Located in the United States' biggest wildlife refuge, the Port of Bethel is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the mouth of the Kuskokwim River on Alaska's west coast. The Port of Bethel is some 300 nautical miles northwest of the Port of Dillingham, 262 kilometers (163 miles) by air. Reached only by boat or plane, the Port of Bethel is the main port on the Kuskokwim River and the hub for 56 villages located in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Being the regional center for the delta, the Port of Bethel is home to businesses that provide food, medical care, transportation, fuel, and many other services throughout the area. Half of the Port of Bethel's jobs are in government, and commercial fishing is a major income source. Some 200 inhabitants of the Port of Bethel have commercial fishing permits, and subsistence fishing is an important part of local diets.
What would become the Port of Bethel was first settled by missionaries from Moravia when they established an outpost near a Yup'ik village called Mumtreklogamute ("Smokehouse People"). The Yup'ik are indigenous peoples of southern and western Alaska and the Russian Far East who are related to the Inuit.
The 1880 US Census identified 41 people living in the Port of Bethel when it was still an Alaska Commercial Company Trading Post. The Moravian church opened a mission there in 1885, naming it Bethel.
The Port of Bethel settlement soon became a center for trade, transport, and distribution of goods, and it attracted new inhabitants from the surrounding villages. A post office opened there in 1905.
Over the years, federal and state departments located regional offices in the Port of Bethel. The City of Bethel was formally incorporated in 1957. Today, it is the hub for 56 villages located in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.
Due to the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Moravian missionaries, the indigenous peoples of the Port of Bethel area have a long tradition of Christianity that has become an integral part of the local culture.
The federally-recognized Orutsaramuit Native Council operates from the Port of Bethel, and almost 70% of its inhabitants are all or part Native Alaskan. Since economic development was relatively slow in the area, the traditional Yup'ik Eskimo practices and language continue to dominate.