HomeBlogs Gates of The Arctic National Park The view from the top gave us an excellent idea of the jagged country
toward which we were heading. The main Brooks Range divide was entirely
covered with snow. Close at hand, only about ten miles to the north, was
a precipitous pair of mountains, one on each side of the North Fork. I
bestowed the name Gates of the Arctic on them."
It was the early
1930s, and Robert Marshall had found his wilderness home, a remote,
uncluttered source of inspiration that would make him one of America’s
greatest conservationists. Gates of the Arctic was the ultimate North
American wilderness. Congress created the park to keep it that way.
practically any ridge in the heart of the park and you’ll see a dozen
glacial cirques side by side; serrated mountains that scythe the sky;
and storms that snap out of dark, brooding clouds. Six National Wild and
Scenic Rivers—Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukuk, and
Tinayguk—tumble out of high alpine valleys into forested lowlands. The
park lies entirely above the Arctic Circle, straddling the Brooks Range,
one of the world's northernmost mountain chains.
Kobuk Valley National Park and Noatak National Preserve, Gates of the
Arctic protects much of the habitat of the western arctic caribou.
Grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, and foxes also roam over the severe land
in search of food. Ptarmigan nibble on willow, and gyrfalcons dive for
Shafts of cinnabar sunlight pour through the mountains
at 2 a.m. in June, setting the wild land ablaze. In this mammoth
mountain kingdom—the northernmost reach of the Rockies—the summer sun
does not set for 30 straight days.
"No sight or sound or smell or
feeling even remotely hinted of men or their creations," wrote
Marshall. "It seemed as if time had dropped away a million years and we
were back in a primordial world."
How to Get There
pilots say that where the road ends, the real Alaska begins. And so it
is in Gates of the Arctic. You can fly or walk in; most people fly. From
Fairbanks (about 250 miles away), scheduled flights serve Anaktuvuk
Pass, an Eskimo village within the park borders; Bettles/ Evansville;
and Ambler, to the west. From Bettles/Evansville, Ambler, Fairbanks, or
Coldfoot, you can air taxi into the park. Allow time for bad weather and
delayed flights. From Anaktuvuk Pass, you can hike into the park along
the John River.
Or, you can drive up from Fairbanks on the
unpaved Dalton Highway (a pipeline haul road that's also open to the
public) and hike to the park from Wiseman or other points. But it's a
long, hard walk into the interior.
When to Go
It is short, but days are very long and for a while temperatures may be
relatively mild. Weather is highly unpredictable. Expect snow or rain in
any month. August can be very wet, with freezing temperatures by
mid-month. Mosquitoes and gnats are bad in late June and July. Fall
colors peak in mid-August at high elevations, late August to early
September at low elevations.
How to Visit
time to savor the subtle beauty of this vast wilderness. A combination
river-hiking trip offers the best of both. Air taxis are equipped to
land on lakes and gravel bars for drop-offs and pickups.
carefully and bring everything you need; there are no visitor facilities
in the park. This spare, harsh land is so fragile that a hiker's step
can kill lichens that take 150 years to reach full growth. Certain areas
were badly damaged by the increase in visitors after Gates of the
Arctic became a park.
Write or call Bettles Ranger Station before
planning a trip. There are no trails in the park, but you can ask for
suggestions about areas to visit, along with names of air taxis, guides,
and outfitters who operate in the park.