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 to 2,121 residents — are rewarded with a dramatic natural setting, intriguing history, great seafood and a wide range of easily accessible outdoor adventures.
Things to do
The 50-mile 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. Millions of birds and waterfowl stop and rest along the delta during the spring and fall, including 7 million western sandpipers and the entire population of West Coast dunlins. Birding activity peaks the first weekend of May when the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival is staged and birders from around the world arrive to enjoy the largest migration in the U.S.
Equally impressive are the twin wonders at the end of the highway: breathtaking Childs Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge. A bridge on the highway is currently washed out at Mile 36, which means the only way to reach the bridge and Childs Glacier is by taking a boat tour up the Copper River. At least two local tour companies were offering this service as of the summer of 2013; more information is available from the local chamber of commerce. 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 just 1,200 feet away from an observation deck. Just beyond the glacier is the Million Dollar Bridge, a four-span trestle completed in 1910 and put out of commission by the 1964 earthquake. The bridge has since been rehabilitated and you can now walk out to the middle to see Childs Glacier downstream and Miles Glacier upstream.
To appreciate Cordova’s long and colorful history, a visit to the Cordova Historical Museum is a must. The Ilanka Cultural Center Museum preserves and exhibits a collection of prehistoric, historic and contemporary tribal artifacts from Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta. A complete orca whale skeleton hangs in the lobby.
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 base today.