Your Guide to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Caribou movement in spring Arctic National Park

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve: General Summary


Date of Establishment

The park was made to protect the beauty of the arctic and preserve the habitats of Western Arctic Carbou Herd that live across the park. In 1980, legislation was passed to protect all the wildlife and their habitats that are found within the area. On December 2, 1980, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was established.


Popular Season

People visit the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve at different times of the year depending on what they are aiming to experience. Most people avoid the winter season because of the extreme cold. It is very difficult to participate in any activities because of the strong winds and temperatures falling below freezing.

If you want to make the most of the experience and witness as many wildlife habitats as you can, it is better to visit in the summer. Many activities take place in the summer, for children as well as adults. There are many heritage sites to see if the weather is warm because it is easier to travel.

Another important thing to remember is that once you’re inside the park, it is very difficult to establish communication with the park’s services. There are limited signals and if you are lost in the cold somewhere among the mountains while backpacking, it could be a costly mistake.


The Visitor’s Centers

There are four visitor centers at the park that are available for guests

1. Bettles Ranger Station and Visitor Center:

This center is found outside the periphery of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

2. Anaktuvak Pass Ranger Station:

This is a ranger contact station and is open throughout the year for the exterior display.

3. Arctic Interagency Visitor Center:

This center is found on the Dalton Highway for multi-agency purposes.

4. Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center:

This visitor’s center has a variety of exhibits where you can watch movies about the park, plan out your trip with the help of the park’s advisors, and figure out what you’ll need for your trip. This is inside of the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center in Fairbanks, Alaska.


Introduction

Gates of the Arctic National Park is an area consisting of around seven million and fifty-two thousand acres of public land. The Gates of the Arctic National Preserve consists of almost nine hundred thousand acres of federal land. These lands have been maintained for a number of reasons, mainly to preserve the way the area naturally is.

They were made so that people who visit have the opportunity to experience the serenity and isolation that the area has to offer. This undeveloped and natural way of the park gives visitors a chance to explore the mountains, forelands, rivers, lakes and other scenic features of the area without having to be disturbed by manmade structures.

There are opportunities for people to mountain-climb and explore the mountains in a safe way, by providing just enough access without harming the wildlife. There are also other wilderness exploration activities at the park.

Another reason why the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was made was to protect the numerous amounts of animals and their habitats that exist in that area. The preserve offers protection to the different species of fishes, caribou, bears, sheep, moose, wolves and birds that have made a home there for generations.

In some areas of the park, locals have been allowed to maintain their subsistence uses of the park land. They have been doing these practices since generations and know how to carry out their activities without harming the park’s land.


What is the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve?

Wind, water, temperatures, and glacial and tectonic movements are what brought into being the different landscapes in this area, which is east-west of the Rocky Mountains. There are mountains here that stretch up to 4,000 feet and then have limestone and granite peaks that rise to make a total height of 7,000 feet. There are six national rivers and other water bodies that go through the park, such as the Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukuk and Tinayguk rivers. A lot of visitors to the park aim to get an experience of solitude that these landmarks provide, and that is why the park’s management works towards providing people with that experience.

Grizzlies, black bears, foxes, among other wildlife can be found at this park, while other migratory birds fly here in the spring break. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch glimpse of as many wildlife species as you can, because they are so spread out it is impossible to see them all.

There are eleven zones across the park where different communities live and work in direct contact with the park.


A Brief History

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was initially made to protect the 8.4 million acres of the ecosystems in the state of Alaska. The name comes from Robert Marshall, a wildlife and wilderness advocate who said that the two mountains, Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain were like the gates from Brook’s Range into the very north, the Arctic.

He found this park and made it his home in the start of the 1930s and decided that this great North American wilderness needed to be protected at all costs.


Humans have been living in this part of the world at the Brooks Range for over thirteen thousand years and have been a consistent part of the area’s ecosystem ever since. Hunters and nomads have traveled this land and moved between these mountains for thousands of years, traveling through the forests and land formations of the Arctic Coast throughout their life.

Currently, the descendants of these ancient civilizations still use the land of the park. They rely on the resources that the park and preserve provide. There are villages inside of the park, reminiscent of old communities, like the Nunamiut Inupiat village called Anatuvak Pass.

The thousands of archeological sites that are found scattered throughout the park represent the history not only of the land, but of the intertwining of the land and the people that have always lived there. Even now, different descendants of old communities call this land their home, like the Athapaskan and Inupiat, as well as some Non-Native Alaskan people.

In the past, the communities that lived here traveled from place to place all through the year, going to different camps across the park that produced certain harvest for that season. Over the last one hundred years, people have started to make permanent settlements and created communities and small towns that remain at all times of the year.

Back in the 1880s, people from European backgrounds had started to visit the area that is now the park, mainly the Central Brooks Range. Many military explorers had the difficult task to travel the entire land and map the territory, which had never been explored and documented before. They made their way through the rivers and mountains and were soon accompanied by prospectors. Soon after, when people scavenged the land with the hopes of finding gold, they began making mining camps to get through the incredibly cold winters. The government sent scientists to research on the nature and culture of the area and from there, the area was finally brought into light and was noted in history.

Now, many adventure seekers travel to this park just to get an experience of the wilderness that the park has to offer. This aspect of the park is a recent addition to the previous ways that the park was used.


Environment

There are black-spruce forests known as taiga scattered across the slopes that face the north. There are Boreal forests consisting of white spruce, aspen, and birch on the slopes that face the south. There are a number of different trees and plant species at the tree line, like dwarf and resin birch, alder, and willow.

Alpine tundra are often found in mountainous areas but the alder and tussocks found in the valleys often make it harder to hike in these areas. If you’re planning on backpacking through these ranges, you will only be able to manage around five miles in a day.

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve has long winters. On one side, there is the North Slope and the Arctic Coastal Plain, while on the other is the Yukon River and the drainage from the upland areas of the northern Interior and wetlands. A well known fact about this area is that the climate is always extreme. There are different temperature ranges depending on where in the area you go, with the climate being sub-arctic in some places and the winter season going much below zero. There are strong winds and low rainfall, but the summers are somewhat warm compared to the extreme cold.



Planning Your Itinerary

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is one of the only places still left on earth that qualifies as the pure wild. People who visit this park know that they’re signing up for an adventure that will test all their survival skills. You need sufficient information on how to survive in the wild, along with the right gear, to make sure you have an experience that you won’t forget. Whether you choose to explore the wilderness, have fun, or just find a place that you can be alone, you have the whole park and preserve to use for your adventures.

There are several natural creations that you can travel to within the park, like valleys, mountains and entire ecosystems where you can see that people have lived in union with the land for thousands of years. There are also many rivers labeled as the Wild Rivers whose scenic beauty you can enjoy. You can also fish at the alpine lake or just sit back and watch the wildlife walk by.

The area and climate of the Brooks Range are extremely difficult to handle for most people unless they have the proper equipment and knowledge. However,if you know how to, you have more than 8.4 million acres of land you can traverse through however you want.

There are different options you can opt for, like air-taxis for trips that take you sight-seeing to places that are harder to access. They offer trips to isolated locations at the park where you can camp out overnight or through the day. You can get stamps for your NPS passport that allows you to visit these places, from the visitor’s center.


Hiking

Anyone who visits the park and preserve with the intentions of getting a hands-on experience of the wilderness will prefer to travel on foot through the park. The mountain passes and the ridges lead to new places where you get to be in total solitude. The most you can aim to hike in a day is around 6 miles and you will have to set aside a set of days that are dedicated to only hiking in order to get the full experience. Most group sizes can be up to 10 people only to reduce the environmental impact of humans on the area. Make sure you and your group members do not add any manmade damages to the areas you stay in.

You’ll be traveling large distances and across rivers, so it is very important to have a map and compass with you at all times. Having a trekking pole is helpful because of the rugged terrain.


Climbing

Climbing is a popular activity at the park and preserve. Most visitors prefer to climb the Arrigetch Peaks, Mount Doonerak and Mount Igipak as well as the surrounding areas. You get to these peaks by air. The climbs are quite challenging and require some skill. You have to keep all park regulations in mind, like cleaning up your trail and not using any fixed bolts or anchors. To learn more about rock climbing in this locality, read the American Alpine Club journals.


Birding

The sun doesn’t set in the summertime at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which makes it a preferred place for many birds to migrate to. There are a lot of permanent resident bird species too, like the Ptarmigan that can be spotted at all times of the year. Almost 145 different species of birds have been sighted at the park over the last three decades. They vary from aquatic birds, raptors, songbirds, and numerous others.

Because of these high bird populations, bird watching is very popular among the majority of visitors to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. People can observe the birds during their hikes, but also when they are out canoeing or boating. There are different spots to bird watch from as well, like in Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, Coldfoot as well as the Dalton Highway.

Some things to keep in mind when you’re out bird watching is that almost half of the birds found in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve are aquatic and live, as well as have their nests in aquatic habitats. You should also wait for the morning and evening hours to see the birds because they are more likely to be in the sky at these times. If you stay up till later in the night or wake up earlier in the morning, there are more chances for you to see them.

The Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center is a great resource to learn more about birding in the region and buy books related to it as well.


Camping

At the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, there is no specific place allocated for you to set up your campsites. Most people who set up camp in the area usually synchronize the days of the camping with the days they are participating in other activities nearby. There is a lot of planning and thinking that goes into camping in the arctic. You have to take extra precautions to ensure that none of the activities you engage in at your campsite causes any harm to the wildlife and ecosystem of that environment.


Finding a Place to Camp

The environment of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is easily damaged by outsiders. If you carry out anything that is alien and new to the environment, there’s a high chance that the damage you cause will not wear off easily. This is why it is better to find a campsite in an area that is more resistant to damage and human interaction. Surfaces like gravel bars are a preferred camping ground for most campers. There are lesser mosquitoes and insects there as compared to other locations and the high water makes it easier for any remnants of your presence to wash away after you leave.

The high water can also be dangerous for you because it can well up unannounced and harm you, or your campsite. Make sure you plan a place to camp in advance that is higher up than where the water levels presently are.

In some cases, you might decide that you need to set up camp in a grassy site with more greenery like moss and lichens. This will harm the vegetation of that area, so what you can do to minimize the damage is to pick a place that as sturdier greenery, for example, grass or sedges. Another important step you should take is to move your camp around after every 72 hours so that any implications of human life being there are less permanent. If you stay in one place for the entire duration, there are more chances that you will cause more damage to one area and it will become noticeable. You should also only wear soft shoes with soft soles to avoid breaking any flora.


Cooking in the Arctic

Keep a gas or propane stove with you, because starting a fire is not preferred. Trees grow extremely slow in the arctic and fires are a hazard to their wellbeing. It is also better for emergencies because it is much more convenient to start up than a fire. You’ll need certified bear-resistant containers for all your food because a bear that is used to eating human food will become a danger for both you and other tourists.


Exploring the Rivers

The rivers in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve are one of the main sites that all visitors are attracted to. No matter what you do, whether you are hiking, backpacking, camping or taking an air tour, you will come into contact with the rivers. They run throughout the park and preserve and are one of the main forms of transportation to cross from one place to another for the wildlife.

In some places, there are entire canyons that have come into existence from the movement of the water. They are the main source of water for the wildlife that migrates to the park and preserve in the summer and give a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the tourists to experience their scenic beauty. The Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukuk and Tinayguk Rivers are the primary rivers found here.


Hunting

The last activity that you can participate in at the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, but not at the Gates of the Arctic National Park is sport hunting and trapping. You’ll need to have a license and permit that complies with all other Alaskan state rules and regulations. You will need a driver’s license, hunting license, harvest tickets and tags before engaging in any hunting activities Some of the areas in the preserve are privately owned by individuals. You need to be careful not to enter someone else’s private land without their permission.

Visitors spend up to two weeks at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in order to fully experience all the different activities that the park has to offer. Each of the activities listed above takes days to complete, so break your trip down in such a way that you have enough time to participate in all of them before it is time for you to head back. It is also important to keep the weather in mind while planning your trip because if you arrive at a time when the winds are too strong and it is too cold for the wildlife to be spotted, you will not get to enjoy your trip.


Budgeting Your Trip

You know you have to spend quite an amount of time at the park so that you can explore as many places and see as many sites as you can manage. You will need to take a guided trip, as navigating through the park and preserve is difficult and can become dangerous if you are inexperienced. If you are ever lost in the area, there is little chance that you will be able to get into contact with anyone.


Getting a Traveling Group

Look for a travel group that will give you a rigorous experience that includes as many of your preferred activities as possible. You need to get in touch with a travel group and book places for yourself in their group as soon as you can, and they will organize most of the trip for you after that.

A guided trip is costly, so you have to be prepared to invest a lot of money. Any experienced traveling group will charge you a large sum of money, because they need to put in a significant amount of planning and effort into making sure that you, as well as the other members of your group who may be inexperienced and vulnerable in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve are safe and manage to enjoy the trip at the same time. Since the trip is lengthy as well, it costs more than any other camping or hiking trip you may have previously taken. The company that you choose to guide you in your tour will allot you a tour guide, gear, and pilots that are experienced and know how to navigate the area. They save you the hassle of planning, coordinating and managing the entire trip and they know what attractions and locations are worth seeing the most.

The equipment that is needed to safely make it through the climate of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is also expensive. The weather can change rapidly, so you have to be prepared for any hurdles that might come your way. This is why your travel group will charge you more, to accommodate all the dependable gear that you will need.


Gear

When you have decided to go on this trip, your travel company will give you a list of equipment that you will need to purchase before being ready to go on the trip. These are usually available on Amazon.com. If you regularly go on similar hiking and climbing trips like this one, you might already have some of the equipment on you beforehand. The group you are traveling with will probably give you tents, boating equipment, personal floatation devices, and paddles, which is the bulkier of the equipment. You will need to purchase your personal gear by yourself.


Flights

You will be going by air to Fairbanks at the start of your trip. Over there, you are going to be staying at a hotel where your other group members will meet you, as well as your tour guide. They are going to make sure that you have all the necessary equipment and that all of your gear is waterproof. They will discuss the major aspects of the trip with you to make sure everyone is on the same page before the trip begins.

The following day, you will all be flying in two bush flights on floatplanes that go to Bettles first, where you meet at the National Park Visitor Center. They will give you a talk on everything you need to know to be safe at the park. The next flight takes you to a place near Noatak River, which is the passage-way into the Gates.


Park Entry

There are no fees to enter the park or register to enter the park. If you’re traveling in a group, you have to notify the park many months in advance to get the permit details.


Budgeting

Keeping all these factors in mind, make sure that you budget your trip so that you can afford all the best services without going bankrupt. This is not the kind of trip that you can afford more than once. It is the kind of trip that you need to save up for over a long period of time. There are many flights you will take, the equipment you will buy and hotels that you will be staying in on the way to the main destination. You also need to plan the food beforehand, because there are no places where you will be staying that will provide food on the spot.



The Top Attractions at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve


There are a number of places at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve for visitors to see. When you are on a trip that spans for over two weeks, there is more time for you to see more places. It is up to you and your travel group whether you want to squeeze in more sites or spend more time at fewer sites because this is the kind of opportunity you do not get more than once.


1. North Fork of the Koyukuk River

This river flows from the southern part of the Arctic Divide and passes through the valleys that have been carved by glaciers in the Endicott Mountains. These mountains are found in the Central Brooks Range and the river passes through the Boreal Mountain and the Frigid Crags. This fork of the river, later on, joins the middle fork and flows all the way to Bettles Field.

The beauty of this river is that it is found amongst valleys formed by glaciers and is surrounded by the peaks of the Endicott Mountains. There are some rapids that are difficult to manage if the water levels are too high, but the wilderness that you witness when you go back-packing through this river is one-of-a-kind. There are a number of different animals that cross the path of this river on their way while migrating, like the caribou.

This part of the river also has a large collection of archaeological and historical remnants of a time in the past. Out of many areas of the park and preserve that contain these historical sites, this area contains some of the most. There are gold mining sites from as early as the 20th century, as well as prehistoric landmarks from over ten thousand years ago.


2. Alatna River

This river is known for its wilderness and scenic beauty since 1980. It has amazing geological sites and scenery across the corridor of the river. There are many changes in the scenery as you travel along this river, like snow-covered mountains at the top and a vast, green forest as you move onwards.

People love visiting this river for the hiking, fishing and floating that is available in this area. The scenery provides a great place to take photographs and study the numerous wildlife and nature that surrounds the area.

The mountains in the central Brooks Range, including the Arrigetch Peaks, can be seen from this river. There are many creatures that are migrating through the area, including the arctic caribou. This history surrounding this area is immense. It used to be a hunting ground for the Koyukon Athabaskans and the Nunamiut Eskimo communities. They link their ancestors back to the area where this river is found. There are also a number of prehistoric sites that are as old as 4000 years near this area.


3. Arrigtech Peaks

The Arrigtech Peaks are one of the best in the world for climbing and other mountaineering activities. It is difficult to reach this location but is a favorite for many rock climbers, even though not many people end up climbing the mountain. Most people prefer to climb near the drainages, mainly Arrigtech Creek, Aquarius Valley, and the Aiyagomahala Valley.

A stay at the peaks is for 21 days and requires a lot of gear. There are certain guidelines you need to follow so that you do not leave a human impact on the area during your climb.

This area is very mysterious and wild, making it a great spot to truly witness nature’s beauty. Because of there being very few visitors to the area, you’ll find an amazing, remote spot to yourself surrounded by 37,000 acres of granite.


4. Anaktuvuk Pass

The Anaktuvuk Pass is in the Brooks Range in the divide between the Anaktuvuk and John rivers and is at the elevation of 2,200 feet. It is the last place left where a community of250 Nunamiut still lives. The area is a village and is one of the most beautiful villages that you will find on the North Slope. There are mountains, rivers, and lakes surrounding the area.

The place is a historic route for caribou, so there are chances you might see them if you go during the right season. There is a museum there as well, that is open throughout the year and showcases the natural, geological and cultural background of the pass. It also tells you about the people who migrate through the Bering Land Bridge. There are displays of original Nunamiut clothes, domestic appliances and the tools they used for hunting back when the initial Western population first entered the area.


5. Mount Igikpak Mountain

This mountain is the highest of all the mountains in the Schwatka Mountains area of the Brooks Range. Not only this, but it is also the highest mountain in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, so this is a place you should consider seeing if you’re visiting the area. Its height is around 8,276 feet and it is close to the head of the Noatak River. Its name means the “two big peaks” because there are two very high pillars of rocks that lead up to the top of the peak.


6. Tinayguk River

The Tinayguk is the biggest river of the tributaries of the North Fork of the Koyukuk. It flows completely inside the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and is around 44 miles in length. It’s in huge glaciers that have formed a valley and surrounded by the Endicott Mountains.

There are many opportunities to hike and backpack across the route of the river, but you will find it harder to enter this area than the North Fork of Koyukuk. However, if you do manage to make it to this river, you will see a variety of wildlife that has made the area around this river their home.


7. Noatak River

The Noatak River drains the biggest river basin in America and until now, it still one of the places that has been affected the least by human activity. However, because of people stopping here to be picked up, or getting dropped off here, the vegetation in the nearby areas is starting to get damaged. If you come to visit this river, make sure you directly to the gravel bars to camp and do not use any new paths apart from the trails that have already been made.

This river is in a glacial valley that is surrounded by mountains with snowcapped peaks. Being one of the longest rivers in Alaska, it’s great for floating, nature-watching and exploring as you travel through the route of the river. There are many caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears and raptor species that live along the area of this river, giving you opportunities to spot them on your visit. It has been a route for natives to travel for thousands of years, so it gives you a glimpse of history as well.


Safety Travelling Tips

When you travel to this vast wilderness, you have to keep in mind that you are entering an area that has not been affected by human activity at all. You need to make sure that your trip, your group and your attitude towards the gates is respectful and careful of the impacts of what you’re doing.

There are no services inside the park and preserve, which means that you will barely be able to get in contact with anyone if anything dangerous happens. This is why you have to be careful to follow the rules and regulations so you do not end up in a situation where you need to call for help. Your survival skills need to be excellent.

The trails and paths are not set out, so you need to know how to hike on your own and find your paths through the vegetation and rocks. There are also going to be many encounters with rivers because there are several rivers in the area. If you don’t have good backcountry skills to take you and a group of people out into the park, it is better to take a guide. A guide will help you stay safe, choose the best routes, all while being able to enjoy the nature around you. You can also opt for an air-taxi that will take you to the locations you want to visit.

You need to be prepared for any kind of emergencies or last-minute changes that you might have to face. Make sure you take enough food, because if there are any delays, you do not want to run out of food without being able to leave the park and preserve. Being able to provide yourself and stay healthy despite the cold and wild is essential because these are all part of going to a place that is as unexplored and untouched as this.


Parting Words

If you’re looking for a place that gives you a hands-on experience of what life was like in prehistoric times, this park is the best place for you to go. You will spend a huge sum of money to get here, so it’s always better to make sure no unforeseen circumstances ruin your trip for you.

This is not the kind of trip that anyone can take. It takes skills, dedication, perseverance, and patience. However, if you do manage to pull this trip off, there are experiences that you have here that are not physically possible anywhere else. The remoteness, wilderness, the lack of human presence, makes this the kind of place that makes you have the kind of exposure you would otherwise never have in any other tourist spot.

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is not your typical vacation spot. This trip takes months of planning and a lot of preparations, but when you eventually manage to go through with this trip, the 14-21 days you end up spending there will teach you aspects about life and the earth’s history that you will never forget.

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Your Guide to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Book AuthorGoglides
PublisherGoglides Publication
LanguageEnglish
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Your Guide to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve: General Summary


Date of Establishment

The park was made to protect the beauty of the arctic and preserve the habitats of Western Arctic Carbou Herd that live across the park. In 1980, legislation was passed to protect all the wildlife and their habitats that are found within the area. On December 2, 1980, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was established.


Popular Season

People visit the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve at different times of the year depending on what they are aiming to experience. Most people avoid the winter season because of the extreme cold. It is very difficult to participate in any activities because of the strong winds and temperatures falling below freezing.

If you want to make the most of the experience and witness as many wildlife habitats as you can, it is better to visit in the summer. Many activities take place in the summer, for children as well as adults. There are many heritage sites to see if the weather is warm because it is easier to travel.

Another important thing to remember is that once you’re inside the park, it is very difficult to establish communication with the park’s services. There are limited signals and if you are lost in the cold somewhere among the mountains while backpacking, it could be a costly mistake.


The Visitor’s Centers

There are four visitor centers at the park that are available for guests

1. Bettles Ranger Station and Visitor Center:

This center is found outside the periphery of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

2. Anaktuvak Pass Ranger Station:

This is a ranger contact station and is open throughout the year for the exterior display.

3. Arctic Interagency Visitor Center:

This center is found on the Dalton Highway for multi-agency purposes.

4. Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center:

This visitor’s center has a variety of exhibits where you can watch movies about the park, plan out your trip with the help of the park’s advisors, and figure out what you’ll need for your trip. This is inside of the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center in Fairbanks, Alaska.


Introduction

Gates of the Arctic National Park is an area consisting of around seven million and fifty-two thousand acres of public land. The Gates of the Arctic National Preserve consists of almost nine hundred thousand acres of federal land. These lands have been maintained for a number of reasons, mainly to preserve the way the area naturally is.

They were made so that people who visit have the opportunity to experience the serenity and isolation that the area has to offer. This undeveloped and natural way of the park gives visitors a chance to explore the mountains, forelands, rivers, lakes and other scenic features of the area without having to be disturbed by manmade structures.

There are opportunities for people to mountain-climb and explore the mountains in a safe way, by providing just enough access without harming the wildlife. There are also other wilderness exploration activities at the park.

Another reason why the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was made was to protect the numerous amounts of animals and their habitats that exist in that area. The preserve offers protection to the different species of fishes, caribou, bears, sheep, moose, wolves and birds that have made a home there for generations.

In some areas of the park, locals have been allowed to maintain their subsistence uses of the park land. They have been doing these practices since generations and know how to carry out their activities without harming the park’s land.


What is the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve?

Wind, water, temperatures, and glacial and tectonic movements are what brought into being the different landscapes in this area, which is east-west of the Rocky Mountains. There are mountains here that stretch up to 4,000 feet and then have limestone and granite peaks that rise to make a total height of 7,000 feet. There are six national rivers and other water bodies that go through the park, such as the Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukuk and Tinayguk rivers. A lot of visitors to the park aim to get an experience of solitude that these landmarks provide, and that is why the park’s management works towards providing people with that experience.

Grizzlies, black bears, foxes, among other wildlife can be found at this park, while other migratory birds fly here in the spring break. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch glimpse of as many wildlife species as you can, because they are so spread out it is impossible to see them all.

There are eleven zones across the park where different communities live and work in direct contact with the park.


A Brief History

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was initially made to protect the 8.4 million acres of the ecosystems in the state of Alaska. The name comes from Robert Marshall, a wildlife and wilderness advocate who said that the two mountains, Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain were like the gates from Brook’s Range into the very north, the Arctic.

He found this park and made it his home in the start of the 1930s and decided that this great North American wilderness needed to be protected at all costs.


Humans have been living in this part of the world at the Brooks Range for over thirteen thousand years and have been a consistent part of the area’s ecosystem ever since. Hunters and nomads have traveled this land and moved between these mountains for thousands of years, traveling through the forests and land formations of the Arctic Coast throughout their life.

Currently, the descendants of these ancient civilizations still use the land of the park. They rely on the resources that the park and preserve provide. There are villages inside of the park, reminiscent of old communities, like the Nunamiut Inupiat village called Anatuvak Pass.

The thousands of archeological sites that are found scattered throughout the park represent the history not only of the land, but of the intertwining of the land and the people that have always lived there. Even now, different descendants of old communities call this land their home, like the Athapaskan and Inupiat, as well as some Non-Native Alaskan people.

In the past, the communities that lived here traveled from place to place all through the year, going to different camps across the park that produced certain harvest for that season. Over the last one hundred years, people have started to make permanent settlements and created communities and small towns that remain at all times of the year.

Back in the 1880s, people from European backgrounds had started to visit the area that is now the park, mainly the Central Brooks Range. Many military explorers had the difficult task to travel the entire land and map the territory, which had never been explored and documented before. They made their way through the rivers and mountains and were soon accompanied by prospectors. Soon after, when people scavenged the land with the hopes of finding gold, they began making mining camps to get through the incredibly cold winters. The government sent scientists to research on the nature and culture of the area and from there, the area was finally brought into light and was noted in history.

Now, many adventure seekers travel to this park just to get an experience of the wilderness that the park has to offer. This aspect of the park is a recent addition to the previous ways that the park was used.


Environment

There are black-spruce forests known as taiga scattered across the slopes that face the north. There are Boreal forests consisting of white spruce, aspen, and birch on the slopes that face the south. There are a number of different trees and plant species at the tree line, like dwarf and resin birch, alder, and willow.

Alpine tundra are often found in mountainous areas but the alder and tussocks found in the valleys often make it harder to hike in these areas. If you’re planning on backpacking through these ranges, you will only be able to manage around five miles in a day.

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve has long winters. On one side, there is the North Slope and the Arctic Coastal Plain, while on the other is the Yukon River and the drainage from the upland areas of the northern Interior and wetlands. A well known fact about this area is that the climate is always extreme. There are different temperature ranges depending on where in the area you go, with the climate being sub-arctic in some places and the winter season going much below zero. There are strong winds and low rainfall, but the summers are somewhat warm compared to the extreme cold.



Planning Your Itinerary

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is one of the only places still left on earth that qualifies as the pure wild. People who visit this park know that they’re signing up for an adventure that will test all their survival skills. You need sufficient information on how to survive in the wild, along with the right gear, to make sure you have an experience that you won’t forget. Whether you choose to explore the wilderness, have fun, or just find a place that you can be alone, you have the whole park and preserve to use for your adventures.

There are several natural creations that you can travel to within the park, like valleys, mountains and entire ecosystems where you can see that people have lived in union with the land for thousands of years. There are also many rivers labeled as the Wild Rivers whose scenic beauty you can enjoy. You can also fish at the alpine lake or just sit back and watch the wildlife walk by.

The area and climate of the Brooks Range are extremely difficult to handle for most people unless they have the proper equipment and knowledge. However,if you know how to, you have more than 8.4 million acres of land you can traverse through however you want.

There are different options you can opt for, like air-taxis for trips that take you sight-seeing to places that are harder to access. They offer trips to isolated locations at the park where you can camp out overnight or through the day. You can get stamps for your NPS passport that allows you to visit these places, from the visitor’s center.


Hiking

Anyone who visits the park and preserve with the intentions of getting a hands-on experience of the wilderness will prefer to travel on foot through the park. The mountain passes and the ridges lead to new places where you get to be in total solitude. The most you can aim to hike in a day is around 6 miles and you will have to set aside a set of days that are dedicated to only hiking in order to get the full experience. Most group sizes can be up to 10 people only to reduce the environmental impact of humans on the area. Make sure you and your group members do not add any manmade damages to the areas you stay in.

You’ll be traveling large distances and across rivers, so it is very important to have a map and compass with you at all times. Having a trekking pole is helpful because of the rugged terrain.


Climbing

Climbing is a popular activity at the park and preserve. Most visitors prefer to climb the Arrigetch Peaks, Mount Doonerak and Mount Igipak as well as the surrounding areas. You get to these peaks by air. The climbs are quite challenging and require some skill. You have to keep all park regulations in mind, like cleaning up your trail and not using any fixed bolts or anchors. To learn more about rock climbing in this locality, read the American Alpine Club journals.


Birding

The sun doesn’t set in the summertime at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which makes it a preferred place for many birds to migrate to. There are a lot of permanent resident bird species too, like the Ptarmigan that can be spotted at all times of the year. Almost 145 different species of birds have been sighted at the park over the last three decades. They vary from aquatic birds, raptors, songbirds, and numerous others.

Because of these high bird populations, bird watching is very popular among the majority of visitors to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. People can observe the birds during their hikes, but also when they are out canoeing or boating. There are different spots to bird watch from as well, like in Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, Coldfoot as well as the Dalton Highway.

Some things to keep in mind when you’re out bird watching is that almost half of the birds found in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve are aquatic and live, as well as have their nests in aquatic habitats. You should also wait for the morning and evening hours to see the birds because they are more likely to be in the sky at these times. If you stay up till later in the night or wake up earlier in the morning, there are more chances for you to see them.

The Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center is a great resource to learn more about birding in the region and buy books related to it as well.


Camping

At the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, there is no specific place allocated for you to set up your campsites. Most people who set up camp in the area usually synchronize the days of the camping with the days they are participating in other activities nearby. There is a lot of planning and thinking that goes into camping in the arctic. You have to take extra precautions to ensure that none of the activities you engage in at your campsite causes any harm to the wildlife and ecosystem of that environment.


Finding a Place to Camp

The environment of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is easily damaged by outsiders. If you carry out anything that is alien and new to the environment, there’s a high chance that the damage you cause will not wear off easily. This is why it is better to find a campsite in an area that is more resistant to damage and human interaction. Surfaces like gravel bars are a preferred camping ground for most campers. There are lesser mosquitoes and insects there as compared to other locations and the high water makes it easier for any remnants of your presence to wash away after you leave.

The high water can also be dangerous for you because it can well up unannounced and harm you, or your campsite. Make sure you plan a place to camp in advance that is higher up than where the water levels presently are.

In some cases, you might decide that you need to set up camp in a grassy site with more greenery like moss and lichens. This will harm the vegetation of that area, so what you can do to minimize the damage is to pick a place that as sturdier greenery, for example, grass or sedges. Another important step you should take is to move your camp around after every 72 hours so that any implications of human life being there are less permanent. If you stay in one place for the entire duration, there are more chances that you will cause more damage to one area and it will become noticeable. You should also only wear soft shoes with soft soles to avoid breaking any flora.


Cooking in the Arctic

Keep a gas or propane stove with you, because starting a fire is not preferred. Trees grow extremely slow in the arctic and fires are a hazard to their wellbeing. It is also better for emergencies because it is much more convenient to start up than a fire. You’ll need certified bear-resistant containers for all your food because a bear that is used to eating human food will become a danger for both you and other tourists.


Exploring the Rivers

The rivers in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve are one of the main sites that all visitors are attracted to. No matter what you do, whether you are hiking, backpacking, camping or taking an air tour, you will come into contact with the rivers. They run throughout the park and preserve and are one of the main forms of transportation to cross from one place to another for the wildlife.

In some places, there are entire canyons that have come into existence from the movement of the water. They are the main source of water for the wildlife that migrates to the park and preserve in the summer and give a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the tourists to experience their scenic beauty. The Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukuk and Tinayguk Rivers are the primary rivers found here.


Hunting

The last activity that you can participate in at the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, but not at the Gates of the Arctic National Park is sport hunting and trapping. You’ll need to have a license and permit that complies with all other Alaskan state rules and regulations. You will need a driver’s license, hunting license, harvest tickets and tags before engaging in any hunting activities Some of the areas in the preserve are privately owned by individuals. You need to be careful not to enter someone else’s private land without their permission.

Visitors spend up to two weeks at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in order to fully experience all the different activities that the park has to offer. Each of the activities listed above takes days to complete, so break your trip down in such a way that you have enough time to participate in all of them before it is time for you to head back. It is also important to keep the weather in mind while planning your trip because if you arrive at a time when the winds are too strong and it is too cold for the wildlife to be spotted, you will not get to enjoy your trip.


Budgeting Your Trip

You know you have to spend quite an amount of time at the park so that you can explore as many places and see as many sites as you can manage. You will need to take a guided trip, as navigating through the park and preserve is difficult and can become dangerous if you are inexperienced. If you are ever lost in the area, there is little chance that you will be able to get into contact with anyone.


Getting a Traveling Group

Look for a travel group that will give you a rigorous experience that includes as many of your preferred activities as possible. You need to get in touch with a travel group and book places for yourself in their group as soon as you can, and they will organize most of the trip for you after that.

A guided trip is costly, so you have to be prepared to invest a lot of money. Any experienced traveling group will charge you a large sum of money, because they need to put in a significant amount of planning and effort into making sure that you, as well as the other members of your group who may be inexperienced and vulnerable in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve are safe and manage to enjoy the trip at the same time. Since the trip is lengthy as well, it costs more than any other camping or hiking trip you may have previously taken. The company that you choose to guide you in your tour will allot you a tour guide, gear, and pilots that are experienced and know how to navigate the area. They save you the hassle of planning, coordinating and managing the entire trip and they know what attractions and locations are worth seeing the most.

The equipment that is needed to safely make it through the climate of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is also expensive. The weather can change rapidly, so you have to be prepared for any hurdles that might come your way. This is why your travel group will charge you more, to accommodate all the dependable gear that you will need.


Gear

When you have decided to go on this trip, your travel company will give you a list of equipment that you will need to purchase before being ready to go on the trip. These are usually available on Amazon.com. If you regularly go on similar hiking and climbing trips like this one, you might already have some of the equipment on you beforehand. The group you are traveling with will probably give you tents, boating equipment, personal floatation devices, and paddles, which is the bulkier of the equipment. You will need to purchase your personal gear by yourself.


Flights

You will be going by air to Fairbanks at the start of your trip. Over there, you are going to be staying at a hotel where your other group members will meet you, as well as your tour guide. They are going to make sure that you have all the necessary equipment and that all of your gear is waterproof. They will discuss the major aspects of the trip with you to make sure everyone is on the same page before the trip begins.

The following day, you will all be flying in two bush flights on floatplanes that go to Bettles first, where you meet at the National Park Visitor Center. They will give you a talk on everything you need to know to be safe at the park. The next flight takes you to a place near Noatak River, which is the passage-way into the Gates.


Park Entry

There are no fees to enter the park or register to enter the park. If you’re traveling in a group, you have to notify the park many months in advance to get the permit details.


Budgeting

Keeping all these factors in mind, make sure that you budget your trip so that you can afford all the best services without going bankrupt. This is not the kind of trip that you can afford more than once. It is the kind of trip that you need to save up for over a long period of time. There are many flights you will take, the equipment you will buy and hotels that you will be staying in on the way to the main destination. You also need to plan the food beforehand, because there are no places where you will be staying that will provide food on the spot.



The Top Attractions at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve


There are a number of places at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve for visitors to see. When you are on a trip that spans for over two weeks, there is more time for you to see more places. It is up to you and your travel group whether you want to squeeze in more sites or spend more time at fewer sites because this is the kind of opportunity you do not get more than once.


1. North Fork of the Koyukuk River

This river flows from the southern part of the Arctic Divide and passes through the valleys that have been carved by glaciers in the Endicott Mountains. These mountains are found in the Central Brooks Range and the river passes through the Boreal Mountain and the Frigid Crags. This fork of the river, later on, joins the middle fork and flows all the way to Bettles Field.

The beauty of this river is that it is found amongst valleys formed by glaciers and is surrounded by the peaks of the Endicott Mountains. There are some rapids that are difficult to manage if the water levels are too high, but the wilderness that you witness when you go back-packing through this river is one-of-a-kind. There are a number of different animals that cross the path of this river on their way while migrating, like the caribou.

This part of the river also has a large collection of archaeological and historical remnants of a time in the past. Out of many areas of the park and preserve that contain these historical sites, this area contains some of the most. There are gold mining sites from as early as the 20th century, as well as prehistoric landmarks from over ten thousand years ago.


2. Alatna River

This river is known for its wilderness and scenic beauty since 1980. It has amazing geological sites and scenery across the corridor of the river. There are many changes in the scenery as you travel along this river, like snow-covered mountains at the top and a vast, green forest as you move onwards.

People love visiting this river for the hiking, fishing and floating that is available in this area. The scenery provides a great place to take photographs and study the numerous wildlife and nature that surrounds the area.

The mountains in the central Brooks Range, including the Arrigetch Peaks, can be seen from this river. There are many creatures that are migrating through the area, including the arctic caribou. This history surrounding this area is immense. It used to be a hunting ground for the Koyukon Athabaskans and the Nunamiut Eskimo communities. They link their ancestors back to the area where this river is found. There are also a number of prehistoric sites that are as old as 4000 years near this area.


3. Arrigtech Peaks

The Arrigtech Peaks are one of the best in the world for climbing and other mountaineering activities. It is difficult to reach this location but is a favorite for many rock climbers, even though not many people end up climbing the mountain. Most people prefer to climb near the drainages, mainly Arrigtech Creek, Aquarius Valley, and the Aiyagomahala Valley.

A stay at the peaks is for 21 days and requires a lot of gear. There are certain guidelines you need to follow so that you do not leave a human impact on the area during your climb.

This area is very mysterious and wild, making it a great spot to truly witness nature’s beauty. Because of there being very few visitors to the area, you’ll find an amazing, remote spot to yourself surrounded by 37,000 acres of granite.


4. Anaktuvuk Pass

The Anaktuvuk Pass is in the Brooks Range in the divide between the Anaktuvuk and John rivers and is at the elevation of 2,200 feet. It is the last place left where a community of250 Nunamiut still lives. The area is a village and is one of the most beautiful villages that you will find on the North Slope. There are mountains, rivers, and lakes surrounding the area.

The place is a historic route for caribou, so there are chances you might see them if you go during the right season. There is a museum there as well, that is open throughout the year and showcases the natural, geological and cultural background of the pass. It also tells you about the people who migrate through the Bering Land Bridge. There are displays of original Nunamiut clothes, domestic appliances and the tools they used for hunting back when the initial Western population first entered the area.


5. Mount Igikpak Mountain

This mountain is the highest of all the mountains in the Schwatka Mountains area of the Brooks Range. Not only this, but it is also the highest mountain in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, so this is a place you should consider seeing if you’re visiting the area. Its height is around 8,276 feet and it is close to the head of the Noatak River. Its name means the “two big peaks” because there are two very high pillars of rocks that lead up to the top of the peak.


6. Tinayguk River

The Tinayguk is the biggest river of the tributaries of the North Fork of the Koyukuk. It flows completely inside the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and is around 44 miles in length. It’s in huge glaciers that have formed a valley and surrounded by the Endicott Mountains.

There are many opportunities to hike and backpack across the route of the river, but you will find it harder to enter this area than the North Fork of Koyukuk. However, if you do manage to make it to this river, you will see a variety of wildlife that has made the area around this river their home.


7. Noatak River

The Noatak River drains the biggest river basin in America and until now, it still one of the places that has been affected the least by human activity. However, because of people stopping here to be picked up, or getting dropped off here, the vegetation in the nearby areas is starting to get damaged. If you come to visit this river, make sure you directly to the gravel bars to camp and do not use any new paths apart from the trails that have already been made.

This river is in a glacial valley that is surrounded by mountains with snowcapped peaks. Being one of the longest rivers in Alaska, it’s great for floating, nature-watching and exploring as you travel through the route of the river. There are many caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears and raptor species that live along the area of this river, giving you opportunities to spot them on your visit. It has been a route for natives to travel for thousands of years, so it gives you a glimpse of history as well.


Safety Travelling Tips

When you travel to this vast wilderness, you have to keep in mind that you are entering an area that has not been affected by human activity at all. You need to make sure that your trip, your group and your attitude towards the gates is respectful and careful of the impacts of what you’re doing.

There are no services inside the park and preserve, which means that you will barely be able to get in contact with anyone if anything dangerous happens. This is why you have to be careful to follow the rules and regulations so you do not end up in a situation where you need to call for help. Your survival skills need to be excellent.

The trails and paths are not set out, so you need to know how to hike on your own and find your paths through the vegetation and rocks. There are also going to be many encounters with rivers because there are several rivers in the area. If you don’t have good backcountry skills to take you and a group of people out into the park, it is better to take a guide. A guide will help you stay safe, choose the best routes, all while being able to enjoy the nature around you. You can also opt for an air-taxi that will take you to the locations you want to visit.

You need to be prepared for any kind of emergencies or last-minute changes that you might have to face. Make sure you take enough food, because if there are any delays, you do not want to run out of food without being able to leave the park and preserve. Being able to provide yourself and stay healthy despite the cold and wild is essential because these are all part of going to a place that is as unexplored and untouched as this.


Parting Words

If you’re looking for a place that gives you a hands-on experience of what life was like in prehistoric times, this park is the best place for you to go. You will spend a huge sum of money to get here, so it’s always better to make sure no unforeseen circumstances ruin your trip for you.

This is not the kind of trip that anyone can take. It takes skills, dedication, perseverance, and patience. However, if you do manage to pull this trip off, there are experiences that you have here that are not physically possible anywhere else. The remoteness, wilderness, the lack of human presence, makes this the kind of place that makes you have the kind of exposure you would otherwise never have in any other tourist spot.

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is not your typical vacation spot. This trip takes months of planning and a lot of preparations, but when you eventually manage to go through with this trip, the 14-21 days you end up spending there will teach you aspects about life and the earth’s history that you will never forget.