The inspiration for animators of Disney’s The Lion King, Hell’s Gate National Park covers roughly 26 square miles (68.25 square kilometers). Named for a gap in the red-tinged cliffs carved by the flowing waters of a prehistoric lake, it’s the only park in East Africa in which you can get out of your safari vehicle and hike freely.
While the park is home to plenty of African animals, including an impressive number of bird species such as the rare lammergeier vulture, you are less likely to see lions, cheetahs, and leopards. This sparse carnivore population is one of the reasons why visitors to Hell’s Gate are encouraged to hike, rock climb, and bike past herds of giraffe and zebras. The park also has two extinct volcanoes and two volcanic plugs that formed massive towers (Fischer’s and Central Towers) located in Ol Njorowa Gorge.
Most guided tours to Hell’s Gate leave from Nairobi and involve some sort of physical activity, such as hiking the gorge or biking through the park. You can also pair a visit to Hell’s Gate with a boat ride on Lake Naivasha—a freshwater watering hole for animal species such as flamingos and hippos.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Bird enthusiasts of all levels shouldn’t miss the Mervyn Carnelley Raptor Hide—a camouflaged viewing station in the park.
- If you are exploring the park on your own (on foot or by bike), there’s an easy 4-mile route that stretches from the main entrance at Elsa Gate to the picnic area and ranger’s station near the entrance of Ol Njorowa Gorge.
- Pack a picnic lunch to eat in the picnic area, but beware of curious vervet monkeys who might make your snack their own.
How to Get There
Hell’s Gate National Park is located within the Great Rift Valley, roughly two hours by road northwest from Nairobi. If you’d rather not drive, many tour operators offer transportation to and from the park.
When to Get There
To escape the East African heat, head to the park in the early morning or late afternoon. You’re likely to see animals at all times of the day, despite the heat. The most popular time of year to visit Kenya are during the country’s dry seasons: January through March and July through October.
The Great Rift Valley
Running through the entirety of Kenya, the Great Rift Valley is a tectonic split that stretches from Lebanon to Mozambique. It has helped form some of the continent’s most fascinating and stunning environs, and continues to shift further apart by a few millimeters every year.