Hell’s Gate National Park, This small park near Lake Naivasha contains a nice variety of plains animals, but it lacks most of the flagship species. The appeal lies more in the scenery with impressive sandstone cliffs and volcanic outcrops. Rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking are some of the activities available.
Hell’s Gate is not a big wildlife safari destination. Of the Big Five, the only buffalo are seen, while the leopard is around but seldom encountered. Giraffe, zebra, eland, hartebeest, and Thomson’s gazelle are common. Olive baboons seen perched on the cliffs while a good spotter might pick up a pair of klipspringers. Less common is the Chanler’s mountain reedbuck, which can be found grazing on the grassy slopes.
The main attraction of Hell’s Gate NP is its dramatic scenery. The name refers to the steep-sided valley running through the park. The volcanic landscape is dominated by dormant volcanos and several ancient lava plugs sticking out from the valley floor.
The climate at Hell’s Gate is similar to other places near the equator in that temperatures are fairly consistent year-round. What makes it unusual is its altitude, which is high enough to lend a distinct coolness to the air, particularly at night. The Dry season (June to October) sees plenty of blue-sky days, while the Wet season (November to May) trades the sunshine for afternoon showers.
Except for the Christmas season, Hell’s Gate gets relatively few visitors, so you don’t have to factor that into the timing of your visit. The Dry season (June to October) is the best time to go wildlife watching, as the animals are easier to observe in the thinned-out bush. The wetter months, on the other hand, reward you with nesting birds of prey, and the vegetation is in full bloom.
Hell’s Gate is not a Big Five destination. Aside from buffalo, there are no dangerous animals, 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. Olive baboons are all over the cliffs.
The plain-looking Chanler’s mountain reedbuck is one of the more unusual antelope species that can be seen in the park. The park is also good for some of the small antelopes, such as Kirk’s dik-dik and steenbok. Predators aren’t easy to spot, but the cheetah is here, while spotted hyena and black-backed jackal can sometimes be seen at dusk. Lucky visitors might also come across the elegant serval.
Hell’s Gate can be visited for hiking and cycling throughout the year, but wildlife viewing is best in the dry months from June to October when the grass is short. The scenery, however, is at its most spectacular during the Wet season from November to May.
More than 100 bird species recorded at Hell’s Gate. It was once famous as a breeding place for bearded vultures (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.
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 seen in breeding plumage as they are nesting. June to October is the Dry season and tends to be best for general wildlife viewing.
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).
Due to the relatively high altitude, the climate is mild throughout the year. Daytime temperatures are pleasant in the mid to upper twenties, while it cools off at night. The main Wet season (‘long rains’) is from March to May while there is a shorter wet period (‘short rains’) peaking in November. The short rains aren’t as pronounced as in other places in Kenya.
The weather is very pleasant in the Dry season. Days are usually sunny, but not too hot. It seldom rains, but there can be the occasional shower.
June, July & August – It is mostly sunny and dry, although there might be some rain in June. Afternoons are pleasant, with temperatures reaching 22°C/72°F, but evenings and early mornings are cold with temperatures of around 9°C/48°F.
September & October – It is still mostly dry, although there might be a bit of rain some days. It warms up a bit in October. Temperatures reach up to 25°C/77°F and higher. Early mornings stay chilly, with temperatures around 10°C/50°F.
There is a drier period in January-February separating the ‘short rains’ and ‘long rains’. However, the really wet period is only a short spell from March to May, peaking in April. Morning temperatures are around 10°C/50°F, so warm clothing is necessary. November & December – ‘Short rains’: The rains usually break sometime in November. Afternoon temperatures are around 25°C/77°F. January & February – There is a drier period between the short and long rains. The exact timing is difficult to predict, and it will still rain a bit.
March, April & May – ‘Long rains’: April is the wettest month. It often rains, but not for the whole day.
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 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 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 3½ hours.
Hell’s Gate is a very safe park to visit, in our opinion. Most visitors to the park will stay in Naivasha, which is a small town. There are no big safety concerns in Naivasha, but it’s a good idea to always be cautious when walking around any towns in Kenya without a guide (see ‘cities and other urban areas safety precautions’ below for more).
Several vaccinations taken before coming to Kenya. The town of Naivasha is located on the shore of the Rift Valley Lake with the same name.