Gates of the Arctic National Park

Video highlights from America's National Parks

Alaska’s snow-covered mountain ranges have giant grizzly bears fishing salmon and mighty moose roaming through an endless wilderness.

Location: Alaska

Established: December 2, 1980

Size: 8,500,000 acres

"The view from the top gave us an excellent idea of the jagged country toward which we were heading. The main Brooks Range divide was entirely covered with snow. Close at hand, only about ten miles to the north, was a precipitous pair of mountains, one on each side of the North Fork. I bestowed the name Gates of the Arctic on them."

It was the early 1930s, and Robert Marshall had found his wilderness home, a remote, uncluttered source of inspiration that would make him one of America’s greatest conservationists. Gates of the Arctic was the ultimate North American wilderness. Congress created the park to keep it that way.

Climb practically any ridge in the heart of the park and you’ll see a dozen glacial cirques side by side; serrated mountains that scythe the sky; and storms that snap out of dark, brooding clouds. Six National Wild and Scenic Rivers—Alatna, John, Kobuk, Noatak, North Fork Koyukuk, and Tinayguk—tumble out of high alpine valleys into forested lowlands. The park lies entirely above the Arctic Circle, straddling the Brooks Range, one of the world's northernmost mountain chains.

Along with Kobuk Valley National Park and Noatak National Preserve, Gates of the Arctic protects much of the habitat of the western arctic caribou. Grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, and foxes also roam over the severe land in search of food. Ptarmigan nibble on willow, and gyrfalcons dive for ptarmigan.

Shafts of cinnabar sunlight pour through the mountains at 2 a.m. in June, setting the wild land ablaze. In this mammoth mountain kingdom—the northernmost reach of the Rockies—the summer sun does not set for 30 straight days.

"No sight or sound or smell or feeling even remotely hinted of men or their creations," wrote Marshall. "It seemed as if time had dropped away a million years and we were back in a primordial world."

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit