Gates of the Arctic National
Park and Preserve
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, one of the finest wilderness areas in the world, straddles the Arctic Divide in the Brooks Range, America's northernmost chain of mountains. Second only to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in size, Gates of the Arctic covers 13,238 square miles, sprawls 800 miles from east to west and is entirely north of the Arctic Circle. It extends from the southern foothills of the Brooks Range, across the range's ragged peaks and down onto the North Slope. Most of the park is a maze of glaciated valleys and gaunt, rugged mountains covered with boreal forest or treeless slopes of Arctic tundra north of the divide. It is a habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep, moose, caribou and wolverines. Fishing is considered superb for grayling and Arctic char in the clear streams and for lake trout in the larger, deeper lakes.
Within this preserve are six Wild and Scenic Rivers, miles of valleys and tundra slopes to hike and, of course, the Gates themselves. Mt Boreal and Frigid Crags are the gates that flank the north fork of the Koyukuk River. In 1929 Robert Marshall found an unobstructed path northward to the Arctic coast of Alaska through these landmark mountains. Marshall's name for the two mountains has remained ever since.
With the exception of the Dalton Highway, the park is far from any roads and is home to only one village, Anaktuvuk Pass. Eight more Native villages dot the perimeter but all have less than 400 permanent residents. In the simplest terms, Gates of the Arctic is a vast wilderness the size as Switzerland that contains no National Park Service facilities, visitor centers or campgrounds. The only trails are those made by the Western Arctic caribou herd, the largest in Alaska at 490,000, the only people passing through are the truly adventurous visitors or subsistence hunters.
The remoteness of the park attracts mostly experienced backcountry travelers for float trips, backpacking treks or base camps set up to enjoy day hiking and fishing. Many visitors join guided trips that a handful of outfitters offer in summer for rafting and hiking or in the winter for dog mushing and cross-country skiing. Either as an independent traveler or as part of guided expedition, a visit to Gates of the Arctic requires careful planning and advance reservations.