Hell's Gate National Park lies south of Lake Naivasha in Kenya, north west of Nairobi. Hell's Gate National Park is named after a narrow break in the cliffs, once a tributary of a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the Rift Valley. It was established in 1984. A small national park, it is known for its wide variety of wildlife and for its scenery. This includes the Fischer's Tower and Central Tower columns and Hell's Gate Gorge. The national park is also home to three geothermal power stations at Olkaria. The park is equipped with three basic campsites and includes a Maasai Cultural Center, providing education about the Maasai tribe's culture and traditions. Hell's Gate National Park is named after a narrow break in the cliffs, once a tributary of a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the Rift Valley. It received the name "Hell's Gate" by explorers Fisher and Thomson in 1883. In the early 1900s, Mount Longonot erupted, and ash can still be felt around Hell's Gate. The comprehensive Olkaria Geothermal Station, the first of its kind in Africa, was established in 1981 and generates geothermal power underneath Hell's Gate from the area's hot springs and geysers. The park was officially established in 1984.
Two more geothermal stations were added after 2000: Olkaria II and Olkaria III. Hell's Gate National Park covers an area of 68.25 square kilometres (26 sq mi), relatively small by African standards. The park is at 1,900 metres (6,200 ft) above sea level. It is within Nakuru County, near Lake Naivasha and approximately 90 kilometres (56 mi) from Nairobi. The park is located 14 kilometres (9 mi) after the turnoff from the old Nairobi-Naivasha highway, and has a warm and dry climate. Olkaria and Hobley's, two extinct volcanoes located in the park, can be seen as well as obsidian forms from the cool molten lava. Within Hell's Gate is the Hells Gate Gorge, lined with red cliffs which contain two volcanic plugs: Fischer's Tower and Central Tower. Off of Central Tower is a smaller gorge which extends to the south, with a path that descends into hot springs that have rocks hot enough to cause burns, and sulfuric water.
Hell’s Gate offers reasonable wildlife viewing throughout the year, but the rains might interfere with your activities during the main Wet season months (March, April and May).
Best Time June to March is best for general wildlife viewing and outdoor activities (Little rain)
High Season The park is little visited throughout the year, but Naivasha gets busy with expats on school holidays, especially over Christmas (Accommodation in Naivasha might be harder to book)
Low Season The park is little visited throughout the year (It never gets crowded)
Best Weather June to February (Little rainfall)
Worst Weather March to May (Heavy rainfall)
June to October –Dry Season
It is sunny and dry, but rarely hot
Dry days are excellent for walking and cycling
Grass is short, and animals congregate around water sources, making them easy to spot
It never gets crowded
A lot of dust in the sky and the scenery is less spectacular
November to May –Wet Season
Skies are clear of dust, the park is green, and there are lots of flowers
Many newborn animals
Wildlife viewing is still fine in the Wet season as the park isn’t very big
Bird watching is excellent, migratory birds are present, and raptors are nesting on the cliffs
March to May can be very wet and rain can interfere with walking and cycling activities
Hell’s Gate is located 100km/62 mi northwest of Nairobi and 18km/11mi west of Naivasha. As there is no accommodation in the park, most people visit as a day trip from Lake Naivasha. Naivasha is easily reached by car via a tar road from Nairobi. Alternatively, there are daily flights to Loldia airstrip on the western side of Naivasha.
Getting to Nairobi is easy as this is one of the biggest transport hubs on the continent. International flights arrive in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi.
Naivasha, from where you can visit Hell’s Gate, is a convenient stop-over between Nairobi and the Masai Mara. The distance from Naivasha to the Masai Mara is 170km/105mi and the driving time is about three and a half hours.
Hiking through the park and spotting its wildlife is incredibly rewarding and relatively leisurely. Allow a full day and take plenty of supplies.
Cycling is our favourite way to explore the park, and the main Hell’s Gate Gorge is relatively flat; the distance from Elsa Gate to the Lower Gorge is around 7km. Bicycles are available at the park gates for KSh500 per day, or you can pay the KSh215 fee for bringing your own into the park.
The sheer rock walls of Hell’s Gate are made for climbing and, thankfully, the park has two resident safety-conscious climbing guides (KSh500 per person per hour).
You can arrange a guided walking tour of the park with a ranger for KSh1500 per person per day.
Hell’s Gate is not a Big Five destination. There is plenty of wildlife, but aside from buffalo – nothing to worry about – which makes walking and cycling excellent activities. Burchell's zebra, Coke's hartebeest, Thomson's and Grant's gazelle and impala are the main grazers. Giraffe and Defassa waterbuck can also be encountered. Olive baboons are all over the cliffs. Predators aren’t easy to spot, but cheetah is here, while spotted hyena and black-backed jackal can sometimes be seen at dusk.
More than 100 bird species have been recorded at Hell’s Gate. It was once famous as a breeding place for lammergeyers, but these beautiful vultures are now only occasional visitors. The cliffs still attract several nesting raptor species including Egyptian and Rüppell's vultures. The Verreaux’s eagle can often be seen soaring above the cliffs looking for rodents. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Birding Specials –Treats for Avid Birders
Eastern imperial eagle
Best Time for Bird Watching
Hell’s Gate offers good bird watching throughout the year. The best time is from November to April when migrants from Europe and north Africa are in the park. This coincides with the Wet season, when many species can be seen in breeding plumage as they are nesting. June to October is the Dry season, and tends to be best for general wildlife viewing.