Hell’s Gate is one of Kenya’s smallest National Parks, but what it lacks in size is more than compensated for by its unusual features and charm. Above ground the parks’ volcanic history is clearly visible in the form of towering ochre-coloured cliffs, looming lava-rock towers, gorges and caves. There is still evidence of the layer of volcanic ash that covered the surface of the park when Mt. Longonot last erupted around 100 years ago. Below the surface, geothermal forces bubble and hiss, pushing hot water to the surface in the form of steam jets, geysers, hot springs and even hot waterfalls.
The geothermal activity has been harnessed by three power stations, which together provide a sizable portion of Kenya’s electricity. Although it is perhaps a little disconcerting to come upon the associated signs of industry within a national park, the geothermal power stations are very interesting to visit as part of your excursion to Hell’s Gate.
Interestingly, Hell’s Gate National Park did not get its’ name from the hissing and bubbling hot waters, but is named after a narrow gate-like break in the red stone cliffs. The name was coined by the explorers Fischer and Thomson in 1883, after they were defeated at that point during a battle against the resident Maasai tribesmen. Today the park is a peaceful place to get back to Nature and have the unique opportunity of walking or cycling among the resident wildlife.
Visiting the geothermal power stations
Visits to the Maasai Cultural Centre
Excursions to Lake Naivasha and Crescent Island Game Park
While your game drive here in Hell’s Gate may be a little sedate compared to some of Kenya’s Big Five national parks, it is really wonderfully liberating to be able to leave your vehicle whenever you like to snap that perfect photo or stretch your legs. The best time to set off to see the game is early morning and late afternoon, but there is always something to see whatever time of day you go. The animals are remarkably habituated to vehicles and barely take any notice of visitors, which allows you to get really up close.
Hell’s Gate is a very popular hiking destination, and it’s close proximity to Nairobi (about 2 hours by road) make it ideal for weekend breaks from the city. The Buffalo Circuit is a well-marked trail that starts near the main Elsa gate and rambles over the hills for about 14km before re-joining the main valley. There are excellent views and usually plenty of wildlife to see along the way.
At the southern end of the main Hell’s Gate gorge, close to the Central Tower, another walk descends into the Lower Gorge (Ol Njorowa)(Parts of this route can be quite dangerous particularly after rain when the rocks are slippery, and we recommend you hire a guide). The approximately 2 hour walk through the gorge is amazing and in places the water-eroded walls are so close together at the top that they almost block out your view of the sky! You will come across hot and cold waterfalls, hot water springs and very beautifully coloured rock striations and formations.
Rock Climbing is another popular adventure activity in Hell’s Gate National Park, and you can hire a guide and all the climbing gear you need onsite. Most people tackle Fischer’s Tower, but you can also attempt Main Wall, a very steep cliff at the entrance to the gorge.
Cycling is probably the most rewarding way to make your way through Hell’s Gate National Park. Bicycles can be hired at the park and cycling will give you the opportunity to get really close to the very relaxed wildlife. You can get all the information you need regarding the various cycling trails, including a park map, from the visitors Information kiosk at the main Elsa gate.
Birders will have a great time at Hell’s Gate! Numerous species of birds have made this picturesque park their home including some rather unusual ones such as the Maasai Ostrich, and a good compliment of raptors including Verreaux’s Eagle, and the Lammergeyer.
admittedly, this is a rather unusual activity for visitors to a National Park, but nonetheless it is a very interesting one. Come and see how the massive underground thermal energy has been harnessed to help provide for Kenya’s ever-increasing need for electricity.
Come and get an insider’s look at the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai tribesmen who have lived in the Hell’s Gate region for hundreds of years.
A visit to near-by Lake Naivasha will reward you with yet more excellent bird watching and a chance to take a boat trip out on the lake to see Hippos and Crocodiles. Try to visit Crescent Island to see large numbers of Pelicans and Egrets and hear the plaintive call of the African Fish Eagles who breed on the island.
The volcanic landscape is extraordinary! The most intriguing features of the park that you should not miss are the following:
Central Tower and Fischer’s Tower – two volcanic lava plugs, over 25mt high
Hell’s Gate gorge
Lower (Ol Njorowa) gorge
The Obsidian Caves – the black glass-like rock here is the result of rapid cooling of the molten lava as it was submerged in water.
Fisher’s Tower and Central Tower were both formed around the same time by semi-molten rock which was forced to the surface through a fissure, where the rock gradually cooled and solidified. Fischer’s Tower is located close to the main Elsa Gate, and according to the local Maasai folklore, this tower represents a Maasai girl who was turned into stone for disobeying her family before her wedding.
There are picnic sites and view sites dotted around the park, some with really fabulous views of the striated cliff faces, birds nesting sites and the two volcanic towers.
Ol Njorowa gorge is the most fascinating attraction in the park, but you should avoid hiking the gorge during rainy weather, as the floor is subject to flash-floods. Many visitors will recognize the amazing gorge as the setting for several movies, including the Lion King and Lara Croft.
The resident wildlife includes the following animals:
Several species of gazelle and antelope
Monkeys and Baboons
Cheetah, Lion and Leopard – very seldom spotted.
Birds include the following:
Lammergeyer (Bearded Vulture)
If you enjoy camping, there are a number of quite basic campsites in the park which have running water and pit-toilets. The views are absolutely stunning and make up for the lack of facilities! For those of you who like your home comforts, there are several lodges around the shores of Lake Naivasha. Two of the most populat are the Naivasha Simba Lodge and Sopa Lodge Naivasha.
Lake Naivasha Simba Lodge is situated right on the shores of the lake and has 70 delightfully spacious en-suite rooms with a step-down seating area with TV. The lodge offers a range of activities and has an excellent Health Centre and a solar-heated swimming pool.
Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort is similarly situated right on the banks of the lake and offers visitors the chance to see the resident Giraffe, Waterbuck and mischievous Monkeys without leaving your room. This resort also has two swimming pools and a good health centre.
To read more about these two lodges and other accommodation choices near-by, just click here: Lake Naivasha Lodges
The park is easy to reach by road from Nairobi in around 2 hours. Its location in the heart of the Kenya Rift Valley makes it very easy to include on a more extensive safari to Kenya’s Big Five hot-spot, the amazing Maasai Mara Reserve. In addition, Lake Nakuru National Park is also easily accessible.
Are you ready to enjoy a unique and breathtaking wildlife experience in the heart of the Kenya Rift Valley?
Be sure you don’t miss a moment of the fun and adventure by including Hell’s Gate National Park in your Kenya Safari itinerary. Leave it all to our experienced team – just click here to have a personalized itinerary drawn up for you: Africa Point - African Safaris by Local Experts!