Just south of Lake Naivasha in the Nakuru District, rests the small Hell’s Gate National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This narrow tract of pristine wilderness in the Great Rift Valley formed when tectonic movement caused a break in the cliffs, creating such an unusual landscape that it served as the inspiration for “the Lion King”.
Once a tributary of an ancient river, this small 69 square kilometre park now takes pride of place as being one of Kenya’s smallest but most fascinating parks. Famed for its geothermal activity, gorges, protruding rock towers and restless volcanoes, Hell’s Gate is a portion of the Rift Valley worthy of exploring.
Bubbling and belching geothermal springs, water-carved rock structures and terrain dotted with stout shrubs make for exceptional landscapes. One of the many highlights of the park is the molten lava volcanic Fischer Tower, standing at a staggering 25 metres tall. In terms of wildlife, the park is home to general game, buffalo, and nesting raptors.
Hell’s Gate National Park is not a place to spot dangerous wildlife and the big five, which is why it’s an ideal destination for on-the-ground activity-based wilderness adventures. It’s one of the few parks within Kenya that allows cycling and walking without an official guide.
The easiest route to Hell’s Gate is via road. It’s a mere 90 kilometres northwest of Nairobi, which equates to a two-hour road trip from the closest international airport, which is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Hell’s Gate National Park is not a big five and predator destination. Prominent wildlife in the area is mainly plains game and occasional herds of buffalo.
Zebra, eland, Thomson’s gazelle, buffalo, and Chanler’s mountain reedbuck are just a few mammals that can be spotted within the national park. On the delicate ledges of Fischer’s Tower, the rock hyrax can be found. Incredibly lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of a cheetah.
Visitors will be pleased to know that there are over 100 species of bird found in Hell’s Gate. Birds to look out for include the Augur buzzard, Verreaux's eagle, the rare lammergeier eagle, and the Rüppell's vulture.
The park is open year-round and offers both hiking and cycling activities throughout the year. The wet season months are March, April, and May. June to October is the dry season.
Although the wet season might interfere with an activity-based safari, scenery-wise, it’s the best time of year for Hell’s Gate. This is an uncrowded national park, small in stature. There is no “crowded” season for Hell’s Gate.
Hell’s Gate National Park is activity-based, offering a wealth of adventurous opportunities to explore the park. This is one of the few parks in Kenya that allows unguided hiking, walking, and cycling trails—the most popular activities in the park.
From the many rocky outcrops and viewpoints on the terrain, visitors are rewarded with exceptional views of Lake Naivasha, Mount Longonot, and the Aberdare Range.
The landscape is dotted with giant rocky outcrops, which attracts rock climbers and hikers. Rock climbing is certainly a popular past time in the park. The easily-navigable roads also make Hell’s Gate popular with bikers. The geothermal station, raptor hide, and natural thermal spas provide unique sightseeing options to any safari experience.
The Maasai Cultural Centre offers insight into local customs and cultural traditions.
Most visitors come to Hell’s Gate National Park for day visits and stay in lodgings outside of the park. The majority of visitors opt to stay on the outskirts of the park close to Lake Naivasha.
Visitors that do decide to stay within the park are campers who have the choice of three well-maintained campsites.