Gates of the Arctic: America's "Black Belt Park"

Find adventure inspiration for this vast national park without roads or trails, entirely above the Arctic Circle in Alaska.

Hiking Difficult, Severe, Extreme

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Tents near Arrigetch Creek at the mouth of Aquarius Valley
Tents near Arrigetch Creek at the mouth of Aquarius Valley Photo: Claire Dal Nogare, NPS

Description

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is one of the largest units in the US national park system, but it remains one of the least visited. Its far-flung location north of the Arctic Circle is just one reason for this. The first challenge is simply getting there; then there’s the sheer wildness and extremes of the landscape––seemingly endless miles of glaciated peaks and sweeping valleys with swift rivers, mucky tundra, and thick vegetation. All this in a place that experiences deep freeze and long darkness in the winter, then never sees the sun set for part of the summer. No roads and no designated trails exist here. The easiest entry is by aircraft, and the only passage through is on foot or by river.

When you’re dropped off in Gates of the Arctic, you’re completely on your own until your plane comes back, whenever that may be. Weather can delay flights for days, and communications short of satellite are nonexistent. It’s just you, your gear, and your wits against all the hazards of wild Alaska––extreme conditions, unpredictable terrain, mosquitoes, and grizzly bears. An exceptional level of self-sufficiency and backcountry skills are required here. It’s been called America’s “black belt park” for its difficulty. And that’s precisely by design.

The very intention of Gates of the Arctic is to preserve the nation’s purest remaining wilderness––to secure a primal challenge for generations of adventurers who wish to take it on. That’s why this guidebook contains no exact gps tracks, and descriptions are cursory on purpose. These are merely suggestions for general routes, modeled on some of the more common excursions that people take in the park. The true possibilities are limitless, as all the terrain is open to exploration by those equipped and capable. Use this guidebook for inspiration and ideas for an itinerary, but expect to do a lot more planning, and perhaps practice and training as well, in order to make a trip happen.

Routes included

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