Escape the Crowds by Visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
In the current Coronavirus era where “social distancing” is essentially a required regulation, there isn’t better place to be (or to visit) than the great 49th state. Alaska is by far the least densely populated state in America with only roughly 1.3 people per square mile. So whether you’re a local looking to have some adventure or a traveling addict itching to explore in 2020, Alaska just might happen to be the answer to all of the above. Of the 419 National Park sites spanning across more than 84 million acres, three of the top five least-visited National Parks are located right here in Alaska. Understandably so, the remoteness and accessibility of these hidden-gems have a lot to do with how frequently they are traveled to, however the surreal natural beauty is not to be ignored.
Coming in third place is Kobuk Valley National Park, with roughly 15,000 annual visitors flocking to the Arctic Circle to see the yearly migration of 400,000 caribou and the wild sights of 20,000 acres of sand dunes. Situated 100 miles southwest of Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage, Lake Clark National Park & Preserve comes in second place with approximately 14,479 visitors annually. With drop-dead-gorgeous glaciers, active volcanoes, and some of the best fly fishing and wildlife viewing on planet earth, this is a true treasure that must be seen to be believed. Not surprisingly, annual travel here has nearly doubled over the past five years.
Topping the list is Gates of the Arctic National Park, America’s second largest national park, with around only 9,591 visitors annually. Considering Alaska’s short “peak” tourism season only lasting roughly four months a year, this averages out to be approximately less-than 100 visitors per day traveling to the 8,472,506-acre Gates of the Arctic outdoor playground.
With the serenity and wildlife being totally unimaginable, we’ve recapped a handful of reasons below as to why a visit here in 2020 is the perfect way to escape civilization and totally reset your mind, body, and soul.
1: Float six of the most wild and scenic rivers of your life. There is nothing more peaceful or relaxing than being surrounded by vast towering ridges while the sound of a flowing river trickels beneath you. In Gates of the Arctic National Park, it’s simply astonishing to see how glaciers have sculpted large U-shaped valleys and rivers have carved immensly magical V-shaped canyons. Choose from Alatna River, John River, Kobuk River, Noatak River, North Fork Koyukuk River, or Tinayguk River.
2: Connect with culture and tradition. For thousands of years, nomadic people have occupied the lands of Gates of the Arctic National Park, following caribou herds and gathering together to share in a subsistence-based existence. In the 1800s, three distinct groups were formed in the central Brooks Range Area; Athapaskan-speaking Koyukon, and Inupiaq-speaking Kuuvanmiit and Nunamiut. When visitors come to experience this great land, they’ll have the ability to be submerged in rich culture where practices such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering are profoundly importantly to the way of life of the local residents. Nothing beats pitching a tent in wild Alaska after a day of wildlife viewing and berry picking under the midnight sun.
3: Backpackers rejoice in an area where you’ll feel so small. Talk about putting the rest of the world into persective. When you’re exploring here, everything is so wildly vast. Most visitors trek an average of five miles per day, soaking in the larger-than-life views that surround them and enjoying every ounce of the journey along the way. Moutaineering, mountain climbing, and other recreational activities are the most popular attractors.
4: Wildlife lovers unite! Caribou, grizzly bears, Dall sheep, moose, wolves, and raptorial birds are just some of the spectacular species that you will find as you venture through Gates of the Actic National Park. Generally, the numbers are extreme and the memories you’ll make are beyond your wildest imagination.
5: There are only two ways in: Hike or Fly. You can reach the edge of Gates of the Arctic National Park by hiking a few miles west of the Dalton Highway or from the village of Anaktuvuk Pass. Although there are zero trails in the park and if you’re going to hike, you should be very experienced as you’ll likely have to cross a river or two along the way. Most visitors choose to fly in via small aircraft equipped with floats and/or tundra ties. Fairbanks is the largest major city to use as your jumping off point, with direct access into the gateway communities of Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, and Coldfoot.
Get off the grid and give it a go! As the seasons change and you begin to plan your summer adventures, we can’t recommend Gates of the Arctic National Park enough. Not only will a trip here keep you far, far away from the crowds but chances are high that you’ll see a rugged, untouched, pristine part of the country unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.
Looking for another great read? You’ll love exploring Alaska’s Mendenhall Ice Caves for a surreal glacier experience. For a guaranteed LOL, you might also enjoy these 15 times Alaska moose thought they were humans and got caught on candid camera. Also, don’t miss world-class brown bear viewing in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park & Preserve.