The Pelly River (Ts'ekínyäk Chú[1]) is a river in Canada, and is a headstream of the Yukon River. The river originates west of the Mackenzie Mountains and flows 530 km (330 mi) long through the south central Yukon. The Pelly has two main tributaries, the Ross and Macmillan rivers.

Pelly River (Ts'enkínyäk Chú)
Puente sobre el río Pelly, Pelly Crossing, Yukón, Canadá, 2017-08-27, DD 12.jpg
Pelly River at Pelly Crossing
Map of the Pelly River
EtymologyNamed by Robert Campbell in honour of Sir John Henry Pelly, governor of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Physical characteristics
SourceMackenzie Mountains
 • locationAn unnamed glacier
 • coordinates62°26′32″N 129°11′34″W / 62.44222°N 129.19278°W / 62.44222; -129.19278
 • elevation1,465 m (4,806 ft)
MouthYukon River
 • coordinates
62°46′44″N 137°20′16″W / 62.77889°N 137.33778°W / 62.77889; -137.33778Coordinates: 62°46′44″N 137°20′16″W / 62.77889°N 137.33778°W / 62.77889; -137.33778
 • elevation
458 m (1,503 ft)
Length530 km (330 mi), East-southeast to west-northwest
Basin size49,000 km2 (19,000 sq mi)
 • average700 m3/s (25,000 cu ft/s)
 • minimum35 m3/s (1,200 cu ft/s)
 • maximum4,160 m3/s (147,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
 • rightRoss River, Tay River, Macmillan River
Tent camp along the Pelly River, 1898

The Selkirk First Nation (Hucha Hudan people) name for the river is Ts'enkínyäk Chú, meaning 'water running between the mountains'. The river was later named by Robert Campbell in honour of Sir John Henry Pelly, governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. The restored Hudson's Bay Company trading post of Fort Selkirk is at the juncture of the Pelly and Yukon Rivers.


The Pelly rises in glaciers on the western slopes of the Selwyn Mountains above 1,400 m (4,600 ft) in elevation, close to the Yukon-Northwest Territories boundary. It flows south and west through a wide valley, receiving many small tributaries from the east. It passes the Pelly Lakes, out of which flows the Woodside River, and there it turns to the west. The Pelly then assumes a northwesterly course through the Tintina Trench. It flows northwest to receive the Ross River at the town of Ross River where there is a cable ferry. Paralleling the Robert Campbell Highway, it then merges with the Lapie River from the left and passes the community of Faro which can be reached by a bridge. After Faro, it runs south of Rose Mountain and receives the Glenlyon River from the left.[2]

At the Glenlyon River confluence, the valley narrows and the walls grow higher and steeper, and a short distance later, receives the swift-flowing Tay River from the right. Several kilometres after, it turns north and receives the Earn River, also from the right. The river soon exits out of the canyon and winds across a plain, where it receives the Tummel River from the left. It then receives the Macmillan River, its largest tributary, from the right, then turns west, looping around the town of Pelly Crossing and crossing under the Klondike Highway, one of only two bridges on its course (the other is in Faro). The river continues west for about 25 km (16 mi) to merge with the Yukon River near old Fort Selkirk.[2]


One of two major headwaters of the Yukon River (the other is the Stewart River), the Pelly River's drainage basin, measured above the town of Pelly Crossing, is 49,000 km2 (19,000 sq mi) in size. It drains a large part of the sparsely-populated Yukon Plateau of the central Yukon west of the Mackenzie Mountains. The Tintina Trench, which the majority of the river's waters flow in, is the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountain Trench, which stretches well south to British Columbia. The river is navigable by small and medium-sized craft for over 320 km (200 mi), from its mouth to Hoole Rapids, except for a shallow stretch of the river in Bradens Canyon.[3] The Yukon communities of Ross River, Faro and Pelly Crossing are all on the Pelly River. There are bridges across the Pelly in Pelly Crossing (where it crosses the Klondike Highway) and in Faro, as well as a cable ferry at Ross River on the Canol Road.

The river's average discharge is about 700 m3/s (25,000 cu ft/s) and it drains about 49,000 km2 (19,000 sq mi) of land. Because the river is fed primarily by glacier melt, the highest average flow is reached around June or July at up to 1,600 m3/s (57,000 cu ft/s), and the lowest is in December or January as low as 35 m3/s (1,200 cu ft/s).[4]


Volcanoes near the Pelly River, such as Volcano Mountain, may have once partly blocked or at least altered the Pelly River. Any future activity in this area could disrupt the course of the river and could have a serious impact on people living or working downstream.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. "Place names - Pelly River / Tsʼekínyäk Chú". Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  2. ^ a b Course info mostly from Natural Resources Canada and U.S. Geological Survey/U.S. Forest Service topographic maps from
  3. ^ "Pelly River". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2010-03-08.
  4. ^ "Pelly River at Pelly Crossing". R-ArcticNET. Archived from the original on 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2010-03-08.

External linksEdit