The Arctic Red River flows 499 km north-northwest from glaciers in the North Mackenzie Mountains, crossing 4 mountain ranges before it winds its way through the Mackenzie Lowlands, crossing the Arctic Circle and joining the Mackenzie Riverjust south of the Mackenzie River Delta. The total land area within the watershed is some 23 200 km2. Its Gwich'in name, Tsiigèhnjik, means "river of iron" and is likely derived from the silt-stained waters, as is its English name.
Unlike many mountain rivers, the Arctic Red flows placidly for much of its course. Its valley, framed by high mountains, provides rich habitat for Dall sheep, caribou, grizzly bear and peregrine falcon. The river's watershed is homeland for the Gwich'in people. At its confluence with the Mackenzie is the community of Tsiigehtchic.
During the ice break-up in May, water levels can rise 10 m and ice from the mighty Mackenzie can be pushed 70 km up the Arctic Red. The flowing ice leaves scars on trees along the riverbank, high above the river's summer water level.
The first European to see the Arctic Red River was Alexander Mackenzie, in 1789, but the Gwich'in have hunted and fished in the river for thousands of years. Today, the river still provides much of the basics of life for the residents of Tsiigehtchic: wood from the spruce forests, fish, moose, waterfowl and a transportation route to their traditional trapping areas. In 1993 the Arctic Red River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River.