park.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve?

There are no entry fees at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Visitors are welcome to enter and re-enter the park at no cost. While there is no entry fee, visitors should expect fees if choosing to fly into the park.

How many days should I spend at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve?

A trip of 7 to 10 days is recommended for those visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Since this is such a large national park, a longer stay will allow plenty of time for all the highlights of the park.

Can I bring my dog to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve?

Pets are welcome at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, but visitors should be cautious of the wild animals that are found in the area. Pets should also remain on a leash, and pet waste should be properly disposed of.

What is the weather like at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve?

Summers are long with comfortable temperatures and mostly cloudy days, and winters are extremely cold, snowy, and partly cloudy at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The temperature ranges from –22 degrees Fahrenheit to 73 degrees, depending on the month and specific location within the park.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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