10 Interesting Facts About the Yukon River

The Yukon River is one of the most iconic rivers in North America. Flowing through the Yukon Territory and Alaska, this mighty river has shaped the history and culture of the region. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the Yukon River:


The Yukon River is the third longest river in North America at 1,980 miles long. This massive river starts in British Columbia, Canada and winds its way through the Yukon Territory and Alaska before emptying into the Bering Sea. For thousands of years, the river has been a vital source of food and transportation for Indigenous peoples. During the famous Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s, the Yukon River became an essential route for prospectors flooding to the region. Today, the Yukon remains culturally significant and home to incredible wildlife. Keep reading for more intriguing facts about this iconic river!

1. Length and Size

Spanning almost 2,000 miles from start to finish, the Yukon River is the longest in both Alaska and the Yukon Territory. Its drainage basin encompasses over 300,000 square miles across Alaska and Canada’s Yukon. Though massive, it only ranks as the 4th largest river system in North America. The Yukon River’s average discharge is over 6,400 cubic meters per second. For perspective, that’s more than 6 billion gallons of water flowing every hour!

2. Origins and Route

Sundown over the Llewellyn glacier
Sundown over the Llewellyn glacier by linznix is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

The Yukon River begins at the Llewellyn Glacier in northern British Columbia, Canada. It flows generally north and west, passing through Whitehorse, before entering Alaska. The river winds across central Alaska before emptying into the Bering Sea. Major tributaries include the Pelly, Stewart, Klondike, Porcupine, and Tanana Rivers.

3. Diverse Wildlife

The Yukon River supports abundant wildlife. Its waters and riparian areas provide habitat for Chinook, chum, and Coho salmon. Its delta on the Bering Sea is an important area for migratory birds like swans, geese, and ducks. Mammals like caribou, moose, bears, and wolves also rely on the Yukon River ecosystem. Overall, the river helps sustain a rich diversity of fish, birds, and land animals.

4. Indigenous Peoples

For thousands of years, Indigenous groups like the Gwich’in, Han, and Northern Tutchone have relied on the Yukon River. They have used the river for food, transportation, and cultural practices. Even today, the Yukon remains vital to Indigenous traditions like fishing. Unfortunately, pollution and climate change now threaten the river’s future.

5. Klondike Gold Rush

In 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon, sparking the famous Klondike Gold Rush 1. The Yukon River became the highway for over 100,000 prospectors seeking their fortunes. Paddle steamers carried people and supplies between Whitehorse and Dawson City. This river transport helped fuel the gold rush.

6. Natural Beauty

With its glacial origins, the Yukon River flows through diverse landscapes. Pristine wilderness, wetlands, boreal forests, and tundra surround the river. Travelers can experience the Yukon’s beauty through river cruises, canoe trips, hiking, and flightseeing tours. The river valley offers spectacular scenery and recreational opportunities.

7. Riverboats

From the late 1800s to the 1950s, paddle wheel riverboats cruised the Yukon River. These shallow draft boats served communities, transported supplies, and enabled recreation. Though no longer in service, the riverboats and their legacy endure as symbols of the Yukon River’s history and character. Museums in Whitehorse and Dawson City showcase this riverboat heritage.

8. Fishing

Yukon River and fish ladder 0993
Yukon River and fish ladder by WanderingWhitehorse is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .

The Yukon River supports one of the longest salmon runs in the world. Each summer, hundreds of thousands of salmon travel the river to spawn. The river’s salmon and other fish like grayling have supported Indigenous fishing for millennia. Today, the Yukon remains popular for recreational and subsistence fishing. Yet, maintaining healthy fish populations is an ongoing challenge.

9. National Park

A section of the Yukon River in Alaska is protected within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve 2. Established in 1980, this preserve safeguards over 2.5 million acres of wilderness and wildlife habitat surrounding the river. Popular activities include rafting, canoeing, backpacking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

10. Threats

Climate change, pollution, and overfishing pose threats to the Yukon River ecosystem. Warmer temperatures disrupt salmon migration patterns and spawning. Contaminants from mining and development affect water quality. Balancing conservation and Indigenous fishing rights remains contentious. Protecting the Yukon River for future generations is an ongoing effort.


This massive river is integral to the environment, history, and cultures of Alaska and the Yukon. Its size, beauty, and wildlife make the Yukon River truly iconic. However, safeguarding its health requires awareness and diligent stewardship. The vibrant heritage of the Yukon River can continue if people value its preservation. By learning about its significance, we can better appreciate and protect this treasured river system.


  1. What Was the Klondike Gold Rush? https://www.nps.gov/klgo/learn/goldrush.htm[]
  2. https://www.nps.gov/yuch/index.htm[]