Hell’s Gate National Park is unique in the fact that you can enter without a car and a guide. This allows you to get really up close and personal with the wildlife and the preferred mode of transport around the park is by bicycle. Just imagine standing in the African savannah surrounded by a herd of antelope and giraffe on foot or with just a bicycle, mind-blowing, isn’t it? I have been on a lot of safaris and nothing compares to the feeling of being out of the car and standing on the same ground as the game you are seeing. It opens up your senses and really puts you in their world.
About Hell’s Gate
Hell’s Gate National Park was named by olden day explorers in 1883. The park gets its name from a narrow break in the cliffs which was once a tributary of a lake that fed the rift valley. It is small in comparison to Kenya’s other national parks but it is certainly big enough for you and your bicycle to adventure around. Its area encompasses 68 square kilometers and it is home to incredible scenery, rock formations, geysers, hot springs, and wildlife.
Hell’s Gate is known for its geothermal activity and there are a few geothermal power stations inside it today. It was host to the first geothermal power station in Africa which was put in place in 1981. The park also has a number of extinct volcanoes inside and around it. It borders Mt Longanot and it is said you that can still find ash in the park from when Longanot erupted in the early 1900s. There are two extinct volcanoes inside the park, Olkaira and Hobley’s, which provide stunning views when hiked and also create some dramatic views as you bumble your way around the park.
The park is home to a broad array of wildlife. Lion, leopard, and cheetah are rarely seen but giraffe, African buffalo, zebra, eland, hartebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, and baboons are common. The park also has klipspringer antelope and Chandler’s mountain reedbuck inside it but their sightings are also rare. There is a lot of birdlife to be seen with over 100 species in the park, including vultures, Verreaux’s Eagles, augur buzzard and many more.
What to do in Hell’s Gate
Hell’s Gate as previously mentioned is one of the only parks where you can drive, cycle and walk around without a guide. It is perfect for the active traveler and has a great variety of activities inside it.
Hop in your car, on your bike or on foot and head into the savannah to look at a range of stunning wildlife. Don’t be scared, the lack of predators in the park is the reason why you can access it on foot and by bike, they wouldn’t let you if it was not safe. Just be wary of grumpy buffalo and cheeky baboons that may try and steal your packed lunch.
If you plan on cycling around the park there are a lot of places to hire a bike from. Most hotels will offer bike rentals and you can also hire them at the Elsa gate. Bike hires will be cheaper if you get them before you get to the park and can be rented a few kilometers down the road from the Elsa gate.
It is advisable to arrive early if you plan on cycling as the wildlife will be out and about before they go for their midday siesta. You will also avoid having to follow cars on the road which can give you a face full of dust while you are cruising around. Around 7 am is the perfect time to arrive and be sure to bring water and some lunch with you.
There is a stunning hike through Hells Gate Gorge which lasts around 1-2 hours depending on your speed. There are guides available there if you would like one or you can go solo. It is recommended to take a guide as it is easy to get lost. The gorge is lined by red cliffs and the hike takes you through a maze of rock formations and eventually to a stunning viewpoint of the park and if you continue going to some hot springs. In order to get to the gorge, you will need to cycle or drive, hiking to the gorge from the gate is a tad far.
There is also an option to hike up one of the two extinct volcanoes in the park. The hikes are long but the views at the top are second to none. If you plan on doing this, discuss it with the wardens at the park entrance and decide whether you would like a guide or not. I would drive to the base and start your hike there rather than try to walk or cycle to the volcano.
Just near Hell’s Gate Gorge are two volcanic plugs called Fischers Tower and Central Tower. At Fischers Tower you will find a guide waiting and ready with ropes, shoes, and harnesses. Gear up and he’ll belay you as you climb up to the top of the rock.
Fishers Tower is a free-standing spike of rock between 30 and 40 meters high. The tower offers 6 climbing routes and the rock is good quality from top to bottom with a bolted anchor point for descent. Several of the routes are very enjoyable climbing for all abilities, and the top of the tower is the place to be with 360 views of the surrounding area.
Rock climbing is very popular in the park and there are a lot of other routes to be found inside the gorge at the main wall and at Fischers cracks and are suitable for all abilities. If you are into climbing and would like to have a professional guide, there are some great ones to be found that offer day trips for groups of any size.
Take A Dip In The Hot Springs
Within the park is Olkaria which is the largest geothermal spa of its kind in Africa. Taking a long soak in the hot springs is a great way to end your day in the park after long dusty hikes and bike rides.
Lake Naivasha is just down the road from Hell’s Gate an is a stunning crater lake that is also home to an abundance of wildlife. You can go sailing, take a boat ride to see the game and try your hand at bass fishing.
The park is around 90 kilometers or a 2-3 hour drive from Nairobi and is quite easily done on a day trip. There are a few tour operators offering day trips that can be found online, you can drive yourself or hop on public transport.
To get there via public transport, take a bus from Nairobi to Naivasha town and change onto a local bus that goes around the lake. From there you can be dropped at the park entrance and to your accommodation if you are staying on the lake or in the park.
Where To Stay
There are a lot of lodges and campsites around Lake Naivasha where you can stay that offer both budget and luxury accommodation. Fishermans Camp is the closest to the park and has both tents and cottages to rent as well as a stunning open-air restaurant.
There are 3 campsites within the park, Oldubai (close to the Elsa entrance), Nairbuta, or Endchata. Make sure you have everything you need as there are no facilities and be sure to include a lot of warm clothes as it gets very cold at night.
When To Visit
The best time to visit Hell’s Gate National Park is from June to March, avoiding the rains in April and May. Entrance to the park is $25 per 24 hours and it is one of the most inexpensive parks in Kenya to visit. You can buy your permit from the Kenya Wildlife Services Office at the gate.
Hell’s Gate National Park is ideal for anyone who wants the freedom to explore, be active on their safari or would like to get a bit more up close and personal with the wildlife. There are not many places in Africa where this kind of option is available and the opportunity should not be missed.