Hell’s Gate National Park had been on our to do list for some time. We finally went and it was so much fun! (We plan to go back.) While it’s possible to do it as a day trip, we made a weekend out of it so that we could have more time. (If you are traveling up from Nairobi, it’s about a two hour drive. The park is 14 km after the turnoff from the old Nairobi-Naivasha highway – via Naivasha Town on the Lake Road South at a junction 5km south of Naivasha.)
There is a lot to do at Hell’s Gate, including hiking, camping, rock climbing, and mountain biking. We went with the sole purpose of hiking the main gorge. We entered the park through the main gate, Elsa Gate. We opted to drive to the first ranger station rather than rent bikes. It would have been a pretty ride and you would see animals along the way…but…the bikes you rent are pretty bad, no helmets unless you have your own, and it’s a long ride. We didn’t want to be tired and have sore bums before we even started our hike.
When we got the first ranger station we were asked if we wanted a guide. We said no. Then we quickly saw that the gorge is trickier than your average hike. We would up with a guide and we’re really glad we did. First off, you need to do some tricky rock scrambling to even get into the gorge. Second, there are other parts where it really helps to have someone knowledgeable guide your steps. Finally, because we had a guide, we were able to do a more adventurous part of the gorge.
- If you don’t have a guide you have to sign in and out so that you’re accounted for.
- You’ll be offered two options: a short 40 minute hike and a longer two-plus hour hike. There is a third option that we found out about later that we wish we had done: a four hour hike that takes you all the way to Pride Rock. We are going back to do that hike!
- Get the guide. It’s so worth it.
So, with the help of Joseph, our amazing guide, we did our hike.
We hiked Ol Njorowa, the main gorge, as well as the Central Tower Gorge, which was the more adventurous part of the hike. (The Central Tower Gorge is where they shot Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life. I won’t deny pretending to be Lara Croft while hiking that part.)
That part happens to be the part where you can’t go without the guide. It’s narrow and deep, and if it suddenly rains heavily, then you risk flash floods. (Read: you could die. A few years ago seven people died this way in that part of the gorge. That’s why they have the guided access only rule and a few emergency exits (which are just ways to climb out and not all that easy). I wouldn’t hike that part of the gorge in the rainy season. I am really happy that we went on a nice sunny day with a guide.
The gorge was breathtaking. It was so beautiful. The sandstone, carved out by water, looks like fine pottery in places. The layers of earth you see, because of the volcanic nature of the region, is varied with stripes of red and ashy black and the beige of the sandstone. Amazing.
A few other things to note:
- Bring water and food.
- Sip your water slowly. There are no bathrooms or places to easily tuck away. Use the toilets at the main gate or ranger station before you start your hike.
- Go in the morning before the day gets too hot. It’s cooler in the gorge because many parts of shaded, but it still gets hot.
- Wear hiking boots, trail shoes, or sneakers. (We saw a woman in Birkenstock flip flops who was hating life.)
- Leave your nice rings and watches at home—you’ll scratch them up otherwise.
- Wear comfortable clothes that you can move around in. (We saw some women in skirts who did not look too happy.)
- If you bring a camera, be sure to have a backpack you can tuck it into.
- Backpacks in general are the best option in terms of bags/storage.
Here are some pictures from our adventure. I would have loved to have taken more, but you can tell from the landscape that this was not a DSLR-friendly hike. I’m glad I brought it along, but I could really only use it at certain points. By the way, that photo at the top of this post is of Pride Rock. We didn’t get to hike all the way there, but we could see it from a distance from above the gorge.
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