Yukon River

Alaska Marine Highway

Alaska has a bounty of beautiful waterways. The Alaskan waterways play an integral role in the state.. Be sure and check out our Alaska water pages including: Alaska's Coastline, Alaska's Lakes, and Alaska's Rivers. Some of Alaska's great lakes include: Aleknagik LakeBecharof Lake, Clark Lakeliamna Lake, and  Minchumina Lake


The Yukon is the nation's third longest river; at 1,980 official miles from its source in the Nisutlin River of the Yukon Territory to its mouth in the Bering Sea, it is outstretched only by the Missouri (2,540 miles) and the Mississippi (2,350 miles). In both average discharge at mouth (225,000 cubic feet of water a second) and drainage area (328,000 square miles), the Yukon River ranks fifth nationally. For comparison, that's right ahead of the Columbia in area drained and right after it in discharge. (The Columbia River also needs Canada to gain its rank; its source is in British Columbia.).

The 2,300 miles long Yukon River lies half in Alaska, half in Yukon Territory, emptying into the Bering Sea. The source of the Yukon River is Lake Lindeman at the at Chilkoot Pass,  During the Klondike Gold Rush the Yukon River was one of the principal means of transportation. Paddle-wheel riverboats continued to ply the river until the 1950s, when the Klondike Highway was completed. Yukon means "great river" in Gwich'in. The river was called Kwiguk, or "large stream", in Yupik. 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 is one of the most important salmon-breeding rivers in the world. Each year it supports huge Chinook salmon returning to spawn in its tributary creeks. Alaska has the world's most bounteous wild salmon runs, from the Copper River sockeyes of late May to the bright, fleshy cohos, or silvers, of September. Yukon kings are caught by natives using nets and small skiffs.

Of the five species of Pacific salmon, kings are the largest and most prized. Pacific coast natives called them chinook or tyees, names which are also bestowed on great men or leaders. Some kings weigh as much as 100 pounds. Born in gravel-bed nests from central California to Alaska, the fish migrate downstream, spend one to four years in the open Pacific, and then return to their birth grounds to spawn and die. Once they re-enter fresh water, they no longer eat, relying on their stores of body fat and oil.  The Whitehorse Fishway is, at 366 meters (m) in length, the longest wooden fish ladder in the world. It was built beside the dam at Whitehorse to provide a channel for the salmon as they migrate upstream.

The valley of the Yukon is believed by some anthropologists to have been the main immigration route for North America's first human inhabitants. According to this theory, the ancestors of today's aboriginal peoples arrived across a now-submerged isthmus joining present-day Alaska with Russia's Siberia. Some aboriginals dispute this theory and believe in their own traditional teachings that their ancestors originated in North America.

There are only 4 bridges across the Yukon River - at the foot of Marsh Lake, in downtown Whitehorse, at Carmacks and on the Dalton Highway north of Livengood. Historically, the two major hazards to navigation were Miles Canyon (now tamed by a dam) and Five Finger Rapids.

The Yukon River has had a history of pollution from gold mining, 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 River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council is an Indigenous grassroots organization, consisting of 70 First Nations and Tribes, dedicated to the protection and preservation of the Yukon River Watershed. The YRITWC accomplishes this by providing Yukon First Nations and Alaska Tribes in the Yukon Watershed with technical assistance, such as facilitating the development and exchange of information, coordinating efforts between First Nations and Tribes, undertaking research, and providing training, education and awareness programs to promote the health of the Watershed and its Indigenous peoples.










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Alaska's Rivers:

More than 12,000 rivers have been counted, but this number does not include thousands of minor tributaries. The nine major rivers are listed below:

Colville River Copper River Gulkana River
Kuskokwim River Noatak River Porcupine River
Susitna River Tanana River Yukon River.
the Yukon river is Alaska's largest river and full of King salmon

path of the Yukon River in Alaska