Kowanyama, a remote community, is on the western side of Cape York Peninsula, immediately south of Pormpuraaw Shire. It is due west of Cooktown and 30 km in from the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

North of the community there is the Mitchell River Delta, and Kowanyama is an Aboriginal word describing the 'many waters' of the delta.

In 1905 an Anglican Aboriginal mission was established on Topsy Creek, south of Kowanyama, but 14 years later it was moved northwards to Mitchell River. Badly damaged by a cyclone in 1964, the rebuilt mission was transferred to the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs in 1967. In 1987 a deed of grant in trust (DOGIT), comprising 250 sq km of land, was made in favour of the local people, and four years later they established a Land and Natural Resources management office to more effectively control the use of their environment. Several groups returned to their homelands once the community was established on a more secure basis.

The Kowanyama shire was formed in 2004, and the Aboriginal Council purchased the leases of two pastoral stations. Kowanyama's school dates from 1905 and is now a P-10 facility. The town has two stores, a post office, a guesthouse, a clinic and an airport. The canteen supplies alcohol, with restrictions applied since 2003.

East of Kowanyama there is Mitchell and Alice Rivers National Park (37,100 ha), a remote wilderness area.

Kowanyama's census populations have been:

Census DatePopulation
1981661
1986805
19911018
2001891
20061081
20111031