Nigu River Rafting

Nigu River Rafting


July 28, 2025 - August 5, 2025


Gates of the Arctic





July 28, 2025 - August 5, 2025


Gates of the Arctic



Looking for complete immersion in Alaska’s most remote and wild region? Northern Gates of the Arctic offers its few visitors unparalleled wilderness and unmatched beauty. Paddle the Nigu and explore the very heart of the Brooks Range.



This arctic rafting adventure is a great chance to enjoy some fun paddling, learn about the natural and human history of the area, and relax in this exceptional northern wilderness.

The Nigu was a seasonal home to the Nunamiut Eskimos (Inupiat) and artifacts of their lives are everywhere. Late summer is a rich time of year, as the caribou from the Western Arctic herd start to migrate through. Over the generations, Inupiat hunters built miles and miles of stone fences to direct the caribou toward ambushes where they were hunted with spears, often from kayaks. To stand on a low ridge among miles of caribou fences is to step back in time, to see and almost feel the ancient Inupiat hunters employing knowledge and ingenuity to harvest caribou from this arctic landscape. In addition to the stone fences and inuksuks (stone cairns made to look like people standing on a ridge), we can find tent rings, stone tools, bone pitons and other signs of ancient and historic habitation.

As we make our way down the Nigu we will likely see caribou feeding in small mountain valleys, down on the river plain, and along the rich sedge covered ridges. We may see bears digging for ground squirrels and roots on the river bars. Wolves, musk oxen and a seemingly limitless number of birds frequent the area too. Hilltop lookouts alongside the river allow us to scan for both predator and prey moving over the open terrain. Lakes along the river nourish migratory waterfowl such as northern pintail ducks, tundra swans and scaup.

We join the Nigu as far upriver as we can, where it flows among small river bluffs at the northern edge of Gates of the Arctic National Park.  As the river rolls through the mountainous Brooks Range, it makes a bend to the north, plunges downhill in a series of swift drops, and ultimately joins with the Etivluk River. Starting on the narrow Nigu, we will watch the river expand as tributaries add more water and the valley grows wider. As we descend, cliffs transition to bluffs, rapids to riffles, and near the end of the trip, the sky dominates our views.

We have miles to cover but will also have up to two layover days to absorb this fantastic landscape. Hiking is excellent along the Nigu, perhaps the best hiking in the Brooks Range in terms of variety. In the headwaters we can hike tall peaks. Downriver we can spread out on the long and colorful ridge systems that rise from the arctic plain like whale backs. Fishing for Arctic grayling is good enough to keep us in fish.  We will be as far as you can get from towns or roads in the United States of America. This river trip offers unparalleled opportunities for solitude and remoteness.

This is a moderately difficult, 80-mile river trip, a true wilderness expedition. The rafting is straightforward and there is no technical whitewater, but especially if the water is high, the upper river can be splashy. And if we encounter upstream winds, we may have to work to get to the take-out.

Last updated: December 1, 2023


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

July 27

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

July 28

Fly north from Fairbanks across the Yukon River, then over the southern flanks of the Brooks Range and northwest into Gates of the Arctic National Park and the remote Nigu River.

We intend to land near the headwaters but the level of the river will dictate what is possible. 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.

July 29

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.

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 boats for  the river. You are welcome to help or explore on your own.

July 30 - 31

Breaking camp takes some time early in the trip, but 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.

The current is swift so we can cover several miles before lunch without trouble. If conditions are good we will make about 15 miles this first day. When we see wildlife, we can pull ashore and get out the spotting scope and binoculars.

August 1

Another day on the river. We have miles to cover but there is time for a nice hike at lunch and ample opportunities for bird watching, fishing or other diversions.

August 2

Time to hike. There are mountains to climb for views of the Brooks Range. There are lakes with drive-lines and tent rings and who knows what else. And everywhere is the possibility for wildlife sightings. We have a full day to explore and enjoy the Nigu.

August 3

Another day on the river. The river has grown and gains speed as we cruise past tall bluffs and permafrost banks. The mountains are behind us and the views to the north are inspiring and expansive.

August 4

Near the confluence with the Etivluk River there is 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 perhaps 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 5

We spend the morning listening for our plane. When it arrives we load our gear and head towards Fairbanks. A hot shower is in order.

Kitchen tent and prepared meal in Arctic Alaska

Our guide was a patient and highly skilled guide who also took the time to educate us about geology, local wildlife, and the nunamiut people. Once my guilt for excessive comfort was taken care, we had a terrific experience.

- Vann, North Carolina, USA



Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks

Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils

Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service

Select Camping Equipment


Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear, See full equipment list

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. This tends to be a mild time of year. Snow is possible. Hopefully bug season will be on the wane but bring a bottle of DEET and a head-net in case of flies and mosquitoes.


Nunamiut by Helge Ingstadt;

Land of Extremes by Alex Huryn

We Live in the Arctic by Constance Helmericks

Arctic Wild by Lois Crisler

More Alaska reading is available at 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