Koyukuk River

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Koyukuk River
Koyukuk River autumn.jpg
Name origin: Koyukon people
Country United States
State Alaska
Census Area Yukon-Koyukuk
Cities Evansville, Bettles, Allakaket, Hughes, Huslia
Source confluence of North and Middle forks
 - location Brooks Range
 - elevation 715 ft (218 m) [1]
 - coordinates 67°02′49″N 151°04′26″W / 67.04694°N 151.07389°W / 67.04694; -151.07389 [2]
Mouth Yukon River
 - location Koyukuk
 - elevation 115 ft (35 m)
 - coordinates 64°55′24″N 157°33′14″W / 64.92333°N 157.55389°W / 64.92333; -157.55389Coordinates: 64°55′24″N 157°33′14″W / 64.92333°N 157.55389°W / 64.92333; -157.55389 [2]
Length 425 mi (684 km) [3]
Basin 32,000 sq mi (82,880 km2) [4]
Discharge for Hughes
 - average 14,250 cu ft/s (404 m3/s) [5]
 - max 330,000 cu ft/s (9,345 m3/s)
 - min 280 cu ft/s (8 m3/s)
Koyukuk River is located in Alaska
Koyukuk River
Location of the mouth of the Koyukuk River in Alaska

The Koyukuk River'[pronunciation?] (Ooghekuhno[pronunciation?] in Koyukon) is a 425-mile (684 km) tributary of the Yukon River, in the U.S. state of Alaska.[3] It is the last major tributary entering the Yukon before the larger river empties into the Bering Sea.[6]

Rising at the confluence of the North Fork Koyukuk River with the Middle Fork Koyukuk River, it flows generally southwest to meet the larger Yukon River at Koyukuk.[7] The river, with headwaters above the Arctic Circle in the Endicott Mountains of the Brooks Range, drains an area north of the Yukon River that includes part of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, as well as Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge and Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge.[7]

The main stem of the river is lined by the communities of Evansville, Bettles, Alatna, Allakaket, Hughes, and Huslia before reaching Koyukuk.[7] Its headwaters tributaries include the Koyukuk's south, middle, and north forks, the Alatna River, and the John River.[8] Major tributaries further downstream include the Kanuti, Batzu, Hogatza, Huslia, Dulbi, Kateel, and Gisasa rivers.[8] Of these, the Alatna, John, and North Fork are National Wild and Scenic Rivers, as is the Tinayguk River, a tributary of the North Fork.[9]


Koyukuk was derived from the Central Yup'ik phrase kuik-yuk, meaning a river. The Koyukuk River was given this generic C. Yup'ik name by Russian explorer Petr Vasilii Malakhov, because he did not know the local Koyukon name for it (i.e., Ooghekuhno).[10][11][12] The Western Union Telegraph Expedition used the spelling of Coyukuk before the United States Board on Geographic Names settled on Koyukuk.[3]


The Russian Petr Vasilii Malakhov reached the river at its confluence with the Yukon in 1838.[13] The United States acquired Alaska after the American Civil War, but it was 1885 before US representatives Lieutenant Henry Allen and Private Fred Fickett of the United States Army ascended and explored the river. The discovery of gold deposits by Johnnie Folger on the Middle Fork in 1893 on The Tramway bar led to a gold rush in 1898; trading posts and mining camps, including Bettles, were rapidly developed on the upper river.[14] In 1929, Robert "Bob" Marshall explored the North Fork of the Koyukuk River while studying plant life in the region for his PhD. He gave the name Gates of the Arctic to the high Brooks Range along the river.

In 1980 the United States Congress designated 100 mi (164 km) of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River in the Brooks Range as the Koyukuk Wild and Scenic River, which authorized certain levels of protection for the habitat.

In 1994 the river flooded, sweeping away three villages, forcing the wholesale relocation of the population.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Lower course of the Koyukuk in winter
Zane Hills and Koyukuk River

Vegetation along the Koyukuk River, sparse along the upper reaches, consists of tundra plants such as dwarf willows and other shrubs, sedges, and lichens. Further downstream at lower elevations, taiga and boreal forest plants are common except in the Koyukuk Flats near the mouth, where sedges and other herbaceous plants dominate the poorly drained muskeg. Trees found in more well-drained areas along the river include mountain alder, trembling aspen, white, and black spruce.[6]

Fish species frequenting the lower Koyukuk include Arctic lamprey and sockeye salmon. The sockeye and other salmon species, including Chinook and chum, also thrive along the upper reaches and tributaries.[6]

Caribou migrate across the upper part of the Koyukuk watershed.[6] Other major vertebrates in the region include bald eagles, brown and black bears, mink, beaver, marten, and river otter.[6] Beluga whales sometimes visit the lower Koyukuk.[6]

Moose herds, which thrive in parts of the watershed, especially in riparian zones downstream of Hughes, attract local and non-local hunters, bears, and wolves. A consortium of moose hunters and state wildlife officials work to keep the moose population at sustainable levels.[15]

Through 2005, no one had published a study of invertebrates of the Koyukuk or its larger tributaries. General information included in a study related to pipeline construction through the watershed suggested the presence of a variety of true flies, midges, black flies, mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Derived by entering source coordinates in Google Earth.
  2. ^ a b "Koyukuk River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 1981-03-31. Retrieved 2011-07-11.
  3. ^ a b c Orth, Donald J.; United States Geological Survey (1971) [1967]. Dictionary of Alaska Place Names: Geological Survey Professional Paper 567 (PDF). University of Alaska Fairbanks. United States Government Printing Office. p. 544. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 17, 2013. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  4. ^ "Boundary Descriptions and Names of Regions, Subregions, Accounting Units and Cataloging Units". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2011-07-11.
  5. ^ "USGS Gage #15564900 on the Koyukuk River at Hughes, Alaska". National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1960–1982. Retrieved 2011-07-11.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Benke and Cushing, p. 790
  7. ^ a b c Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer (7th ed.). Yarmouth, Maine: DeLorme. 2010. pp. 134, 136. ISBN 978-0-89933-289-5.
  8. ^ a b Benke and Cushing, pp. 789–90
  9. ^ Benke and Cushing, p. 791
  10. ^ 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., at page 146 ("Malakhov … did not know the native name for this, and so he called it simply Kuyukuk, the word for 'river' in the coastal speech of the Chnagmyut."). The "Chnagmyut" lived between St. Michael and Unalakleet. Id. at page 104 (map).
  11. ^ Bright, William. Native American Placenames of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 238. ISBN 0-8061-3576-X.
  12. ^ See, Jacobson, Steven A. (1984). Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Center. ISBN 978-0-933769-21-2., at pp. 210 (kuik = river), 598 (-yuk = suffix, thing like).
  13. ^ Hayes, Derek (2004). America Discovered: A Historical Atlas of North American Exploration. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.
  14. ^ Marshall, Robert (1933). Arctic Village. New York: The Literary Guild. p. 30.
  15. ^ "Koyukuk River Moose Management Plan: 2000–2005" (PDF). Alaska Department of Fish and Game. March 2001. pp. 6&ndash, 11. Retrieved October 5, 2013.

Works cited[edit]

  • Benke, Arthur C., ed., and Cushing, Colbert E., ed.; Bailey, Robert C. (2005). "Chapter 17: Yukon River Basin" in Rivers of North America. Burlington, Massachusetts: Elsevier Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-088253-1. OCLC 59003378.

External links[edit]