The name comes from Áa Tlein, the Tlingit language word for "big body of water". The surrounding area has been used by Inland Tlingit people for many years and the community is home to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.
Gold mining originally gave Atlin its reason for existence. The Atlin Gold Rush came to Atlin Lake country in 1898 and was one of the richest offshoots of the Klondike Gold Rush. By the end of the mining season of 1899 about 5,000 people had flocked to the region, and Atlin was a busy and important town. Although production was greatest in the early years, the Atlin field still produces today. Total placer gold production has exceeded $23 000 000.