Hell's Gate is an impressive name, to say the least... yet it only refers to some of Kenya's most beautiful natural sites. Located on the outskirts of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, Hell’s Gate National Park is a true concentrate of nature, and undoubtedly one of the best places in the country for outdoor activities.
In this guide, let's set off together to discover Hell's Gate National Park – a definite must-see if you're looking for something to do in Kenya!
Hell's Gate: one of Africa's most astonishing national parks
Hell's Gate National Park covers an area of just 26.6 square miles (69 km²), and owes its name to the intense seismic and geothermal activity in the region. Earthquakes in this arid valley over the millennia have created faults, some so deep you'd think they led straight to the center of the Earth.
These fractures have caused the drying up of the freshwater lake that used to irrigate the pastures where the Masai herded their cattle.
What's more, at the beginning of the last century, a volcanic eruption forced the last remaining tribes to leave the area. Even if the landscape remains breathtaking, it's easy to understand why this region has been associated with hell.
A positive consequence of this eruption was the appearance of hot springs, which led to the development of spa tourism in the region. – it is this park that inspired Walt Disney's illustrators while creating the scenery of The Lion King.
Arid plains, savannah, but also canyons, red cliffs, volcanoes, hot springs and geysers – in Hell’s Gate National Park, spectacular landscapes seem to stretch as far as the eye can see.
What to see and do in Hell's Gate National Park?
See wild animals roaming free
Naturally, observing wild animals living in complete freedom remains the park's main activity. That's why tens of thousands of people visit the park every year.
One of the special features of Hell's Gate National Park is that there are virtually no felines here. What's more, large predators and animals dangerous to humans are very rare in the region. In fact, the only animal considered dangerous to man that lives here is the buffalo.
You might find this surprising for a park that inspired The Lion King, or even disappointing, but on the contrary, this specificity offers a great advantage: it allows visitors to discover this natural park much more freely.
If you're keen to go on a safari in Kenya, you'll find that you can do much more than just hike in this park. You'll be able to enjoy real walking safaris in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, where you'll get to see lots of wild animals.
Here, it's not so much the number of animals that is remarkable, but rather the astonishing diversity of species, with above all a wide variety of herbivores. Although the park is not home to the famous Big Five of Africa, you'll still be able to observe many of Kenya's animals:
- Hundreds of species of birds...
On rare occasions, you may even see leopards, cheetahs and hyenas.
Discover the spa of Hell's Gate Park
The Olkaria spa is the very first hot spring on the African continent. Founded in 1981, it is one of the park's biggest attractions. In addition to using the park's water and geysers to generate electricity, the resort is also home to Africa's largest natural spa. Several pools where the water naturally rises to a temperature close to 140°F (60°C) are surrounded by terraces. In addition to the spellbinding beauty of the setting, it's the perfect place to relax.
Hiking or biking in the park
Unlike most of Kenya's parks and reserves – which can only be discovered in an all-terrain vehicle (and often only in the company of a guide) – Hell's Gate can be visited on foot or by bike.
And no worries: you'll have plenty of other opportunities to spot lions, cheetahs, leopards and many other savannah predators on safaris to other Kenyan sites, such as the
Though the park is relatively small, it's still a good idea to rent a bike at the entrance – it's the best way to get around more easily without disturbing the animals. In the vast valley, you'll have to cope with the blazing sun, and a bike will come in very handy to get you to the rare shaded areas more quickly 🚲
Some circuits are specially designed to be explored on foot, while large loops are ideal for exploring the park by bike.
On foot, one of the park’s highlights is the Ol Njorowa Gorge. Discovering this narrow fault lined with imposing cliffs takes around 2 hours. This hike requires a good level of fitness and the company of a guide who will be able to give you the best advice for the descent and ascent. Natural hot springs await at the bottom of the gorge.
By bike, the Buffalo Circuit is a loop almost 9 miles long (15 km), over terrain that is often far from flat, and where the sun tends to beat down hard. This circuit, reserved for the more courageous, offers many magnificent views over the entire region, including Mount Longonot, one of the valley's two volcanoes.
Of course, there are also a number of other, much more accessible circuits (some of which can also be covered by car), so that everyone can enjoy the spectacle 😊
Go rock-climbing in Hell's Gate National Park
Going on safari without a motorized vehicle is already a privilege, but there's another original activity on offer in Hell's Gate National Park: rock climbing. Indeed, several cliffs and rocky peaks located near the park's entrance or borders are set up so that enthusiasts can climb them to discover unique landscapes.
For example, it's possible to climb Fisher's Tower and Central Tower, two volcanic reliefs over 60 feet high (20m) that are parts of Maasai legends.
Guides are on hand to help and advise climbers, and of course to provide them with suitable equipment and ensure their safety. Climbing in Hell's Gate is an activity open to all, including beginners and children.
How to get to Hell's Gate National Park?
From Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, access to Hell's Gate National Park is particularly easy. There are two main entrances to the park: Elsa Gate, closest to Nairobi, and Ol Karina Gate, near the spa. Both can be reached in 2h to 2h30 by road. If you prefer to rent a car on site, you'll have to opt for an off-road vehicle, as you'll need to negotiate dirt roads.
By contacting a local agency, you can easily find a vehicle with a guide who will accompany you on site. The road between the capital and the park will take you through part of the Great Rift Valley – giving you a great overview of the wonders that await you 🤩
When is the best time to visit the park?
Like most of Kenya's parks and reserves, Hell's Gate can be visited all year round. However, some trails may be less passable during the rainy seasons, and weather conditions may not be optimal.
The best time of year to visit the park is therefore between June and October.
To visit Hell's Gate National Park, you'll at least need an entrance ticket, but the presence of a guide is more than recommended. If you contact a local agency, you'll find packages that are all-included (entrance fee, guide and even vehicle rental and on-site activities), and often offer very attractive rates.
If you prefer to organize your own visit, expect to pay around $33 per person per day to enter the park, and between $22 and $27 per day for the services of a guide.
Best reasons to visit Hell's Gate National Park
- The park is easily accessible by road, just 56 miles from the capital (90 km).
- It can be discovered on a day trip from Nairobi.
- It's the perfect park for a family safari with children, who can enjoy a wide range of activities (hiking, mountain biking, climbing...) in complete safety.
- The scenery is breathtaking.
- It's the ideal place for sporty travelers who enjoy challenging hiking and other outdoor activities.
- Spending a night in this park and sleeping in the middle of nature under a starry sky is an incredible experience!
We've come to the end of this article! I hope you enjoyed it and that you now know more about Hell's Gate National Park 🙂 If you're currently planning your trip, don't forget to check out my articles on how to get to Kenya and the Kenya Visa! 😉