The community of Kugkluktuk (formerly Coppermine) is located at the river's mouth.
The river was named for the copper ores which could be found along the lower river. Samuel Hearne travelled down the river to the Arctic Ocean in 1771. Sir John Franklin also travelled down the river while exploring the Canadian Arctic.
The river is used for wilderness canoeing and rafting, although it sees only a few groups each year. It features major rapids, such as Rocky Defile, Sandstone, Muskox, and Escape Rapids, as well as many unnamed smaller sets. Bloody Falls, located in Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park, is the final major rapid of the river, and should be portaged.
Eruption of plateau lavas near the Coppermine River, built an extensive volcanic plateau about 1200 million years ago with an area of about 170,000 km² (65,000 sq mi) representing a volume of lavas of at least 500,000 km³ (120,000 mi³). The source for these lavas was the giant Mackenzie dike swarm, which is the largest dike swarm known on Earth. It is thought to have originated from a mantle plume center called the Mackenzie hotspot.