Gold was discovered on the Coen River in 1876. Coen came into being first as a small fort built by gold miners and prospectors in May 1877 but this first gold rush quickly came to an end, and the settlement didn’t recover until 1883. It became a centre for several small goldmines in the region but, in 1893, the rich Great Northern mine boomed and the town became a more substantial place.
The Great Northern mine continued operations until 1916 and produced some 52,000 troy ounces (1,617 kg) of gold before it closed. Today Coen not only provides services to the region, and is an important supply point on the long unpaved road leading to Weipa and other northern communities, but is also a popular stopping point for tourists driving up to the tip of Cape York – the northernmost part of the Australian mainland.
It has an airstrip (24 km north of the town), hotel/motel , Guest house, two general stores and fuel outlets, hospital, post office, police station, camping grounds, Primary School Kindergarten, Ranger base and more. There is a scheduled air service to Lockhart and Cairns 4 times a week. Today Coen is an ideal destination for birdwatchers: there are good accommodations and a large and varied bird fauna with representatives from rain forest, monsoon forest and coastal forests.