- Class I-II
- River Length
- 90 miles
- 10 days
The Nigu River, located North of the Arctic Circle, drains Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and the western Brooks Range. The Nigu River’s flows continue from the edge of Gates of the Arctic into the 22.5 million acre National Petroleum Preserve. Once in the Preserve, the Nigu River joins with the Colville River, the largest volume river on the North Slope. The National Petroleum Preserve has the distinction of protecting the single largest stretch of undeveloped land in the United States.
The Nigu River’s headwaters flow from a high alpine valley and pick up volume at their confluence with the Etivluk River. The Etivluk River serves as an alternative access to the Nigu when conditions permit. The Nigu River meanders through treeless tundra on its way seaward, allowing for excellent views of the Brooks Range, rolling open hillsides and the Arctic Plain. Occasional narrowing of the river channel forms riffles on portions of the Nigu River, though the majority of the waterway is swift and scenic. Much of the Nigu River consists of braided channels and outfitted trips prefer to use smaller craft including small rafts, inflatable kayaks and canoes, facilitating portages from one braid to another without too much effort.
The Nigu River is located along the migratory route of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, numbering over 250,000 individuals, which allows visitors to view countless Caribou as they migrate toward their wintering grounds. Aside from viewing Caribou, visitors can often enjoy sightings of Musk Oxen, Grizzly Bear, Moose and Wolves. Fishing opportunity is excellent on the Nigu River for both Arctic Grayling and Arctic Char.
Nomadic tribes belonging to the Arctic Small Tool Tradition once lived in the Nigu-Colville River drainage. Visitors to the Nigu River will see the evidence of these cultures remaining in the numerous archaeological sites along the way.
Trips down the Nigu River generally run 10 or more days and take place in August. August brings autumn to the high Arctic and visitors can expect a fall color display resembling a calico quilt upon the treeless high tundra. In addition, August brings longer nights making for excellent stargazing and viewing of the Aurora Borealis from camp.
The Nigu River put-in is accessed by flight from Fairbanks to the small bush town of Bettles with an additional float plane trip to a small lake at either the Nigu or Etivluk River headwaters. Trips takeout after the Nigu has met with the Colville River and visitors are shuttled back to Bettles by bush or float plane where they take a return trip back to Fairbanks via plane or vehicle.
Visitors to rivers in the high Arctic should be adventurous and open minded. The Arctic region is a harsh environment and can require a bit of tolerance from her visitors. Weather in the Arctic can range from 80 degrees and sunny to 40 degrees and raining to 20 degrees and snowing, all within an hour. Gnats, mosquitoes and biting flies that see human visitors as a miraculous food source can also become an issue in the high Arctic. Proper measures should be taken by all visitors to the region to ensure their enjoyment of the experience. For those visitors willing to make the trip to the Arctic it is sure to be an amazing experience that will never be forgotten.