It is believed Cow Head was inhabited by the Dorset Eskimo 1000 to 3000 years ago. The town was named Cap Pointu by Jacques Cartier because "This Cape is all eaten away at the top, and the bottom towards the sea is pointed...."
This was changed to Cow Head later because of the formation of one of the boulders is similar to the shape of a cow's head. The first English settler is believed to be Charles Paine, who arrived in 1808 to fish there. The first census was taken in 1857, and it showed 55 people were living there. Cow Head was also involved in the fur-trapping industry at this time.
There was a murder here in 1809. John Pelley, a trapper, supposedly murdered Richard Cross and Joseph Rendell when they encroached on his trapping area. The lobster fishing became important industry, and by 1921 there were 20 lobster factories. In the 1920s, logging became the second largest industry in Cow Head. Because of this new industry the population of the community doubled from 231 in 1921 to 448 in 1956.
In the 1970s, Cow Head became an enclave community within the Gros Morne National Park. It was incorporated as a community in 1964.