How to Get to Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park is one of those largely-undiscovered destinations where the scenery is stunning and the wildlife outnumbers the people.

Gates of the Arctic is the second-largest national park in America, but because it’s in such a remote part of Alaska, it’s also the second least-visited national park, averaging a paltry 26 visitors per day.

The entire park lies north of the Arctic Circle, and it has no roads or major airports. It’s renowned for the untouched beauty of its mountains and rivers, and the large numbers of grizzly bears, caribou, muskox, wolves, and other animals that thrive in the Arctic.

I finally had the chance to visit Gates of the Arctic last year, as part of my effort to visit all 63 national parks. I loved the tranquility and the feeling that I was hundreds of miles away from civilization.

how to get to gates of the arctic
A guided tour via bush plane is one of the best ways to get to Gates of the Arctic NP.

Curious about getting here? Most people visit on a small bush plane, which can land in various sections of the park. You can take short flights that offer a quick landing, or multiple-day group tours that involve camping the park.

Or, if you’re really motivated, you could conceivably drive up the gravel Dalton Highway and hike a few miles to get inside the park boundary. But that method has plenty of challenges, which we’ll discuss.

Options for visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park:
1. Single-day bush plane flights
2. Multiple-day guided tours with camping
3. Driving the Dalton Highway and hiking in (difficult)

Let’s go over each of these options with some practical tips for how you can visit Gates of the Arctic National Park, and how much such a journey would cost.

All photos by Quirky Travel Guy, except where noted.

How to Get to Gates of the Arctic National Park: Three Options

Option #1: Take a short bush plane flight

gates of the arctic - day flight

The quickest way to see Gates of the Arctic is to book a bush plane flight into the park. Several airplane companies offer short flights into the park to let tourists get a quick taste of the national park.

Flying over the land is a cool way to see the area. You’ll see the mountains up close, and the rivers that snake through the valleys.

gates of the arctic snaking rivers

For most flights, you’ll need to get yourself to Fairbanks, and then fly on a small plane to Bettles, Coldfoot, or Anaktuvuk Pass from there.

Various companies offer flightseeing tours. Fly Coyote, for instance, has a short trip for $540 per person that includes one hour in the air on a floatplane, and 30 minutes on a lake in the park. It’s very short, but it’s one of the more affordable options for visiting Gates of the Arctic. That tour originates from Coldfoot.

Fly Coyote offers several different Gates of the Arctic tours. Some flights fly you right between Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountain, which are the two landmarks that are considered the “gates” of the park. That’s a pretty epic sight, as seen below.

gates of the arctic
Incredible plane view of the actual “gates” of the park. (NPS)

Another Fly Coyote bush plane flies from Coldfoot to Anaktuvak Pass, a small native community in the northern region of the park. Tourist flights do land in Anaktuvuk Pass frequently during the summer.

Technically, Anaktuvuk Pass is not within Gates of the Arctic National Park. See this map. The darker green area surrounding Anaktuvuk Pass is the official park land.

anaktuvuk pass map

The NPS says that visitors can “walk into the park from the airstrip.” It’s only a couple miles from the Anaktuvuk airport to get inside the park boundary.

However, the Fly Coyote “Gates of the Arctic Cultural Tour” which lands at Anaktuvuk Pass also makes a second stop on a lake inside Gates of the Arctic, so you are guaranteed to get time inside in the national park.

The other tour company you may want to consider for a short day trip is Bettles Lodge. They fly from the town of Bettles, obviously. They offer trips into Gates of the Arctic, though their website doesn’t list a price, so you’ll have to call to verify.

Option #2: Join a multiple-day guided group tour

hiking gates of the arctic
Hiking inside Gates of the Arctic National Park.

The guided group tour was the option I chose, because I didn’t want to do a quick fly-by. I wanted to actually spend a couple days on the ground inside the park.

Group tours allow for some camping in the park. Many of these tours visit both remote national parks: Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley.

I joined the tour with Arctic Wild and had a pretty good experience, camping for three nights in the western edge of Gates of the Arctic along the Ambler River.

We were only supposed to be there for two nights, but heavy fog and rain caused our pickup to be delayed an extra day, since it wasn’t safe for the plane to fly in. That sort of thing is not uncommon, due to Alaska’s unpredictable weather.

gates of the arctic guided tour
Hanging out at our group campsite next to a river in Gates of the Arctic.

Here are some of the guided tours that will get you time on the ground inside Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Arctic Wild – Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks Tour (from Kotzebue, AK)
Destinations: Kobuk Valley & Gates of the Arctic NPs. This tour visits the extreme western end of Gates of the Arctic.
Details: 5 days (2 days camping in each park), cost is $8,500
More info:

Arctic Treks Adventures – Kobuk & Gates of the Arctic Basecamp (from Fairbanks, AK)
Destinations: Kobuk Valley & Gates of the Arctic NPs. This tour visits the eastern side of Gates of the Arctic.
Details: 5 days (mostly camping in Gates of the Arctic, with a day trip to Kobuk Valley), cost is $7,800
More info:

Alaska Alpine Adventures – Various tours offered (from Fairbanks, AK)
Destinations: Gates of the Arctic NP only. These tours visit various sections of the park.
Details: Tours range from 10-12 days and include rafting, hiking, or backpacking, cost $6,195-8,495
More info:

The main difference between these tours? The Arctic Wild tour features two nights of camping in each park, while the Arctic Treks tour features four nights camping in Gates of the Arctic, and just a short day trip to Kobuk Valley.

And the Alaska Alpine tours are much different, as they focus more on rafting, backpacking, and constantly moving around, while the other two stay in a central location.

Arctic Treks Adventures also offers a week-long “Fall Caribou Basecamp” trip that is based entirely on the August caribou migration. That trip costs $7,150.

By the way, there’s no official welcome sign for Gates of the Arctic National Park, but some of the tour companies will bring one that you can pose with!

gates of the arctic welcome sign

Option #3: Drive the Dalton Highway to Coldfoot and hike into the park

Ok, here’s the most adventurous option for getting to Gates of the Arctic. You can feasibly drive up the Dalton Highway and hike just a couple short miles to get inside the park boundary.

Here’s the map, showing how close the park (shaded in dark green) is from the nearby town of Coldfoot. Note the map scale, showing the park is less than 5 miles from Coldfoot.

coldfoot alaska park map

It may look like hiking from Coldfoot into Gates of the Arctic would be a breeze, a simple day hike. However… reaching the park this way is much more complicated than it may appear, for several reasons.

First, the Dalton Highway is mostly gravel. Which means that rental cars from national chains won’t be allowed on it. You’ll have to find one of the rare local companies, such as Alaska Auto Rental, which permits driving on gravel roads — and their vehicles are expensive.

Next, the drive from Fairbanks to Coldfoot is long. It’s 253 miles, which takes more than 6 hours on the two-lane gravel road.

The scenery is pretty, but you’ll have to be completely self-sufficient, since there are few towns along the way to stop for food or gas. Better have a couple of spare tires with you, just in case.

There are places on the Dalton Highway that are closer to Gates of the Arctic than Coldfoot, but the Dalton Highway isn’t particularly wide, so you can’t just leave your vehicle anywhere you want on the side of the road.

Thus, you’d likely need to set up a homebase in Coldfoot, leave your vehicle, and then begin a trek into the park. There are no trails into the park, and you will have to make at least one river crossing, and possibly several smaller stream crossings as well. And you’ll likely be hiking through boggy, swampy land. It’s quite an ordeal.

I have not personally hiked into Gates of the Arctic from Coldfoot, and I am not recommending this method. As noted, it can be quite dangerous. It is not recommended for anyone other than experienced outdoors adventurers who are comfortable reading navigational maps and GPS, hiking and camping in bear country, and enduring various unexpected weather conditions. Your safety is your own responsibility.

That said, a small number of people do in fact make this hike. The National Park Service has a page about the Dalton Highway, which specifically states “it is possible to hike into the park from the road.”

Here’s a youtube video from a hiking duo who went to Coldfoot, attended a park orientation at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, and then hiked into Gates of the Arctic.

They drove to Nolan Road in the tiny town of Wiseman, 30 minutes north of Coldfoot, and hiked into the national park from there. They established her plan after talking with rangers at the Coldfoot visitor center. Please do the same if you intend to attempt this hike.

So there you have it, the three main ways to visit Gates of the Arctic!

Common Questions About Visiting Gates of the Arctic

How much does visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park cost?

Hiking in from the Dalton Highway would be the cheapest method, if you have your own vehicle capable of driving on the gravel road. In that case, you’re just paying for gas and lodging in Coldfoot, which could be less than $500 total.

If you have to rent a car, that increases the price significantly. The short day trip via Fly Coyote for $540 would be the cheapest method in that case. But you still have to get to Coldfoot first, either by car or a short plane flight, so you’re probably looking at $1000 total.

The longer multi-day tours that cost $6000 to $8500 are obviously the most expensive, but they include meals and several days of camping with a guide.

What time of year should I visit?

These tours operate mostly in late June, July, and August. The rest of the year, the weather is too unpredictable. There are a handful of guided tours in spring and fall, but for the average tourist, you’ll want to come during the summer months.

summer mountains national park
A beautiful summer day in Gates of the Arctic NP along the Ambler River.

What’s the best way for a solo traveler to visit Gates of the Arctic?

Traveling alone adds another layer of complexity to a Gates of the Arctic trip, since many flightseeing trips require a minimum of 2 people. That means solo travelers are out of luck — or have to pay a hefty additional fee.

When I visited Gates of the Arctic as a solo traveler, I found the best option to be the multiple-day guided tour from Kotzebue. These small group tours tend to have 6 to 8 people, so a single traveler can secure a spot at no extra charge.

Are there hiking trails and campgrounds in Gates of the Arctic NP?

Nope! There are no established trails and no campgrounds. You can just hike wherever you want, and set up your tent wherever you want. That’s the beauty of visiting such a remote place!

What’s it like camping inside Gates of the Arctic?

I can share my experience with Arctic Wild. We camped along a gravel riverbed, surrounded by mountains. This allowed us to hike in the valley and up in the forests.

camping gates of the arctic

It was fun camping out there so far from other people. We were able to do day hikes from our central location. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any significant wildlife other than birds.

We had a group cooking tent and lots of good food, so it was a fun and comfortable experience, even when the rain come roaring in on day two.

The weather swings were wild. Day one was above 70 F (we went swimming in the river!), while the last two days were in the 50s F. Hiking was difficult, as we had to cross numerous streams, so waterproof boots, shoes, and socks were very useful.

What do you think is the best way to get to Gates of the Arctic National Park? Leave a comment and let us know?

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