Located on the Fraser River, it is generally considered to be on the dividing line between the Coast and the Interior regions of the British Columbia Mainland. Immediately north of the town, the Fraser Canyon begins and the river is generally considered unnavigable past this point. Rough water is common on the Fraser anywhere upstream from Chilliwack, and even more so above Hope, about 20 miles south of Yale. But steamers could make it to Yale, good pilots and water conditions permitting, and the town had a busy dockside life as well as a variety of bars, restaurants, hotels, saloons and various services. Its maximum population during the gold rush era was in the 15,000 range. More generally, it housed 5-8,000. The higher figure was counted at the time of evacuation of the Canyon during the Fraser Canyon War of 1858.
Most of today's population are members of the self-governing Yale First Nation. Non-native businesses include a couple of stores, restaurants and a few motels and other services, as well as gas stations, and automotive repair and rescue outfits. The Yale area is the lowest main destination for the Fraser River rafting expedition companies; several have waterfront campgrounds and facilities near town. All Hallows is now a campground and hostel. Not much of gold rush-era Yale survives, as the docks vanished long ago. The railway was built in the 1880s down the main street of what had been the waterfront town. The Yale Museum is located on old Front Street, adjacent to the tracks. Next to it is the Anglican Church of St. John the Divine, among the oldest in British Columbia.
The town has a spectacular natural landscape. Every summer, a historical re-enactment group visits Yale to celebrate the Royal Engineers, who had served under Richard Clement Moody during McGowan's War. They also worked on the Cariboo Wagon Road (later improved as the Trans-Canada Highway) and the Douglas-Lillooet Trail. The men were an integral part of Yale's life from the gold rush to the end of the 1870s.