The most northern-lying of America’s national parks, the Gates of the Arctic is in Alaska. It is 85,000 km2 (32,819 sq mi), making it also the second largest, and was established in 1980. Accessible only by walking or air taxi, there are no established roads or trails leading to the park or within the park itself, so it is even the most isolated, with as few as 4,000 visitors per year.
The landscape is mainly sharp, razor-like topped mountains and glacial valleys, alpine tundra – low growing hardy heathers and mosses - and boreal forest (or taiga) along the river valleys. The mountain range is part of the Rocky Mountains and rises in this area to upwards of 2,438.4 m (8,000 ft).
Undeveloped and wild, the area is plunged into a deep, hard winter for eight months of the year where very little grows or lives. By contrast, in the short summer, the landscape comes alive with a profusion of insects and plant growth. This short season brings migrating birds here to breed alongside mammals such as caribou, grizzly and black bears, arctic ground squirrels, voles and lemmings, and the environment teems with life and activity. There are no known endangered or threatened species within the park, although volumes of some species such as the lynx and hare wax and wane in natural cycles.
For the visitor, the park offers limitless possibilities for backpacking and hiking, rafting and canoeing and wildlife spotting, but this can be a harsh and hostile terrain, with temperatures plunging to -51°C (-60°F) or lower in winter, so sound preparation and experience in survival techniques is advisable.