A cossack settlement was founded in 1638 90 km south-west of the modern town. In 1775 it was moved to the left bank of the Yana River, to facilitate tax collection. It received the status of town in 1817. Between the 1860s and 1917 the town was a place of political exile.
Verkhoyansk is noted chiefly for its exceptionally low winter temperatures, with a January average of −58°F (−50°C). It lies in the coldest area of the Northern Hemisphere (a.k.a. Stalin's Death Ring), and together with Oymyakon is one of the places considered the northern Pole of Cold The lowest temperature recorded there in 1892, was −69.8°C (−93.6°F). Temperatures in Verkhoyansk have spanned 105°C (189°F): from −68°C (−90.4°F) to 37°C (98°F). January 2006 saw temperatures coming close to the all-time record, when it reached a low of −66.7°C (−88.1°F).