Dubbed Alaska’s ultimate wilderness for its 8 million acres of undisturbed, congressionally-protected land, Gates of the Arctic National Park is one of the best-reviewed but least-visited national parks in the United States, with a camping structure that’s as unique as the park itself.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to help you prepare for rustic camping in Gates of the Arctic National Park, you’ve come to the right place! Our Gates of the Arctic National Park Camping Guide has all the information you need to come prepared for a down-to-earth, one-of-a-kind backcountry camping experience!
What to Expect At Gates of the Arctic National Park
A sweeping, stunning, remote backcountry experience awaits you at this wilderness park! Gates of the Arctic National Park was fashioned in the interest of preserving and protecting over 8 million acres of the diverse arctic ecosystems and habitats in Alaska, full of naturally occurring plant and animal populations which are crucial to our planet’s wellbeing. A high level of self-sufficiency and flexibility is required to make the most of a trip to Gates of the Arctic National Park, where aid can often be scarce and the changing climate and landscape present unique challenges.
The Complete Guide to Gates of the Arctic National Park Camping
With all-season, all-weather camping allowed throughout the Gates of the Arctic, there’s no limit to when or where you can experience wilderness camping! But you’ll want to come prepared with an expectation for the best places to pitch camp and how to maximize your safety and that of the beautiful tundra, and that’s where our guide comes in handy!
(Note: Before you strike off on your Gates of the Arctic National Park camping expedition, the park requests that you stop in at one of their visitor centers and attend a backcountry orientation, where you will receive information on the park’s current weather, fire and wildlife alerts, backcountry safety, bear safety, and Leave No Trace camping techniques.)
Best Camping Spots
Because there are no designated sites for camping in Gates of the Arctic, it will take just a bit more preparation to have a truly safe and enjoyable camping experience here—but it’s well worth the effort!
The good news is, you can pitch your tent almost anywhere in the park in conjunction with your recreational activities. However, please be mindful that the arctic tundra can be very fragile to human disturbance; campers are encouraged to choose a very durable surface in order to avoid causing any harm to the environment.
The park’s natural gravel bars are considered the best camping option—just be sure to camp above water level in case the river rises.
If necessary, you can also pitch on a hardy vegetation site such as on grass or sedge (please avoid the fragile lichens and mosses).
Campers are encouraged to move camp every 2-3 days to avoid a lasting impact of their presence on the tundra; the use of soft-soled shoes around your campsite is also recommended in order to give vegetation a break from being trodden on.
While trenching for tents and cutting branches is prohibited, campers are allowed to use fallen wood for campfires when they find it (except during times of high fire danger); fires must be built on gravel bars or other durable surfaces. When breaking down your site after camping in Gates of the Arctic, please do your best to return everything to its most natural state before you strike back out into the tundra!
No booking or permits are required for Gates of the Arctic National Park camping, unless you are bringing an organized group (such as a nonprofit, educational, commercial, or guided tour). In these cases, you can visit the reservations and permits page and scroll down to “Contact the Park” to email them with your group details.
Things To Do At The Park
Set aside as a trailless wilderness, Gates of the Arctic is a fantastic place for some rustic hiking! Here you won’t find an official path to speak of; but you can traverse the backcountry in groups of 10 or fewer, blazing your own path or following along the many “game trails” laid down by animals, which affords some easier travel! (Note: If you are not following a game trail, please walk in a fan formation to avoid creating a new social trail that would disturb the environment.)
In addition to hiking, there are opportunities for rock climbing and birding, as well as fishing and hunting in set seasons and specific locations at the park (Note: Hunting is permitted within the National Preserve portion of Gates of the Arctic, but not within the National Park portion).
Wildlife abounds in Gates of the Arctic due to its strict focus on maintaining and preserving habitats and ecosystems to encourage the wellbeing and growth of the local animal inhabitants. Among those you might encounter as you hike, backpack, and camp are muskox, lynx, caribou, beavers, and snowshoe hares.
Also prolific in Gates of the Arctic are brown bears! Because of the abundance of these curious creatures, it’s important to come prepared and brush up on your bear and wildlife readiness; know what to do should you encounter these, or any other of the many animals who call the Gates of the Arctic home, as you traverse the wilderness.
Vegetation / Geography
From the boreal forest full of aspen, birch and spruce, to the boggy lowlands, all the way up to the vast and beautiful tundra full of moss, lichen, tussock and shrub, this national park patiently waits to welcome you with its unparalleled breed of beauty!
The variegated geography and terrain, each sporting its own unique vegetation and native life, is part of what makes Gates of the Arctic such a delight to visit and such a necessity to preserve and protect!
Make Sure To Bring
Arctic camping is among the most rugged wilderness camping excursions you can take. While backcountry camping, safety is a must! When planning for your Gates of the Arctic National Park Camping adventure, please be very mindful of this fact, and plan accordingly. You will want to bring plenty of layers, thermal sleeping gear, and a sturdy tent in top-of-the-line repair.
Make sure you have a well-stocked first-aid kit, plenty of food and water, a map and compass as well as a GPS if you can get your hands on one, and have a plan of action in case of any complications along the way.
Because the resources to build fires can be rare in the tundra’s sparse growth, it’s recommended that campers bring a small gas or propane camping stove for cooking (these can also be handy in case of an emergency, as they are easy to light).
It’s crucial to “bear” in mind while camping in Gates of the Arctic that you are in bear country! Campers are urged to keep a distance of 100 yards between their cooking/eating area and their sleeping area. Bring airtight, sturdy containers for all food, trash, and any odorous items such as toothpaste, deodorant, petroleum, etc., and stash these at a distance as well.
(Note: If you don’t have any Bear Resistant Food Containers on hand, you will find some on loan for backcountry visitors at the park’s visitor centers. Be sure to ask for some when you stop in for orientation!)
As you will likely do some degree of hiking through the tundra, it’s recommended to bring sturdy, warm footwear in good repair, as well as trekking poles, which come very much in handy on the uneven terrain. For catch and release fishing, please ensure your tackle is in good condition; and if rock climbing is on the agenda, you’ll want to make sure you bring the proper gear!
There are no fees or permits required for entry to Gates of the Arctic National Park.
This park is highly reviewed for being “nature overload in the best way possible.” Though it’s one of the least-visited national parks in the United States, those who do take a chance on its rugged climes and breathtaking swathes of undisturbed nature find it to be a one-of-a-kind hiking, backpacking, and camping adventure.
It is recommended by both past campers and Alaskan natives that only moderate-to-highly-experienced campers plan a trip here, due to the demanding nature of the tundra and its conditions. Nevertheless, reviewers have named Gates of the Arctic to be one of the best parks to visit overall—a true hidden gem of the United States!
Wrapping up Gates of the Arctic National Park Camping
We hope our Gates of the Arctic National Park camping guide has you feeling ready for the challenge as well as to encounter the unparalleled beauty this park has to offer! Let us know in the comments what you’re most excited about seeing in your Gates of the Arctic National Park camping trip!
Looking for more awe-inspiring destinations in Alaska? Check out our recommendations below!
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Renee Dugan is a lifelong writer, professional editor, and lover of the great outdoors.
A Midwest girl born and raised, Renee has always enjoyed the deep, life-giving inspiration that connection with nature brings.
In addition to channeling the awe of outdoor life into her prolific novel-writing career, she currently enjoys sharing it with her son and spreading knowledge of safe, fun outdoor life with Beyond the Tent readers and anyone she can help face-to-face.
Renee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org