Hell’s Gate National Park is nestled within the Southern corner of Lake Naivasha, in north-west of Nairobi and was named after the narrow break in the cliffs, which were once a tributary of the ancient Lake that fed early inhabitants in the Rift Valley. Not only that, its Hell’s gate name is due to the extreme geothermal activity within its borders and received its name from explorers Thomson and Fischer in 1883.
This spectacular National Park was gazetted in 1984, extends for 68 square kilometers (26 square miles) and is managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The breathtaking scenery inform of cliffs, sharp rock rowers, water-gouged valleys, scrub-covered volcanoes as well as belching plumes of geothermal steam make Hell’s Gate National Park one of the most phenomenal destinations in Africa.
The magnificent features that stand out within Hell’s Gate National Park are the Central Tower Columns, Fischer’s Tower and the deep Hell’s Gate gorge, but interesting, this Park is a home to at least three geothermal power stations within Olkaria. It also stands at an elevation of 1900 meters (6200 feet) above sea level. Near the Central Tower is smaller valley which stretches to the South with a path that descends into hot springs that turn rocks red hot to cause burns and sulfuric water.
In the early 1900s, the nearby Mount Longonot erupted thus filling lava ashes around Hell’s Gate. The Olkaria Geothermal Station is one of a kind in the African Continent and was set up three years before Hell’s Gate National Park was gazetted and currently generates geothermal power below the Park, from the region’s geysers and hot springs. Thereafter two geothermal stations known as Olkaria II and Olkaria II were established after 2000.
What to see within Hell’s Gate National Park
Hell’s Gate National Park is one of the country’s smallest National Parks but this small size is more than compensated by its extraordinary attractions and beauty. One thing to relish within this destination is its phenomenal scenery that include the magnificent towering cliffs, stark rock towers, volcanoes, the water-gouged valleys as well as the gushing plumes of geothermal steam that make this small Park one of the must visit places within the African Continent.
Hell’s Gate National Park is a Paradise when it comes to the variety of wildlife species (much as most of them are few in number). Notable ones include Lions, leopards, African buffaloes, Hartebeests, Thomson’s gazelle, elands, warthogs, Giraffes, Hyraxes, waterbucks, Klipspringers, Plains Zebras, Chanler’s mountain reedbucks, impalas, civet cats, baboons, cheetahs and many others. Additionally, over 100 species of birds call the Park home and the common ones include mottled swifts, starlings, Peregrine falcons, vultures, Hoopeo, augur buzzards, steppe Buzzards, Maasai Ostrich, sunbirds, the exceptional lammergeier (bearded Vultures) and Verreaux’s eagles among others.
Activities within Hell’s Gate National Park
With its endless beauty and mind-boggling attractions, the interesting things to do within Hell’s Gate National Park include;
With exceptional bird species such as the Maasai Ostrich, bearded vultures as well as Verreaux’s eagles and many others, Hell’s Gate is undeniably one of the must-visit birding paradises in the country.
This adventurous activity is mainly conducted through the famous Buffalo circuit that begins from near the main Elsa gate and jaunts over the rolling hills for around 14 kilometers before re-joining the main gorge. You will get the chance to trek through the water-eroded walls that are close together at the top to the point that they almost block out the view of the Sky. Impressive features to look out for during hiking include the breathtaking hot springs, waterfalls as well as rock variations and formations.
Game drives through some of the well-maintained game tracks rewards tourists with the unforgettable views of several wildlife species especially giraffes, Impalas, baboons, Hyraxes, warthogs and buffaloes among others.
Rock climbing is mainly done for the Fischer’s Tower, steep cliff at the entrance of the gorge as well as the main wall. This activity is not for the faint-hearted but rather true adventurers.
Cycling, one of the most fulfilling adventures is also possible within Hell’s Gate National Park and offers extraordinary ways of sighting wildlife at a closer range. Interested tourists can hire bicycles within the Park, which can be ridden within the wild thus sighting some of the interesting wildlife species. Cycling is undeniably also the perfect activity for tourists who don’t fancy walking.
Horse riding is an interesting activity within Hell’s Gate National Park that refreshes tourists and also offers a unique way for spotting the wildlife species within the Park.
Visit to the nearby Maasai Cultural Center to learn about the traditional lifestyles of the Maasai tribesmen, who have inhabited the areas for hundreds of years. While here, you will have an insight to how boys of this tribe are initiated into manhood.
Exploring the geothermal power stations and scenery viewing.
Where to Stay while at Hell’s Gate National Park
There are three basic Campsites within the Park that can make you stay comfortable and these are Naiburta, Oldubai and Endachata Campsites. However, you can book for accommodation facilities near Lake Naivasha that include Fish Eagle Inn, Camp Carnelley’s, Crayfish Camp, Naivasha Kongoni Lodge, Lake Naivasha Simba Lodge, Lake Naivasha Country Club, Kiangazi House, Eseriani Hotel, Viewers Park Hotel, Three Ways Hotel and Restaurant, Kiboko Luxury Camp, Sweet Lake Resort, Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort and Peppercorn Resort and many others.
Best Time to Visit Hell’s Gate National Park
This wonderful destination is open for visiting throughout the year. However, some months like June to October and December to February (dry season) are preferred because they are ideal for cycling, wildlife viewing/game drives and walking safaris. The wet season from end of October to November and from March to May are always avoided but are perfect for wildlife viewing and bird watching because there are higher chances of spotting the migratory birds such as raptors that usually nest on the cliffs but also affect walking and cycling adventures.
How to Access Hell’s Gate National Park
This Park is found within Nakuru County, close to Lake Naivasha at around 90 kilometers (56 miles), 2 hours’ drive from Nairobi City. You will proceed for about 14 kilometers (9 miles) after the turnoff from the Old Nairobi-Naivasha highway. There are two gates that can be used by tourists to enter the Park and these include Elsa Gate-the main entrance as well as Olkaria Gate and the latter is also an entrance to Olkaria Geothermal Station found inside the Park.
Tourists opting for air transport can charter flights to Naivasha Airstrip, thereby proceeding to the National Park by road.
Due to the fact that it’s not far from the City, the Park is an ideal spot for day trips and surprisingly, the Park fees are lower than it is with other National Parks in Kenya. Additionally, Lake Nakuru National Park is easily accessible from this destination thus it’s easy to combine the two places during Kenya safaris.
Besides Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya is a home to other beautiful National Parks that include Aberdare, Meru, Tsavo East and Tsavo West, Amboseli, Chyulu Hills, Ol Donyo Sabuk, Malka Mari, Malindi Marine, Mombasa Marine, Arabuko-Sokoke, Mount Elgon, Mount Longonot, Ruma, Saiwa Swamp, Lake Nakuru, Sibiloi, Mount Kenya, Kisite-Mpunguti Marine, Nairobi and Central Island National Parks.