All gibbon species are declining throughout South and South-east Asia because of habitat loss and human activities such as hunting. Lao still contains a relatively large area of forest habitat suitable for gibbons, but their status in the country remains poorly known. Here we present the first density estimate of the Critically Endangered northern white-cheeked gibbon Nomascus leucogenys in Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area, northern Lao. We conducted gibbon surveys using an auditory sampling technique during May–August 2014 and May 2015, at 40 sites, covering 125.6 km2. We applied N-mixture models to analyse group counts, investigating which landscape and human disturbance covariates influenced the spatial variation of gibbon abundance across the study area. We estimated the average gibbon density to be 0.4 groups/km2. Gibbon density was higher in mixed deciduous forest (0.74 groups/km2) than in evergreen forest (0.09 groups/km2), which could be a result of long-term hunting in evergreen forest areas. Thus, future gibbon protection plans should consider not only evergreen forest as priority habitat, but also deciduous forest, which tends to receive less attention in conservation planning. We also highlight key areas containing gibbons where law enforcement patrols should be focussed, to limit threats such as poaching. Future forest management plans should aim to maximize the size and connectivity of suitable gibbon habitat, to enable exchange between subpopulations.