Big Wilderness Rafting

Big Wilderness Rafting


August 11, 2017 - August 20, 2017


Gates of the Arctic





August 11, 2017 - August 20, 2017


Gates of the Arctic



Looking for complete immersion in Alaska’s most remote and wild region? The central Brooks Range offers its few visitors unparalleled wilderness and unmatched beauty. Paddling on the clear waters of the Nigu, Etiviluk and Colville Rivers explores the very heart of the Brooks Range. It is wilderness paddling at it’s best.



Last updated: July 4, 2017


What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.

August 10

Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.

August 11

Fly north from Fairbanks across the Yukon River to the village of Bettles, nestled on the southern flanks of the Brooks Range. From here, we catch a plane that will fly us northwest over Gates of the Arctic National Park to a lake near the remote Nigu River. After unloading the airplane and carrying our gear to the river we will make camp on a nice gravel bar with views of mountains all around.

August 12

We spend the day getting to know the Arctic. After breakfast, we head into the mountains on foot. Sandbars show the tracks of caribou, moose, and maybe wolves or bears. The tundra is soft underfoot and rich with a variety of plants and berries. On this first hike we pass a long lake and can try to catch a few grayling. Along the shores of this lake are several ancient stone tent rings marking the camps of Inupiaq hunters of long ago. Their stone fences used for herding caribou into the lake are also in evidence. Departing the lake we can head-up a long rocky ridge. Caribou like feeding here and we gain views down-river of the route we will take over the next couple of days. After a relaxed picnic lunch and plenty of time to enjoy the mountain views, we will make our way back towards the river and camp. In the evening we will prepare the rafts for river. You are welcome to help or explore on your own. If some of the group wants to extend the hike, that is always an option.

August 13

Breaking camp takes some time early in the trip and with 24 hours of daylight, there is no hurry. When we get the boats loaded and complete our safety briefing we push out into the current. Everyone paddles in the rafts and the current is swift so we can cover 10 miles before lunch without trouble. When we see wildlife, we can pull ashore and get out the spotting scope and binoculars. The Nigu is not a big river but the valley is gorgeous. Clear waters push the raft first towards one cliff and then back towards the permafrost bluffs. Your guide will teach you how to move the boat gracefully down-river. When we near Nigu Bluff we will search for a suitable camp, haul the boats ashore and settle into a new spot.

August 14

Puvkrat is the Inupiaq name for a dragon’s-back shaped ridge running perpendicular to the river. The rock spires host nesting falcons and hawks and ancient hunters built small caves in the rock to store meat. Cloudberries abound and the ridge stretches endlessly to the west. If conditions permit we will spend a full day exploring along the ridge.

August 15

The Nigu joins the Etivluk River below Nigu Bluff and the river doubles in size. The mountains begin to recede and we enter a land of rolling hills and rock bluffs, tundra stretching endlessly beneath a cavernous sky. Instead of dodging rocks and negotiating small cliffs we spend our paddling effort working to stay in the main current and negotiating the wind. It is a full day on the river paddling through an area where we often see Muskoxen feeding in the willows. At day’s end we perch our camp on a bluff well above the river for commanding views of the wilderness and wildlife.

August 16

Another day on the river. By now the routine of breaking camp is quick and efficient leaving more time for a hike during lunch or a stop at a promising fishing spot. The current picks-up its pace today and the river winds past great ice cliffs dripping with 10,000 year old water and calving great chunks of sod and ice into the river on warm days. Ptarmigan are common here along with raptors hunting them. Our camp this night will be positioned for a hike to Kingak Mountain the following day.

August 17

Kingak is a hard hike. The tundra is rough and walking across the vast plains is slow. But the rewards are immense. Kingak is near the geographically most isolated place in the US. It is further from any road, town or other development than any other location in the country. And the view of the wilderness can not be described, with the Brooks Range to the south and the grand curve of the earth to the north. Few people have ever been on Kingak Mountain, likely less than one party every 3 years. The hike is an all day adventure and a memory never to be forgotten.

August 18 - 19

The Etivluk River enters the Colville River Basin and the sky seems to swallow the land. Near the river, lakes dot the tundra and waterfowl erupt as we paddle around the corner. Many years we see caribou and feeding along the pond edges and sometimes we find moose crossing the river on an errand only they comprehend. The river grows ever wider and the gravel bars stretch in long arcs. The current slows a bit and we may have to paddle against the wind. The Etivluk joins the Arctic Alaska’s largest river, the Colville (Kukpik in Inupiaq). The rush of current and the dazzling colors of Colville rocks are startling and we make good time on the larger river. Fishing on the Colville is good and there are nice bluffs to climb for views back to Kingak, Puvkrat and the Brooks Range where our adventure began. We make our last camp on a sprawling gravel bar near the Colville. A big driftwood fire and fresh caught fish are a perfect end to a day on the river.

August 20

We spend the morning listening for our plane. If the weather cooperates, the plane arrives mid-morning and lands on the gravel bar. We then load our gear and shuttle a few at a time back towards Fairbanks. A hot shower is in order.

Please don’t plan on leaving Alaska before 8 pm on Aug 21st to account for the possibility of weather delays. If you can arrange your schedule to create a larger buffer, that is even better.

Such a joy to spend days where time was meaningless.  A wonderful adventure and I would like to return next year for a longer, more challenging trip.

You mentioned to me in an email that you have terrific guides - you do indeed.  Dave is a superb guide. He is personable, knowledgeable about the Arctic, and has excellent group management skills. I appreciated the time he spent teaching me to read the map, which is not easy without trails.   He allowed Adrian and me to hike at our own pace and he encouraged all of us to explore the area surrounding our campsites. I know the others would concur in my praise.

- Sandra, California, USA



Transportation beyond Fairbanks, food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear and professional guide service. Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild and is included for all custom itineraries. See full equipment list.


Lodging, non-camp meals, personal clothing and gear, waterproof river bag, fishing gear, and fishing license. Gratuity for guide(s).


A variety of weather is likely, including rainy periods and bright sunny conditions. Temperatures can range from the 70’s down into the 30’s. Snow is possible. Bug season should be on the wane but bring a bottle of DEET and a headnet in case of flies.


Nunamiut, Helge Ingstadt; Land of Extremes, Alex Huryn; We Live in the Arctic, Constance Helmericks; Arctic Wild, Lois Crisler; More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.

"The wilderness was spectacular, the leadership perfect."
"I am just finishing my tenth trip with you guys. As always, the trip was more than I expected and I had a great time. See you next year!"
"Of all outfitters with whom we have worked (and that is quite a number), you were by far the most organized and responsive."
"That feeling of wide open wonder, the possibilities for nearly limitless wandering, and the image of those proud caribou...that will stay with me a long time"
"Our guide was an encyclopedia on legs. He was always willing and ready to teach, to talk, to listen, to do another hike, or to lie low in camp if we were beat. He truly gave us the trip we wanted!"
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Eileen - Canning River