Bethel is located at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, 40 miles inland from the Bering Sea. It lies in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, 400 air miles west of Anchorage. Accessible only by air and river, Bethel is the main port on the Kuskokwim River and is an administrative and transportation hub for the 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Bethel is the largest community in western Alaska and in the Unorganized Borough, as well as the 9th largest in the state, with a population of 6,080 as of the 2010 Census. Bethel is home to the lone detention center in southwestern Alaska, the Yukon Kuskokwim Correction Center.
Bethel was first established by Yup’ik Eskimos, who called the village “Mamterilleq,” meaning “Smokehouse People,” named for the nearby fish smokehouse. There were 41 people in Bethel during the 1880 U.S. Census. At that time, it was an Alaska Commercial Company Trading Post. The Moravian Church established a mission in the area in 1884. The community was moved to its present location due to erosion at the prior site. A post office was opened in 1905. Before long, Bethel was serving as a trading, transportation, and distribution center for the region, which attracted Natives from surrounding villages. The city was incorporated in 1957. Over time, federal and state agencies established regional offices in Bethel.
The state-owned Bethel Airport is the regional transportation center, and is served by seven passenger carriers, including Alaska Airlines, Grant Aviation, Hageland Aviation Services, Era Alaska, Yute Air, Renfroe’s Alaskan Adventure, and Ryan Air. It also receives service from four cargo operators: Everts Air Cargo, Northern Air Cargo, Lynden Air Cargo, and numerous small air taxi services. The airport ranks third in the state for total number of flights. It offers a 6,400-foot asphalt runway, a 4,000-foot asphalt runway,and 1,850- foot gravel crosswind runway, and is currently undergoing a $7 million renovation and expansion. Three float plane bases are nearby: Hangar Lake, H Marker Lake, and the Kuskokwim River.The Port of Bethel is the northernmost medium-draft port in the United States. River travel is the primary means of local transportation in the summer. A Bethel-based barge service provides goods to Kuskokwim villages.
Within Bethel there are approximately 16 miles(26 km) of roads which are not connected to any contiguous highway system. Winter ice roads lead to several local villages, but their condition varies depending on temperature and snow fall. An extensive network of snow machine trails connects Bethel to villages all over the Delta, from the Bering Sea to the Yukon. The town�s single paved road –about 10 miles — supports a surprisingly large taxicab industry. With 93 taxi drivers, the town has more cab drivers per capita than any other city in the country, making it the unlikely taxicab capital of the United States.