This charming village of less than 100 people lies adjacent to the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, on the site of a traditional fish camp location.
The Koyukon Athabascans traditionally had spring, summer, fall and winter camps, and moved as the wild game migrated. There were 12 summer fish camps located on the Yukon River between the Koyukuk River and the Nowitna River. It was a site of business, as friendships and trading between the Koyukon and Inupiat Eskimos of the Kobuk area has occurred for generations.
Although a Russian trading post was established in nearby Nulato in 1838, it was not until 1867 when a military telegraph line was constructed along the north side of the Yukon that Koyukuk became a year-round endeavor with the opening of a telegraph station. A trading post opened around 1880, just before the gold rush of 1884-85. The population of Koyukuk at this time was approximately 150.
Missionary activity was intense along the Yukon, and a Roman Catholic Mission and school opened downriver in Nulato in 1887. A post office operated from 1898 to 1900. Steamboats on the Yukon, which supplied the gold prospectors, peaked in 1900 with 46 boats in operation. Tragedy struck the area in 1900, when a measles epidemic and food shortages decimated the area residents, reducing the Native population by one-third.
Gold seekers left the Yukon after 1906, but other mining activity, such as the Galena lead mines, began operating in 1919. The first school was constructed in 1939. After the school was built, families began to live at Koyukuk year-round. The City was incorporated in 1973.
Currently there are few full-time jobs in the community and many families pursue a traditional lifestyle. The City of Koyukuk, the tribe, a clinic, a school and a store provide the only year-round employment. BLM fire fighting, construction work, and other seasonal jobs often conflict with subsistence opportunities. Trapping and beadwork are also used to supplement incomes. Subsistence foods include salmon, whitefish, moose, waterfowl and berries.
The river is heavily traveled when ice-free, from mid-May through mid-October. Cargo is delivered by barge about four times each summer. There is a public 3,000 foot lighted gravel runway that provides year-round transportation via air. Snowmachines, ATVs and riverboats are used for local transportation and there are numerous local trails to Chance and Nulato.