Yukon River

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Yukon River
Dawson City Lookout Yukon River 3264px.jpg
A view of the Yukon River near Dawson City, Yukon
Countries Canada, United States
State Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia
Source Llewellyn Glacier at Atlin Lake
 - location Atlin District, British Columbia, Canada
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Mouth Bering Sea
 - location Kusilvak, Alaska, United States
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Length 3,190 km (1,982 mi)
Basin 854,700 km2 (330,002 sq mi)
 - average 6,430 m3/s (227,073 cu ft/s)
Location of the Yukon River and watershed

The Yukon River is a major watercourse of northwestern North America. The source of the river is located in British Columbia, Canada. The next portion lies in, and gives its name to, Yukon. The lower half of the river lies in the U.S. state of Alaska. The river is 3,190 kilometres (1,980 mi)[2][3] long and empties into the Bering Sea at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The average flow is 6,430 m³/s (227,000 ft³/s).[1] The total drainage area is 832,700 km² (321,500 mi²),[1] of which 323,800 km² (126,300 mi²) is in Canada. By comparison, 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.[4][5] 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 name Yukon, or ųųg han, is a blend of the words in the Gwich'in phrase chųų gąįį han, which mean white water river and which refer to the visual effect of glacial silt in the Yukon River.[6][7] The blend omits the consonant “ch” and the vowels “ąįį.”[8] In 1843, the Holikachuks had told the Russians that their name for the river was Yukkhana and that the name meant big river.[9] Although it did serve as the name, Yukkhana does not correspond to a Holikachuk phrase that means big river.[10][11] The Holikachuks had borrowed the upriver language name and conflated its meaning with the meaning of Kuigpak, the Yup’ik name for the same river.[12] 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.[6] White water river in fact corresponds to Gwich’in words that can be blended to form Yukon.[7]

The Lewes River is the former name of the upper course of the Yukon, from Marsh Lake to the confluence of the Pelly River at Fort Selkirk.

The Yukon River has had a history of pollution from gold mining, military installations, dumps, wastewater, and other sources.[citation needed] 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.[13]

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.


Map of the Yukon River watershed

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.


The bridge across the Yukon River at Carmacks on the Klondike Highway
The E. L. Patton Yukon River Bridge carries the Dalton Highway over the Yukon north of Fairbanks.

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:

Canoeing the Yukon River

Geography and ecology

Some of the upper slopes of this watershed (e.g. Nulato Hills) are forested by Black Spruce.[14] This locale near the Seward Peninsula represents the near westernmost limit of the Black Spruce, Picea mariana,[15] 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, citing the complete closure of commercial fishing along with restrictions placed 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.[16][17] 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).[18]

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 [19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.


Yukon Territory

The Yukon River, as seen from the Midnight Dome in Dawson City, Yukon


Anabranches near the junction of the Yukon River and the Koyukuk River in Alaska, August 24, 1941

In media

The Yukon River features as the setting for the 2015 National Geographic Channel series Yukon River Run.[22]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Brabets, Timothy P; Wang, Bronwen; Meade, Robert H. (2000). "Environmental and Hydrologic Overview of the Yukon River Basin, Alaska and Canada" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 5 March 2010.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Yukon River". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 6 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Yukoninfo.com". Yukoninfo.com. Retrieved 2013-08-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. The Thirty Mile (Yukon River) National Heritage River, National Heritage Rivers System
  5. Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park, Parks Canada
  6. 6.0 6.1 “Dear Sir / I have great pleasure in informing you that I have at length after much trouble and difficulties, succeed[ed] in reaching the ‘Youcon’, or white water River, so named by the natives from the pale colour of its water. … /// I have the honour to Remain Your obᵗ Servᵗ / John Bell” Hudson’s Bay Company Correspondence to George Simpson from John Bell (August 1, 1845), HBC Archives, D.5/14, fos. 212-215d, also quoted in, Coates, Kenneth S., and William R. Morrison (1988). Land of the Midnight Sun: A History of the Yukon. Hurtig Publishers. ISBN 0-88830-331-9.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, at page 21.
  7. 7.0 7.1 In Gwich’in, adjectives, such as big (choo) and white (gąįį), follow the nouns that they modify. Thus, white water is chųų gąįį. White water river is chųų gąįį han. Peter, Katherine (1979). Dinjii Zhuh Ginjik Nagwan Tr’iłtsąįį: Gwich’in Junior Dictionary. Univ. of Alaska.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, at pp. ii (ą, į, ų are nasalized a, i, u), xii (adjectives follow nouns), 19 (big = nitsii or choo), 88 (ocean = chųų choo [literally, big water]), 105 (river = han), 142 (water = chųų), 144 (white = gąįį).
  8. The phrase thus became ųųg han (if the “ųų” remains nasalized), or yuk han (if there is no nasalization). This phrase existed by 1843, because the Holikachuk had borrowed it by then, as documented below.
  9. “[The Yukon] in the language of the Kang-ulit (Yup’ik) people is Kvikhpak; in the dialect of the downriver Inkilik (Holikachuk), Yukkhana; of those upriver (Koyukon), Yuna. All these terms mean the same thing in translation–‘Big River.’ I have kept the local names as a clearer indication of the different tribes along the river.” Lt. Zagoskin’s Note 63 (1848), translated in, Zagoskin, Lavrenty A., and Henry N. Michael (ed.) (1967). Lieutenant Zagoskin’s Travels in Russian America, 1842-1844: The First Ethnographic and Geographic Investigations in the Yukon and Kuskokwim Valleys of Alaska. University of Toronto Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, at page 295. Zagoskin did not come into contact with the Gwich’in Indians and had no access to the information that Yukon means white water river in Gwich’in.
  10. In Holikachuk, big river or big water would be xinchux or toochux. Kari, James; et al. (1978). Holikachuk Noun Dictionary. Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks. Explicit use of et al. in: |author= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, at page 19 (river = xin; water = too); Hargus, Sharon (2008). Vowel quality and duration in Deg Xinag. Univ. of Washington.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, at page 29, note 33 (big = chux in Holikachuk). Adjectives followed the nouns that they modified in Holikachuk.
  11. Thirty-nine pages of cited “Sources,” representing over a century of research, did not verify Zagoskin’s report that Yukon means big river. Orth (1967). Dictionary of Alaska Place Names.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, at pp. 6-44 (“Sources of Names”), 1069 (“The Eskimo … descriptively called it ‘Kuikpak’ meaning ‘big river.’ The Indian name ‘Yukon’ probably means the same thing.”). Orth does not say “probably” when discussing Kuikpak’s meaning. Orth’s use of “probably” is limited to the discussion of Yukon’s meaning, which indicates that Zagoskin’s report that Yukon means big river was never verified. In addition, Orth’s “Sources” do not even include the Hudson’s Bay Company correspondence, which states that Yukon means white water river in Gwich’in. Nor do Orth’s “Sources” include aboriginal dictionaries.
  12. The Holikachuk were in a position to conflate the meanings of the two names, because they traded with people who spoke the two languages from which the two names originated. Lt. Zagoskin reported that: “The Ttynay tribe, which we know under their own name of ‘Inkilit,’ [now, Holikachuk,] … live along the routes of communication between the Yukon and the coast and are occupied almost exclusively with buying up furs from the natives living along the Yunnaka (Koyukuk River, a Yukon tributary).” Zagoskin also reported that: “The Inkalik proper [Holikachuk] …, who are chiefly occupied in trading both with their fellow tribesmen and with the neighboring tribes of Kang-ulit (Yup’ik Eskimo), have adopted the way of life of the latter …” Because they had adopted the Eskimo way of life, and because they were ones trading upriver, the Holikachuk would have been “the Esquimaux” referred to in John Bell's report: “The Esquimaux to the westwards likewise ascends the ‘Youcon’ and carry on a trade with the natives, as well as with the Musquash [Gwich’in] Indians … I have seen a large camp of the latter tribe on the Rat River on my return, who, had about a doz: of beat [hammered] Iron Kettles of Russian Manufacture which they bartered from the Esquimaux.” Zagoskin and Michael (1967). Lieutenant Zagoskin’s Travels.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, at pp. 196-97, 244; Hudson’s Bay Company Correspondence to Simpson from Bell (1845), HBC Archives, D.5/14, fos. 212, 213.
  13. "USGS Water Quality Samples – 1 sites found". Nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov. Retrieved 2013-08-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Scott R. Robinson. 1988. Movement and Distribution of Western Arctic Caribou Herd across the Buckland Valley and Nulato Hills, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Open file Report 23, Alaska
  15. C. Michael Hogan, Black Spruce: Picea mariana, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. Nicklas Stromberg, November, 2008
  16. Thiessen, Mark. Feds declare fisheries disaster for Yukon River. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Retrieved 15 March 2010
  17. Hopkins, Kyle. Pollock vs. salmon bycatch issue stirs waters at meeting. Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved 15 March 2010
  18. Associated Press. Fisheries board restricts Yukon salmon gillnets. Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved 15 March 2010
  19. Sea Grant Alaska. Yukon Fishermen Celebrate Ten Years. Arctic Science Journeys. Retrieved 15 March 2010
  20. Yukon River Salmon Agreement. March 2001
  21. Bylaws of the Yukon River Panel Society. November 2002
  22. Alcinii, Daniele (June 26, 2015). "Nat Geo sets summer premieres for adventure series". Real Screen. Retrieved August 31, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links