The Yukon River is a major watercourse of northwestern North America. The river's source is in British Columbia, Canada, from which it flows through the Canadian Yukon Territory (itself named after the river). The lower half of the river lies in the U.S. state of Alaska. The river is 3,190 kilometres (1,980 mi) long and empties into the Bering Sea at the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta. The average flow is 6,430 m3/s (227,000 ft3/s). The total drainage area is 832,700 km2 (321,500 mi2), of which 323,800 km2 (126,300 mi2) is in Canada. The total area is more than 25% larger than Texas or Alberta.
The longest river in Alaska and Yukon, it was one of the principal means of transportation during the 1896–1903 Klondike Gold Rush. A portion of the river in Yukon—"The Thirty Mile" section, from Lake Laberge to the Teslin River—is a national heritage river and a unit of Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park. Paddle-wheel riverboats continued to ply the river until the 1950s, when the Klondike Highway was completed. After the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, the Alaska Commercial Company acquired the assets of the Russian-American Company and constructed several posts at various locations on the Yukon River.
The Yukon River has had a history of pollution from military installations, dumps, wastewater, and other sources. However, the Environmental Protection Agency does not list the Yukon River among its impaired watersheds, and water quality data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows relatively good levels of turbidity, metals, and dissolved oxygen. The Yukon and Mackenzie rivers have much higher suspended sediment concentrations than the great Siberian Arctic rivers.
The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, a cooperative effort of 70 First Nations and tribes in Alaska and Canada, has the goal of making the river and its tributaries safe to drink from again by supplementing and scrutinizing government data.
View of the Yukon River near Whitehorse, Yukon
Location of the Yukon River and watershed
|Native name||Kuigpak, Ooghekuhno', Tth'echu'|
|Country||United States, Canada|
|Province / Territory||British Columbia, Yukon|
|Source||Llewellyn Glacier at Atlin Lake|
|- location||Atlin District, British Columbia, Canada|
|Kusilvak, Alaska, United States|
|0 m (0 ft)|
|Length||3,190 km (1,980 mi)|
|Basin size||854,700 km2 (330,000 sq mi)|
|- average||6,430 m3/s (227,000 cu ft/s)|
|- minimum||340 m3/s (12,000 cu ft/s)|
|- maximum||24,600 m3/s (870,000 cu ft/s)|
|- left||White River, Tanana River|
|- right||Tagish River, Takhini River, Teslin River, Big Salmon River, Pelly River, Stewart River, Klondike River, Birch Creek, Koyukuk River|
The name Yukon, or ųųg han, is a contraction of the words in the Gwich'in phrase chųų gąįį han, which means white water river and refers to "the pale colour" of glacial runoff in the Yukon River. The contraction is Ųųg Han, if the /ųų/ remains nasalized, or Yuk Han, if there is no vowel nasalization. In 1843, the Holikachuks had told the Russian-American Company that their name for the river was Yukkhana and that this name meant “big river.” However, Yukkhana does not literally correspond to a Holikachuk phrase that means big river. Then, two years later, the Gwich'ins told the Hudson's Bay Company that their name for the river was Yukon and that the name meant white water river. White water river in fact corresponds to Gwich'in words that can be shortened to form Yukon. Because the Holikachuks had been trading regularly with both the Gwich'ins and the Yup'iks, the Holikachuks had been in a position to borrow the Gwich'in contraction and to conflate its meaning with the meaning of Kuigpak [River-big], which is the Yup'ik name for the same river. For that reason, the documentary evidence reflects that the Holikachuks had borrowed the contraction Ųųg Han [White Water River] from Gwich'in, and erroneously assumed that this contraction had the same literal meaning as the corresponding Yup'ik name Kuigpak [River-big].
The generally accepted source of the Yukon River is the Llewellyn Glacier at the southern end of Atlin Lake in British Columbia. Others suggest that the source is Lake Lindeman at the northern end of the Chilkoot Trail. Either way, Atlin Lake flows into Tagish Lake (via the Atlin River), as eventually does Lake Lindeman after flowing into Bennett Lake. Tagish Lake then flows into Marsh Lake (via the Tagish River). The Yukon River proper starts at the northern end of Marsh Lake, just south of Whitehorse. Some argue that the source of the Yukon River should really be Teslin Lake and the Teslin River, which has a larger flow when it reaches the Yukon at Hootalinqua. The upper end of the Yukon River was originally known as the Lewes River until it was established that it actually was the Yukon. North of Whitehorse, the Yukon River widens into Lake Laberge, made famous by Robert W. Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee". Other large lakes that are part of the Yukon River system include Kusawa Lake (into the Takhini River) and Kluane Lake (into the Kluane and then White River).
The river passes through the communities of Whitehorse, Carmacks, (just before the Five Finger Rapids) and Dawson City in Yukon, and crossing Alaska into Eagle, Circle, Fort Yukon, Stevens Village, Rampart, Tanana, Ruby, Galena, Nulato, Grayling, Holy Cross, Russian Mission, Marshall, Pilot Station, St. Marys (which is accessible from the Yukon at Pitkas Point), and Mountain Village. After Mountain Village, the main Yukon channel frays into many channels, sprawling across the delta. There are a number of communities after the "head of passes," as the channel division is called locally: Nunum Iqua, Alakanuk, Emmonak, and Kotlik. Of those delta communities, Emmonak is the largest with roughly 760 people in the 2000 census. Emmonak's gravel airstrip is the regional hub for flights.
Navigational obstacles on the Yukon River are the Five Finger Rapids and Rink Rapids downstream from Carmacks.
Despite its length, there are only four vehicle-carrying bridges across the river:
A car ferry crosses the river at Dawson City in the summer; it is replaced by an ice bridge over the frozen river during the winter. Plans to build a permanent bridge were announced in March 2004, although they are currently on hold because bids came in much higher than budgeted.
There are also two pedestrian-only bridges in Whitehorse, as well as a dam across the river and a hydroelectric generating station. The construction of the dam flooded the White Horse Rapids, which gave the city its name, and created Schwatka Lake.
The river flows into several parklands and refuges including:
Some of the upper slopes of this watershed (e.g. Nulato Hills) are forested by Black Spruce. This locale near the Seward Peninsula represents the near westernmost limit of the Black Spruce, Picea mariana, one of the most widespread conifers in northern North America.
The Yukon River is home to one of the longest salmon runs in the world. Each year Chinook, coho, and chum salmon return to their terminal streams in Alaska, the Yukon Territories, and British Columbia. The Chinook have the longest journey, with an estimated 35–50% bound for Canada. As salmon do not eat during their spawning migration, Yukon River salmon must have great reserves of fat and energy to fuel their thousands-mile long journey. As a result, Yukon River salmon are noted for their especially rich and oily meat.
The villages along the Yukon have historically and continue to rely on salmon for their cultural, subsistence, and commercial needs. Salmon are traditionally dried, smoked, and frozen for both human and sled dog consumption. Common methods of fishing on the Yukon include set gillnets, drift nets, dip nets, and fish wheels. The preference of certain gear is largely dependent on the river's varied characteristics in different areas. Some parts of the river do not have eddies to make set-nets successful, whereas in other places the tributaries are small enough to make drifting impractical.
Over the last 20 years salmon recruitment, the number of returning adults, has taken several shocks. The late 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s have been marked by radically reduced runs for various salmon species. The United States Department of Commerce issued a Federal Disaster Declaration for the 2008 and 2009 Commercial Chinook Yukon River fisheries, calling for the complete closure of commercial fishing along with restrictions on subsistence fishing. The root cause of these poor returns remains debated, with questions about the effects of climate change on ocean food-supply & disease prevalence in returning adults, the methods of fishing used on the river, and the effects of the Bering Sea Pollock trawl fleet on food supply and salmon bycatch. In 2010, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game's Board of Fisheries issued the first-ever restriction for net mesh size on the Yukon, reducing it to 7.5 inches (190 mm).
Various organizations are involved to protect healthy salmon runs into the future. The Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association was formed in 1990 by consensus of fishers representing the entire drainage in response to recent disaster years. Its organizational goals include giving voice to the village fishers that have traditionally managed these resources, enabling communication between fishers and fishery managers, and helping to preserve the ecological integrity of salmon runs and local cultures' Traditional Ecological Knowledge 
In March 2001, the U.S. & Canadian governments passed the Yukon River Salmon Agreement to better manage an internationally shared resource and ensure that more Canadian-originated salmon return across the border. The agreement is implemented through the Yukon River Panel, an international body of 12 members, equal-parts American and Canadian, that advises managers of Yukon River fisheries concerning restoration, conservation, and coordinated management.
Tribal organizations such as Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP), Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments (CATG), and Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) work to sustain Yukon River salmon to promote healthy people, cultures, and communities.
The Andreafsky River is a 120-mile (190 km) tributary of the Yukon River in the U.S. state of Alaska. The Andreafsky flows south from near Iprugalet Mountain in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to meet the larger river at Pitkas Point, near the village of St. Mary's.In 1980, the Andreafsky and the East Fork Andreafsky rivers became part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The designation covers about 265 river miles (RM) or 426 river kilometers (RK) along the two streams and their headwaters. About 198 RM (319 RK) of these flow through the Yukon Delta Wilderness; 54 RM (87 RK) cross private lands, and 13 RM (21 RK) flow through a wild-river corridor within non-wilderness refuge lands.Atlin Lake
Atlin Lake is the largest natural lake in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The northern tip of the lake is in Yukon, as is Little Atlin Lake. However, most of the lake lies within the Atlin District of British Columbia. Atlin Lake is believed to be the source of the Yukon River although it is drained via the short Atlin River into Tagish Lake.
The name comes from Áa Tlein (in Canadian spelling Â Tłèn), the Tlingit name meaning simply "big lake".The community of Atlin, British Columbia, is located on the eastern shore of the lake. The southern part of the lake is in the Atlin Provincial Park and Recreation Area.Beaver Creek (Yukon River tributary)
Beaver Creek is a 180-mile (290 km) tributary of the Yukon River in the U.S. state of Alaska. The creek begins at the confluence of Champion and Bear creeks in the White Mountains National Recreation Area, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Fairbanks. From there it flows west around the southern end of the White Mountains, then northeast into the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, then west into the Yukon River downstream of Beaver.In 1980, The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act designated the upper 127 miles (204 km) of Beaver Creek as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Most of this lies within the recreation area, but the last 16 miles (26 km) are in the wildlife refuge.Birch Creek (Yukon River tributary)
Birch Creek is a 150-mile (240 km) tributary of the Yukon River in the U.S. state of Alaska. Beginning at the confluence of Ptarmigan and Eagle creeks near Porcupine Dome, it flows southwest, then south under the Steese Highway and into the Steese National Conservation Area. It then turns east, then north, again passing under the Steese Highway and entering the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Turning northwest, it ends where it splits into two distributaries, Lower Mouth Birch Creek and Upper Mouth Birch Creek, near Birch Creek, Alaska. The distributaries flow into the Yukon River at separate locations downstream of Fort Yukon.Capital City (sternwheeler)
Capital City was a sternwheel steamboat of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. The vessel was originally named Dalton.Carmacks, Yukon
Carmacks is a village in Yukon, Canada, on the Yukon River along the Klondike Highway, and at the west end of the Robert Campbell Highway from Watson Lake. The population is 493 (Canada Census, 2016). It is the home of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, a Northern Tutchone-speaking people.Charley River
The Charley River is an 88-mile (142 km) tributary of the Yukon River in the U.S. state of Alaska. Flowing generally northeast from the Mertie Mountains in the northeastern part of the state, the river lies entirely within Yukon–Charley Rivers National Preserve. The Charley River enters the larger river downstream and 55 miles (89 km) southwest of Eagle.In 1980, the Charley River and all of its main tributaries became part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. A total of 208 miles (335 km) was declared "wild" along the entire main stem as well as Copper, Bonanza, Hosford, Derwent, Flat-Orthmer, Crescent, and Moraine creeks.The Charley River watershed is forested chiefly with black spruce and white spruce. This general locus within the Yukon River catchment is the approximate westernmost limit of the black spruce, Picea mariana. The river forms part of the boundary between the Southeast Fairbanks and Yukon–Koyukuk census areas.Fortymile River
The Fortymile River is a 60-mile (97 km) tributary of the Yukon River in the U.S. state of Alaska and the Canadian territory of Yukon. Beginning at the confluence of its north and south forks in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, the Fortymile flows generally northeast into Canada to meet the larger river 32 miles (51 km) southeast of Eagle, Alaska.History of Yukon
Yukon (formerly the Yukon Territory) is one of Canada's three territories in the country's extreme northwest. Its history of human habitation dates back to the Ice Age, and the original inhabitants are believed to have arrived over 20,000 years ago by migrating over the land bridge from Asia. In the 18th century, Russian explorers began trade with the First Nations people along the Alaskan coast, beginning the establishment of trade relations throughout the region. The famous Klondike Gold Rush began after gold was discovered near Dawson City in 1896. As a result of the influx of people looking for gold, it was made a separate territory in 1898, split off from the Northwest Territories. The second major event in the Yukon's history is the construction of the Alaska Highway during the Second World War, for the transportation of war supplies. Eventually Whitehorse became the largest city in the Yukon, and then the capital in 1953.Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush was a migration by an estimated 100,000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1896 and 1899. Gold was discovered there by local miners on August 16, 1896, and, when news reached Seattle and San Francisco the following year, it triggered a stampede of prospectors. Some became wealthy, but the majority went in vain. It has been immortalized in photographs, books, films, and artifacts.
To reach the gold fields, most took the route through the ports of Dyea and Skagway in Southeast Alaska. Here, the Klondikers could follow either the Chilkoot or the White Pass trails to the Yukon River and sail down to the Klondike. Each of them was required to bring a year's supply of food by the Canadian authorities in order to prevent starvation. In all, their equipment weighed close to a ton, which for most had to be carried in stages by themselves. Together with mountainous terrain and cold climate, this meant that those who persisted did not arrive until summer 1898. Once there, they found few opportunities, and many left disappointed.
Mining was challenging as the ore was distributed in an uneven manner and digging was made slow by permafrost. As a result, some miners chose to buy and sell claims, building up huge investments and letting others do the work. To accommodate the prospectors, boom towns sprang up along the routes and at their end Dawson City was founded at the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon River. From a population of 500 in 1896, the town grew to house around 30,000 people by summer 1898. Built of wood, isolated and unsanitary, Dawson suffered from fires, high prices, and epidemics. Despite this, the wealthiest prospectors spent extravagantly gambling and drinking in the saloons. The Native Hän people, on the other hand, suffered from the rush, being moved into a reserve to make way for the stampeders, and many died.
From 1898, the newspapers that had encouraged so many to travel to the Klondike lost interest in it. In the summer of 1899, gold was discovered around Nome in west Alaska, and many prospectors left the Klondike for the new goldfields, marking the end of the rush. The boom towns declined and the population of Dawson City fell. Gold mining activity lasted until 1903 when production peaked after heavier equipment was brought in. Since then the Klondike has been mined on and off, and today the legacy draws tourists to the region and contributes to its prosperity.Nowitna River
The Nowitna River is a 250-mile (400 km) tributary of the Yukon River in the U.S. state of Alaska. The river flows northeast from the Kuskokwim Mountains through Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge and enters the larger river 38 miles (61 km) northeast of Ruby and southwest of Tanana. Major tributaries include the Titna, Big Mud, Little Mud, Lost, and Sulatna rivers.In 1980, the 225 miles (362 km) of the river within the wildlife refuge were designated "wild" and added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The designation means that most of the Nowitna is unpolluted, free-flowing, and generally inaccessible except by trail.Steamboats of the Yukon River
Steamboats on the Yukon River played a role in the development of Alaska and Yukon. Access to the interior of Alaska and Yukon was hindered by large mountains and distance, but the wide Yukon River provided a feasible route. The first steamers on the lower Yukon River were work boats for the Collins Overland Telegraph in 1866 or 1867, with a small steamer called Wilder. The mouth of the Yukon River is far to the west at St. Michael and a journey from Seattle or San Francisco covered some 4,000 miles (6,400 km).Tagish Lake
Tagish Lake is a lake in Yukon and northern British Columbia, Canada. The lake is more than 100 km (62 mi) long and about 2 km wide.
It has two arms, the Taku Arm in the east which is very long and mostly in British Columbia and Windy Arm in the west, mostly in Yukon. The Klondike Highway runs along Windy Arm south of Carcross. Bennett Lake flows into Tagish Lake, so the northern portion of Tagish Lake was part of the route to the Klondike used by gold-seekers during the Klondike Gold Rush.Tanana River
The Tanana River is a 584-mile (940 km) tributary of the Yukon River in the U.S. state of Alaska. According to linguist and anthropologist William Bright, the name is from the Koyukon (Athabaskan) tene no, tenene, literally "trail river".The river's headwaters are located at the confluence of the Chisana and Nabesna rivers just north of Northway in eastern Alaska. The Tanana flows in a northwest direction from near the border with the Yukon Territory, and laterally along the northern slope of the Alaska Range, roughly paralleled by the Alaska Highway. In central Alaska, it emerges into a lowland marsh region known as the Tanana Valley and passes south of the city of Fairbanks.In the marsh regions it is joined by several large tributaries, including the Nenana (near the city of Nenana) and the Kantishna. It passes the village of Manley Hot Springs and empties into the Yukon near the town of Tanana.Ice on the river accumulates each winter to an average maximum thickness of 43 inches (110 cm) at Nenana. The Nenana Ice Classic, begun in 1917, is an annual guessing game about the date of the ice break-up. In October or November, after the freeze has begun, a tripod is planted in ice in the middle of the river. The tripod is connected to an on-shore clock that stops when the tripod begins to move during the spring thaw. Over the years, the break-up date has varied from April 20 to May 20. Betting on the exact time of the break-up takes the form of a lottery, called the Nenana Ice Classic.Teslin Lake
Teslin Lake is a large lake spanning the border between British Columbia and Yukon, Canada. It is one of a group of large lakes in the region of far northwestern BC, east of the upper Alaska Panhandle, which are the southern extremity of the basin of the Yukon River, and which are known in Yukon as "the Southern Lakes" (the other major ones in the group are Atlin Lake and Tagish Lake but include Bennett and Lindeman Lakes, the headwaters of the Yukon River itself). The lake is fed and drained primarily by the Teslin River, south and north, but is also fed from the east by the Jennings River and the Swift River, and from the west by the Hayes River.
According to the Yukon Geographical Names Project, "Teslin" means "long water", but in the Tlingit language the local kwaan or tribe of Tlingit is called Deisleen Kwáan", meaning "Big Sinew Tribe".There are three Indian Reserves of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation around the south end of the lake: Jennings River Indian Reserve No. 8, Teslin Lake Indian Reserve No. 7, and Teslin Lake Indian Reserve No. 9; in the same area had been a Hudson's Bay Company trading post. On the Yukon portion of the lake there are three Indian Reserves of the Teslin Tlingit Council - Teslin Post Indian Reserve No. 13, Nisutlin Indian Reserve No. 14 and Nisutlin Bay Indian Reserve No. 15, and the community of Teslin, which is located where the Alaska Highway meets the lake, following its northern/eastern shore from there towards Whitehorse. The Nisutlin Plateau limns the eastern side of the lake north of the mouth of the Teslin River and extends into Yukon.Wind River (Yukon–Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska)
The Wind River is a tributary of the East Fork Chandalar River in the U.S. state of Alaska. It arises in the Philip Smith Mountains of the Brooks Range and flows into the East Fork and eventually into the Yukon River.
Wind River is a National Wild and Scenic River. The main stem, headwaters, and an unnamed tributary—140 miles (230 km) of streams in total—were designated "wild" in 1980. All lie within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is a protected wetland area in the U.S. state of Alaska. It encompasses most of the Yukon Flats, a vast wetland area centered on the confluence of the Yukon River, Porcupine River, and Chandalar River. The area is a major waterfowl breeding ground, and after a proposal to flood the Yukon Flats via a dam on the Yukon River was turned down, the Yukon Flats were deemed worthy of protection. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act established the refuge in 1980. It is the third-largest National Wildlife Refuge in the United States, although it is less than one-half the size of either of the two largest, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is administered from offices in Fairbanks.Yukon River Run
Yukon River Run is an American reality television series, produced by Gurney Productions for the National Geographic Channel. The series follows three crews travelling along the Yukon River in Alaska attempting to sell wood and other essential supplies to remote villages along the river, while competing against the other crews to maximise profit.Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta
The Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta is a river delta located where the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers empty into the Bering Sea on the west coast of the U.S. state of Alaska. At approximately 129,500 square kilometers (50,000 sq mi) in size, it is one of the largest deltas in the world. It is larger than the Mississippi River Delta (which varies between 32,400 and 122,000 square kilometers (12,500 and 47,100 sq mi)), and comparable in size to the entire U.S. state of Louisiana (135,700 square kilometers (52,400 sq mi)). The delta, which consists mostly of tundra, is protected as part of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
The delta has approximately 25,000 residents. 85% of these are Alaska Natives: Yupik Eskimos and Athabaskan Indians. The main population center and service hub is the city of Bethel, with an estimated population of around 6,219 (as of 2011). Bethel is surrounded by 49 smaller villages, with the largest villages consisting of over 1,000 people. Most residents live a traditional subsistence lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and gathering. More than 30 percent have cash incomes well below the federal poverty threshold.
The area has virtually no roads; travel is by Bush plane, or by river boats in summer and snowmachines in winter.
Bethel is the location of the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center.