Giraffes standing in front of escarpment in Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya safari

Hell's Gate in Kenya is the perfect place for safari, scenery and sports

Oct 31, 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

Unless you've watched Tomb Raider, it's likely you don't know about Hell's Gate National Park. Yet it's a spectacular park where you can go on game drives as well as hike, cycle and rock climb. And did we mention the volcanic landscape is a showstopper??

It's a wonder that Hell's Gate National Park in southern Kenya isn't more famous. Why, you ask? Because it's seldom that you can go game viewing in such a varied and stunning landscape!

The park straddles the Rift Valley just 100 km northwest of Nairobi. It has incredible geological formations like a deep gorges, volcanic plugs and red cliffs that drop down to meet rolling grasslands.


Hell's Gate is next to Lake Naivasha, which you can see above

Let's look at the three main attractions of Hell's Gate National Park to entice you to visit ...

1. The dramatic landscape

What really sets Hell's Gate apart from many other parks is the incredible landscape.

Zebras in Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya

Zebras near the escarpment in the rainy season

Here you have the rolling grasslands common to East Africa, but you also have towering red cliffs, volcanic plugs, deep gorges and slot canyons.

In fact, Hell's Gate is one of the few national parks in the world where you can see geothermal activity up close. There are hot springs, geysers and fumaroles which release steam and sulphuric gases and in doing create an otherworldly atmosphere.

Mesmerising view of canyon in Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya

One of the picturesque gorges in the park

Being part of the East African Rift Valley, the park's topography has been shaped by long seismic activity. Moreover, its underground geothermal waters are among the hottest in the world (they can reach up to 304 โ„ƒ or 579 โ„‰).

Cliff face in green rainy season of Hell-s Gate NP, Kenyan safari

A towering basaltic cliff face in the park

Given the incredible geothermic activity of the area, it might not surprise you to learn that the park is adjacent to the Olkaria Geothermal Plant, which is one of the largest geothermal power stations in Africa. Visitors can take tours to learn about geothermal energy generation.

The volcanic Crater at Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya

Ol Njorowa Gorge

2. The park's wildlife

Hell's Gate isn't one of Kenya's major safari destinations given that bigger reserves like the Maasai Mara and Amboseli are relatively nearby and there you can see the Great Wildlife Migration and the Big Five.

Hell's Gate doesn't have big cats (except for servals) nor elephants, which are big-ticket animals for safari-goers. But that doesn't mean it doesn't still offer a fantastic game-viewing experience!

Impalas (Aepyceros melampus) in the Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya

Some of the park's gazelles, a truly elegant antelope

Some of the plains game you're almost certainly going to spot during your Hell's Gate safari are Rothschild's giraffes, Burchell's zebras, Cape buffaloes, elands, hartebeests, Thomson's gazelles, warthogs, olive baboons and rock hyraxes.

African Buffalo, syncerus caffer, Calf standing on Dry Grass, Hell's Gate Park in Kenya

A Cape buffalo calf

Those who are lucky also spot klipspringers high up on the cliffs. In fact, the name of these pretty, small antelopes translates as 'cliff jumper'.

Klipspringer, oreotragus oreotragus, Adult standing on Rocks, Hell's Gate Park in Kenya

An adult klipspringer in the park

The extremely lucky visitor might also spot one of the park's elusive servals. Servals are slender, medium-sized wild cats with small heads, large ears, and distinctive black lines and spots all over its body.

 A serval behind bushed in Kenya, safari

Servals aren't easy to spot

As to birds in the park, over a hundred species have been recorded. You usually don't have to look hard to see ostriches and secretary birds along the valley floor. And when you see buffaloes you're also likely to see egrets hanging out nearby or sitting on buffaloes as they have a symbiotic relationship.

Ours. Close up of secretary bird, Masai Mara, Kenya safari

Secretary birds are large and easy to spot

Also look for Verreaux's eagles, vultures and augur buzzards. And be sure to turn to the cliffs as the park's thousands of Nyanza (brown) and mottled swifts nest there.

3. The sports on offer

Another thing that makes Hell's Gate such a special park to visit is that you can step out of your vehicle and get active!

It usually isn't safe to get out of your vehicle in many national parks as they have large predators like lions and other potentially dangerous animals like elephants. But in Hell's Gate you're good to go.

African Buffalo, syncerus caffer with Cattle Egret, bubulcus ibis, Hell-s Gate Park in Kenya

An adult buffalo with an egret

The only dangerous (to humans) animals in Hell's Gate are servals and buffaloes. A serval will leave you alone, and so they're of no real concern. It's just buffaloes that can be dangerous, so be sure to always give them a wide berth.

Cyclists ride bikes through Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya

Cyclists are allowed to explore the park

The three main activities on offer are hiking, rock climbing and cycling.

There are some great long and short hiking trails in Hell's Gate. And yes, you can walk down into the slot canyons! But do keep a sharp eye on the weather forecast as flash floods and canyons don't go well together.

Male hiker in Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya, in the dry season

The park has many great hiking routes

Mountain bikers can cycle between the park's two main gates on a paved road of about 14 km. But there are also two off-road loops known as the Twiga and Buffalo Circuits (FYI, twiga means giraffe).


The Aberdare mountain range

The circuits are too dusty in the dry season, so you only want to ride them after some rain. But they're so worth it, as the views they offer towards the Aberdare Mountains are incredible!

Fischer's Tower in Hell's Gate national park, Kenya. Beautiful rock in Kenyan national park for rock climbing

You're allowed to rock climb Fischer's Tower

Rock climbing is also a popular sport in Hell's Gate. The two basaltic plugs of Fischer's Tower and Ol Basta (or Central Tower) are the most popular spots. You will share the climb with plenty of rock hyraxes โ€“ in fact, we defy you to not see any during your climb!

Walking with a Maasai in the Hell-s Gate gorge. Kenya

A Maasai man walking Ol Njorowa Gorge

Finally, note that Hell's Gate is also home to the Maasai community, who have several cultural sites within the park. Ask your safari driver or activity guide to explain their connection to the Maasai culture!