The untamed beauty of the Kenyan rift valley; Hell’s Gate National Park
The establishment of the park in 1984 was to help protect the area and its wildlife
Logged into the heart of Kenya’s Rift Valley, Hell’s Gate National Park is a natural wonder unlike any other. With towering cliffs, geothermal pools, and long bike trails, the park presents itself as a feast for adventure seekers from all around the world. The park was named by explorers Fischer and Thomson in 1883, who took inspiration from the narrow breaks in the cliffs that were once a tributary of a prehistoric lake that fed the early settler of the Rift Valley.
The early days
In the beginning, Hell’s Gate National Park was filled with excitement and wonder as many explorers took afoot in the unchartered wilderness that it provided.
The park was officially established in 1984, but its history predates then. The area was originally inhabited by the Maasai people for centuries and they have long regarded it as a sacred place. Traditionally the name Hell’s Gate comes from the Maasai word that means “place of the devil” which is a reference to the underground geothermal activity in the area.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that attention towards the park began. One of the first to pay a visit was the German explorer Gustav Fischer, who was awed by the land’s geothermal features and wrote extensive articles on them. British colonial administrators also began to take interest in the area and by the 1900s the park was declared an official game reserve.
In typical human nature, the area began facing threats by human encroachment, as people were cutting down trees for firewood and poaching the existing wildlife. The establishment of the park in 1984 was to help protect the area and its wildlife
In the early days of the park visitors were few and far between. The lack of roads, facilities, and infrastructure of any kind played a role in this. Those who dared to visit, did so at their own risk braving the rough terrain and wild animals without the aid of modern conveniences. Today, the park is more accessible with enhanced facilities, making it easier for visitors to explore.
There is still a sense of wonder and excitement that come from exploring the untamed beauty, it is a sense that harkens back it its discovery.
A Sprawling Landscape
One of the park’s most prominent features would be its towering cliffs. These standout features rise hundreds of feet above the valley floor creating dramatic backdrops for the park. With their jagged peaks and sheer faces, they seem to defy the laws of gravity and time, a true testament to the power of nature.
They are made up of layers of volcanic rock, some of which even date back millions of years, and provide some insight into the park’s geological features. As visitors explore the park, they can see how the layers of rock have been formed and sculpted by the forces of nature.
Hell’s Gate National Park has gorges, sectioned into upper and lower sections, the lower gorge locally known as Ol Njorowa offers visitors a chance to see a prehistoric tributary and scalding natural hot springs. Unfortunately, this part of the park has been closed since December 2022 due to dangerous flash floods.
Another iconic feature of the park’s landscape is the towering Fischer’s Tower, a natural column of rock that stands tall up in the sky. Named after the German explorer who first documented the park’s geothermal energy, the tower is a testament to the park’s unique geothermal history.
The cliffs provide a panoramic view of the park offering a glimpse into the vast wildlife that exists and the cultural history that makes Hell’s Gate a special place.
Native to the land, a vast array of wildlife such as zebras, impalas, giraffes, waterbucks, buffaloes, and a few big cat sightings have been noted in the park, you may even catch a glimpse of a baboon or two chatting away in the trees.
One of the best ways to experience the expansive wildlife is on foot or cycling on the expansive bike trail the park offers. As you walk through the park you get a chance to have an up and personal interaction with the wildlife and have the opportunity to explore the lesser-known areas of the park
The park is also home to a thriving community of Maasai tribespeople who have resided in that area for centuries and continue to maintain their traditional way of life.
Featured in Film
Would you believe that Hell’s Gate National Park has been featured in a blockbuster film? Well, if you believe so, we’re good. The 2003 action movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life had a part of the movie shot in the Lower Gorge of the national park which brought a lot of publicity to it.
The Upper Gorge of the park served as inspiration for the landscape of the fan favourite Disney movie Lion King.
The Geothermal ‘gold mine’
The most prominent feature of the park is its geothermal resources. The geothermal energy in Hell’s Gate National Park is a valuable natural resource harnessed to generate electricity for the local community.
The geothermal plants in Hell’s Gate National Park have a combined capacity of over 200MW and play an instrumental role in providing clean energy to the communities and reducing the region’s dependency on fossil fuels.
To sum it all up, Hell’s Gate National Park is a natural wonder that offers unforgettable experiences to its visitors. From sprawling landscapes and towering cliffs to geothermal energy and abundant wildlife, the park is a testament to the power of nature.
Whether a seasoned adventurer or you are simply seeking to take a peek into the natural world this is a destination not to be missed.
So why wait any longer? Pack up your bags, take a trip to the pride of Africa, immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of the Maasai people, and discover for yourself the spectacle of the untamed beauty of Hell’s Gate.