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Gates of the Arctic Wilderness

General Location Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws Trip Planning Images


The United States Congress designated the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness (map) in 1980 and it now has a total of 7,167,192 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Alaska and is managed by the National Park Service. The Gates of the Arctic Wilderness is bordered by the Noatak Wilderness to the west.


When Bob Marshall explored this region in the early 1930s, two looming peaks near the head of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River (Boreal Mountain and Frigid Crags) left a lasting impression on him. He dubbed them "The Gates of the Arctic." Straddling the central Brooks Range and looming entirely above the Arctic Circle, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve protects a mass of land four times larger than Yellowstone National Park. The park is managed primarily as Wilderness. On the south slopes visitors will find a sampling of thin boreal forest. The ragged, majestic peaks of the Brooks Range invite exploration and give way northward to rolling tundra, too far north for many trees to grow, where barren-ground caribou travel in huge herds and grizzly bears roam away their solitary lives. Moose, wolves, Dall sheep, black bears, and smaller mammals share the park. Eagles and hawks soar overhead. On the extreme northern verge the land is polar desert, one of the driest places on Earth.

Remote glacier-carved valleys split the range, drained by clear rivers and dotted with alpine lakes. Anglers head here for the grayling, char, and chum salmon often found in abundance in the rivers. Although no established trails exist, backpacking is becoming increasingly popular in Gates of the Arctic. Many hikers carry a firearm for protection from bears, but attacks are uncommon. Climbers are attracted to the Arrigetch Peaks and Mount Igikpak. Sport hunting and trapping is allowed on the preserve section. Although camping is unrestricted, wood is scarce and campfires are discouraged.

Waterways suitable for floating or paddling are seemingly endless and include all or part of six Wild and Scenic Rivers: all 83 miles of the Alatna River, which roars out of the Arrigetch Peaks; all 52 miles of the crystalline John River; all 110 miles of the Kobuk River, with its sweeping vistas of the Brooks Range; all 102 miles of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River, running through a glacier-carved valley; part of the 330 miles of the Noatak River, the longest member of the Wild and Scenic family in America; and all 44 miles of the remote and seldom visited Tinayguk River.

Planning to Visit the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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