Yakutat is isolated among the lowlands along the Gulf of Alaska, 225 miles northwest of Juneau, 220 miles southeast of Cordova and more than 1,000 miles from Gambell, our western-most community. It is located at the mouth of Yakutat Bay, one of the few refuges for vessels along this stretch of coast. The Hubbard and Malaspina Glaciers are nearby. Its boundaries are the Canadian border to the north, Cape Suckling to the west, and Cape Fairweather to the east. Yakutat Borough is within and surrounded by the Tongass National Forests, Wrangell St-Elias National Park and Preserve, and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
Yakutat has a diverse cultural history. The original settlers are believed to have been Eyak-speaking people from the Copper River area who were conquered by the Tlingits. Yakutat means “the place where the canoes rest.” In the 18th and 19th centuries, English, French, Spanish, and Russian explorers came to the region. Fur traders were attracted to the region’s sea otters. The Russian-American Company built a fort in Yakutat in 1805 to harvest sea otter pelts. Because the Russians would not allow local Tlingits access to their traditional fisheries, a Tlingit war party attacked and destroyed the post. In 1884 the Alaska Commercial Company opened a store in Yakutat. By 1886, the black sand beaches in the area were being mined for gold. In 1889 the Swedish Free Mission Church had opened a school and sawmill in the area. A cannery, sawmill, store, and railroad were constructed beginning in 1903 by the Stimson Lumber Company. Most residents moved to the current site of Yakutat to be closer to the cannery, which operated through 1970. During World War II, a large aviation garrison and paved runway were constructed. Troops were withdrawn after the war, but the runway is still in use. The City of Yakutat was formed in 1948, but in 1992 the city was dissolved and a borough was organized for the region.