Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park: 5 Great Reasons to Go

Published: April 16, 2024

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska’s Far North Region is one of America’s most remote, rugged and pristine parks. In Alaska, a state filled with many unique travel destinations, Gates of the Arctic remains one of the Last Frontier’s off-the-radar travel gems.

Untamed and Untouched Alaska Wilderness and Adventure – At Its Finest

Popular lore about Gates of the Arctic is inspired by its location. This remote wilderness park is situated in Alaska’s Arctic Circle where there are no roads, sidewalks, trails, or signs of civilization – there isn’t even a visitors’ center! Instead, this staggering 8-million-acre park protecting the mountains of the Brooks Range, lies untamed and practically untouched, packed with intimidating and awe-inspiring landscapes, colorful tundra, jagged peaks, and rocky glacier-carved valleys filled with raging rivers and serene lakes. Hosting diverse flora and fauna, this area in Alaska sometimes also features some of Alaska’s wildest weather. But while its climate and location might be challenging, it is also a habitat for a variety of wilderness wildlife, from herds of caribou to packs of wolves, and so much more!

the Brooks Range mountains and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Source: Sherman Hogue/Explore Fairbanks

Gates of the Arctic is known both for its rugged wilderness beauty as well as for some of Alaska’s most exciting adventures. For bold travelers seeking the most extreme off-the-grid explorations to those who just want a day trip to the Arctic with unforgettable views and scenery, Gates of the Arctic National Park is wild and willing. Most folks travel here by plane, either flying over during a flightseeing tour or on a more extended land tour landing in the park, on a lake or on a park waterway.

Here are five great reasons to visit and explore the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve during your Alaska travels:

  1. Flightseeing Fun in Gates of the Arctic

The most popular way to experience this iconic Alaska park is by soaring high above it on an exhilarating Arctic flightseeing tour. A comfortable window seat gives travelers the ideal perspective for appreciating this vast and rugged wildland in America’s 49th state.

Alaska Tours offers two excellent flightseeing tour options in Gates of the Arctic National Park:

  • The Alaska Arctic Circle Flightseeing Tour is a day trip out of Fairbanks that takes travelers into the heart of the Arctic Circle, with a stop in Coldfoot, and a flight above the park’s breathtaking vistas, ancient glaciers, and rugged mountain peaks.
  • The Bettles Lodge Alaska Tour expands this journey with a stay (or multiday stays) at the charming Bettles Lodge including opportunities to embark on flightseeing excursions around the Gates of the Arctic, the Kobuk Valley and more.

Bettles Lodge in Alaska’s Far North Region

  1. Rafting, Canoeing (and Fishing) the Park’s Waterways

For adrenaline junkies and outdoor enthusiasts, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve offers thrilling packrafting and calming canoeing adventures on its spectacular rivers. The park has six designated wild and scenic rivers which offer varying levels adventures: John River, Noatak River, Kobuk River, Alatna River, Tinyaguk River, and the North Fork of the Koyukuk River. Whitewater guides and outfitters plan and operate safe but exciting expeditions for all levels of rafters and canoers exploring this national park’s rivers as they carve through rugged wilderness and towering mountains. Bonus opportunity: there’s some amazing fishing in these areas, too!

Source: Alpine Fit

  1. A Backpacker’s and Hiker’s Paradise

Few national park experiences in Alaska are more intimate and immersive than backpacking, hiking and camping in Gates of the Arctic. Most often, these trips proceed through the varied landscapes of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River. But take note! This backpacking isn’t for the lighthearted and inexperienced. Congress literally made the park a trailless wilderness area, so hikers and backpackers must chart and navigate their own paths, or work with a local guide. Sound like a bit of a challenge? Yes, for sure, but the payoff for those hardy hikers who choose this park as their Alaska destination are some epic Arctic experiences. Imagine “blow your socks off” scenery from waterways, to vistas, and wildlife, all lit up by a big bright Midnight Sun that just doesn’t turn off, no human encounters for days amidst serene silence. This is an Arctic wilderness journey in Alaska, you’ll never forget.

Source: NPS (Josh Spice)

  1. Wildlife at Home in a Tough Wilderness Habitat 

Those who do choose to journey into Gates of the Arctic, or even just fly above it, can see some amazing Arctic wildlife and many of Alaska’s animal all-stars. And if you think Alaskans have a reputation for toughness, the animals that live and thrive in the harsh conditions and weather extremes of the Gates of the Arctic are genuine survivalists. Who lives here? Meandering herds of caribou, elusive packs of wolves, as well as big and burly grizzly and black bears. The mighty muskox and its thick fur and prehistoric demeanor are also park residents, prepared for the coldest of cold. Moose and Arctic foxes can be seen, too, and thousands of birds venture here: some migrating here for summer visits, and others year-round residents.

Silver fox walking in the Arctic

  1. A History of Survivalists: Alaska Native Cultures

Gates of the Arctic National Park may appear untouched by humans, but this area is surprisingly rich with Alaska culture and history. Dating back to prehistoric times and continuing today, humans have explored, hunted, farmed, and survived in the Brooks Range and all around the park. The National Park Service notes that nomadic “Alaska Natives, including the Iñupiat and Koyukon Athabscan, have lived in and traveled through this land for thousands of years, following the herds of caribou that helped them survive in this unforgiving place. People living in communities within or near the park continue to hunt wildlife and gather berries and other plant products from the land to help sustain themselves, and as part of their cultural heritage.”

Source: NPS Archives

Gates of the Arctic National Park might not appear on the typical “must-see” lists for many Alaska visitors, and it might not have the superstar draw of Denali National Park or Kenai Fjords. But this unique Alaska national park draws a special type of traveler seeking Alaska’s most remote and wild experiences, the Arctic’s unbelievable landscapes, and “only in Gates of the Arctic” most wild, wildlife. Don’t miss visiting it.