I recently completed a nine day backpacking trip to the Arrigetch Peaks in Gates of the Arctic National Park. It’s the least visited national park in the Unites States, entirely inaccessible except by bush plane, boat, or hiking. There are no roads nor trails in the park.
Since there is so little information on the park, I thought I would write down some tips I wish I had known before I made my trek.
Bush Plane Logistics
To get to the Arrigetch Peaks, you need to contact a bush plane company and have them drop you off at Circle Lake. The plane will land on the lake, and you will most likely be able to avoid stepping in the lake and immediately getting wet. Two companies fly to Circle Lake - Brooks Range Aviation and Coyote Air.
Brooks Range Aviation
Brooks Range Aviation flies out of Bettles. It is impossible to drive to Bettles except for an old ice road that is only passable in the dead of winter. To get there, either take a Wright Air flight from Fairbanks or drive the Dalton Highway up to Prospect Creek Airport. Brooks Range Aviation can pick you up at Prospect Creek Airport and fly you to Bettles.
I recommend taking Wright Air. The Dalton Highway drive is pretty boring and it ends up costing around the same either way. If you decide to drive, the only real place to stop is the Yukon River Camp, which has gas and a restaurant.
We didn’t fly with Coyote Air, so I don't have an opinion on them. They fly out of Coldfoot instead of Bettles.
Circle Lake to Aquarius Junction Route
If your goal is the Arrigetch Peaks, your first day in the park will likely be hiking from Circle Lake to Aquarius Junction. Follow this route in reverse. There are other routes online that crisscross Arrigetch Creek on the way up. That’s dumb. There is a somewhat-defined animal/human path that starts around the beginning of lower Arrigetch Valley and leads up the valley. You can follow it to avoid doing any major stream crossing until the junction.
Before that, to get to lower Arrigetch Valley, you’ll have to cross fields of tussocks. It's gonna suck. They are unavoidable.
The Arrigetch Peaks are the most popular area of the park. “popular” is relative. We saw six people during our nine days.
Everyone who lives above the Arctic Circle is an unreliable narrator. I will not elaborate.
Take a Garmin inReach Mini and pay for a subscription so you can contact people while in the park. This is for emergencies and also for coordinating your return bush plane flight. Flights schedules can change at any time based on weather conditions or if your pilot is hungover. This is Alaska, after all.
Take something that is 100% DEET and a mosquito headnet. I have never experienced worse bug pressure than the lower swampy areas in the Gates. In the upper elevations when the cold wind picks up, the mosquitos are much more manageable.
There is an unofficial campsite outside of Circle Lake here. It sits in a grove of spruce trees. You'll know it when you see it.