Nestled between Hawkins Island and Lake Eyak and overshadowed by Mount Eccles, Cordova is a hardworking fishing community on the east coast of Prince William Sound.
Travelers who visit the quaint coastal town of Cordova — home about 2,800 residents — are rewarded with a dramatic natural setting, intriguing history, Alaska hospitality, great seafood, and a wide range of easily accessible outdoor adventures.
Things to do
Copper River Highway, Million Dollar Bridge, & Childs Glacier
The Copper River Highway is for the most part a gravel road that serves as the gateway to the Copper River Delta, a wildlife-rich wilderness with numerous opportunities for hiking, fishing, and birding. The highway currently ends at mile 36, where a bridge is washed out.
At about mile 50 of the highway is the Million Dollar Bridge, with breathtaking views of Childs Glacier. This four-span trestle was completed in 1910 so the Copper River & Northwestern Railroad could carry ore out from the rich Kennicott Mines near McCarthy. While you can no longer drive to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier, you can take a boat tour with a local tour company up the Copper River to explore the area. Childs Glacier is one of the most active glaciers in Alaska, advancing some 500 feet a year, dumping icebergs into the Copper River with thunderous calving.
Millions of birds and waterfowl stop and rest along the Copper River Delta during the spring and fall, including 7 million western sandpipers and the entire population of West Coast dunlins. Birding activity peaks at the beginning of May. The Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival is held the first weekend in May and birders from around the world flock to Cordova to enjoy the largest migration in the U.S. The festival features presentations, workshops by international experts, and field trips to the prime viewing areas.
Charter boat operators provide fishing adventures to visitors throughout the summer out of Cordova. The main catches are halibut, silver salmon, and sockeye salmon. Held in mid-July, the Copper River Salmon Jam celebrates the local salmon runs of the Copper River with a variety of activities including art fairs, music, road races and, of course, lots of food.
Kayaking & Rafting
Pristine Orca Inlet north of Cordova is an excellent place for kayakers to spend a day paddling. Outfitters in town rent kayaks, offer drop-off transportation, and can arrange guided tours in Orca Inlet and other inlets around Cordova. The Copper River is a popular destination for rafting. Outfitters in town offer guided half-day trips down the river and multi-day adventures that includes other activities.
Cordova is a hiker’s paradise with a variety of trails that explore the temperate rainforest, glaciers, and mountains of Chugach National Forest. One of the most popular trails is the Ski Hill Trail, accessible right from town. During the summer, the trail climbs up through the meadows and forests of the Mount Eyak Ski Area, featuring stunning views of Orca Inlet and the surrounding mountains.
Saddlebag Glacier, which is surrounded by peaks and cliffs, is a stunning view. The glacier is reached by the Saddlebag Glacier Trail departing at Mile 25 of the Copper River Highway onto a posted dirt road. From there it's an easy 3-mile walk through cottonwoods and spruce, emerging at Saddlebag Lake, where you can see icebergs that have calved off the glacier.
A popular short hike is the Sheridan Glacier Trail, which leads 1.5 miles to the edge of a lake with views of Sheridan Glacier. For another view of the glacier that requires a little more work, embark on the steeper Sheridan Mountain Trail that climbs 1,900 ft. for panoramic views of Sheridan and Sherman Glaciers. To get to these trailheads, drive to Mile 13.7 of the Copper River Highway and follow a short access road to the trailhead. Other top hikes include Heney Ridge Trail and Crater Lake Trail.
Mount Eyak Ski Area is a short walk from the heart of town. During the winter, snowboarders and skiers enjoy an 800-foot vertical drop with runs blanketed by 118 inches of snow annually. The ski area's most famous attraction is the vintage ski lift from Sun Valley, Idaho that was built in 1936.
To appreciate Cordova’s long and colorful history, a visit to the Cordova Historical Museum is a must. Exhibits cover local marine life, relics from the town's early history and railroad days, and a three-seater bidarka (kayak) made from spruce pine and sealskins. There's an interesting display about the town's beloved ice worm that lives in glaciers and is celebrated each winter during Cordova's largest festival.
The excellent Ilanka Cultural Center has a small but high-quality collection of Alaska Native art from all over the state. The intact killer-whale skeleton is only one of five in the world and was recovered from a stranding in 2000. Also on display is artist Mike Webber's Shame Pole, a totem pole that tells the grim tale of the oil spill. This center also has a wonderful gift shop selling scrimshaw carvings and spruce-root baskets.
Like so many other Alaska seaports, Cordova's Small Boat Harbor is watched over by the Cordova Fisherman's Memorial. The "Southeasterly" is a somber sculpture by artist Joan Bugbee Jackson and often graced with flowers.
Every February, since 1961, Cordova honors iceworms with its annual Iceworm Festival. The insect is real and so is the week-long festival that includes the crowning of a Miss Iceworm, the Survival Suit Race where participants don survival suits and plunge into the harbor, and a parade.
Staying in Cordova
A wide variety of lodging options can be found in Cordova, from adventure lodges and cabins located on the outskirts of town to hotels, inns, motels, bed & breakfasts, and vacation rentals located in the heart of downtown.
There are also 8 U.S. Forest Service cabins located in the Cordova area. Three are accessible by hiking (the McKinley Lake Cabin, McKinley Trail Cabin, and Power Creek Cabin) and the rest are accessible only by boat or plane.
Getting to Cordova
Cordova is not on the road system and therefore can only be reached by air or water. Alaska Airlines offers direct flights from Anchorage and Yakutat, providing easy connections to the rest of the state. You can also reach Cordova onboard the state ferry via the Alaska Marine Highway System. Walk or drive your car onto the ferry in Whittier for a half-day ferry trip through Prince William Sound.
The area was first settled by nomadic Eyak Indians and served as a trade center for the various tribes occupying the vast region. Commercial fisherman built the first cannery here in 1889, but modern-day Cordova was born when the sleepy seaside village was chosen as the terminus for a railway line from the Kennecott copper mines near McCarthy, to the north. One of the most impressive engineering feats of the time, the $23-million Copper River & Northwest Railway was completed in 1911. Within five years, Cordova was a boomtown, with more than $32 million worth of copper ore passing through its docks on the way to the smelters in Tacoma. After the mines closed in 1938, Cordova turned to fishing, its main economic activity today.