Arguably the coolest name of any national park in the world. When we first heard of Hell’s Gate National Park images of volcanoes and ferocious animals came to mind. As it turns out it actually got this name due to the Hells Gate gorge where early explorers compared its downward and slim entrance to an entrance to hell! A little apprehensive, we really didn’t know what to expect from our visit but in the end it was an experience that completely blew away our expectations. I’m going to put it out there and say this has been our very favourite day of our travels so far! Picture the scene – a leisurely bike ride amongst baby pumba’s, thomson gazelle’s and zebra’s with a backdrop of truly stunning views that inspired the Lion King’s pride rock.
Getting to Hell’s Gate National Park
We stayed at the well known Camp Carnelley’s on Lake Niavasha. But for easy access to Hell’s Gate National Park any of the campsites on the south coast of Lake Niavasha will do absolutely fine. Camp Carnelley’s is just the original founder of campsites on this gorgeous lake. We rented our bikes from Camp Carnelley’s too and it was a 5km ride to the north entrance of Hell’s Gate National Park. Around 1km from the entrance there’ll be a few locals in high-vis jackets who will explain you need a tour guide for the park but this isn’t the case and you can just cycle past these guys onto a fairly stony and bumpy road into the park. Once in the park the cycle path is a little easier to navigate!
Entrance to Hell’s Gate National Park
As with all of Kenya’s national parks it’s a little frustrating but tourists are required to pay a much higher fee to enter than local residents. The good news though is that this is one of the cheaper national parks to enter in Kenya at $26 per person + a small fee for bringing in your own bike. You can rent bikes at the park to avoid paying this fee and rental is in fact cheaper than the local campsites but then you could be looking at a 4-5km walk to get to the entrance so I’d only recommend this if you have travel arrangements to the entrance. Be sure to bring your bank card too as for audit purposes Hell’s Gate and all of Kenya’s national parks only accept card payment and no cash.
Riding to Hell’s Gate National Park gorge
There are a few different trails in the park but the only road suitable for bikes is the main trail towards Hell’s Gate gorge. This road also takes you right in between the cliffs of Hell’s Gate for beautiful views to both sides and ensures you can also explore the gorge too. It’s around a 10km bike ride across half decent terrain. You’re on a very slight decline to the gorge which you may not notice until the cycle back where you will feel the small incline! This ride is truly astounding, and aside from one other couple who were cycling the opposite way to us and a group of children on a school trip we had the whole park to ourselves! A good 30 minutes would pass where it was just us and the wildlife Hell’s Gate had to offer. Although we absolutely loved our Tanzanian safari, not having a guide or safari jeep in Hell’s Gate made us feel even closer to nature. The freedom and magic this creates you just can’t put a price on.
As well as the baby pumba’s, gazelle’s and zebra’s we also spotted some giraffes and baboons at the entrance to the park although we didn’t fancy slowing down too much around these guys! If you get lucky (all be it a bit daunting) you might also get the opportunity to cycle alongside buffalo too. Our gorge guide did explain of the occasional leopard sighting around the gorge area where you will find a more dense population of trees – although we were told this is very rare!
Exploring the gorge
Once you arrive at the gorge there’s a a good picnic area where you can settle into lunch, just be sure to have a monkey stick with you as the vervet monkey’s are relentless and not particularly fussy with what they eat!
Here you do need a guide as the walk down to the entrance of the gorge is very tricky and flash floods are also common and very dangerous so a local guide is insisted on by the park rangers. Once inside a guide can run you through the history of the gorge and take you to the main areas to see including the devil’s bedroom and the hot springs. Hell’s Gate National Park houses a group of geothermal sites which produces a number of hot springs. The water in each spring gets progressively hot and is very hot to touch.
A modest paced but quite tricky stroll around the gorge took us around one and a half hours. So once we’d finished with this it was back to animal spotting and lots of pit stops for photos as we cycled back through Hells Gate National Park. All before returning for a sundowner overlooking Lake Niavasha at Camp Carnelleys. What a day!
Russ & Fi x