Deep in the heart of Prince William Sound and surrounded by some of the world’s tallest coastal mountains is Valdez, a city of 4,498 residents in a remarkably picturesque setting.
Though most well known as the southern terminus for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Valdez is also a prime destination for travelers. Valdez is located on a wedge of flat land on the north shore of Port Valdez, a deep-water fjord, and is a 305-mile road trip east of Anchorage and 364-mile drive south of Fairbanks.
The heart of Valdez, like so many other coastal towns in Alaska, is its small boat harbor clustered along its waterfront. From there, the town stretches about a dozen walkable blocks back toward the mountains and Mineral Creek Canyon while nearby Egan Drive, Valdez’s equivalent to Main Street, turns into the Richardson Highway and heads north for Thompson Pass. Scattered through the downtown area is a wide range of restaurants, accommodations, museums and Prince William Sound Community College. Visible across the inlet from town is the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline Terminal with its massive storage tanks each holding nine million barrels of oil.
Things to do
Valdez’s location in Prince William Sound makes it an outdoor paradise. It lies less than 25 miles east of Columbia Glacier, a popular day-cruise destination, and all around are glaciers galore, stunning mountain scenery, an abundance of marine wildlife and opportunities for outdoor adventure, from catching giant halibut and salmon to kayaking among icebergs and seals.
Within a few blocks of the downtown area Mineral Creek Trail heads to mining ruins in the mountains and Shoup Bay Trail skirts Port Valdez to views of glaciers. Kayaks can be rented in town and drop-off services can be arranged for overnight paddles in calm inlets and fjords nearby. Anglers arrange charter fishing trips in the Small Boat Harbor while others book tour boat cruises to see Meares Glacier and Columbia Glacier, the second-largest tidewater glacier in North America with a face as high as a football field. Thanks to those steep coastal mountains, daredevil enthusiasts can go whitewater rafting on the Lowe River through the impressive Keystone Canyon in the summer and heli-skiing and ice climbing in the winter.
Valdez’s darkest moment was the Good Friday Earthquake in 1964. The tsunami that followed the earthquake destroyed the entire historic town site of Valdez. The community was rebuilt on more stable bedrock four miles to the west and flourished during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal in the 1970s.
Blueberry Lakes State Recreation Site
Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site
is 24 miles north of Valdez along the Richardson Highway and features a small rustic campground and several covered picnic shelters in a beautiful alpine setting surrounded by lofty peaks. There's good fishing for rainbow trout in the lakes themselves.
Bridal Veil Falls
When the Richardson Highway passes through Keystone Canyon north of Valdez, two waterfalls are seen leaping over the sheer rock walls: spectacular Bridal Veil Falls and, half a mile further, Horsetail Falls. Vehicle turnouts at both allow visitors to get out and savor magnificent sights.
Valdez has a fleet of charter fishing captains eager to take visitors out for a day on the water in bountiful Prince William Sound. The main catches are silver salmon, halibut, and ling cod but an increasing number of salmon shark have been caught in recent years. Many charter captains can arrange custom overnight trips that combine several days of fishing with wildlife and glacier viewing.
Columbia Glacier is the second-largest tide-water glacier in North America, spilling forth from the Chugach Mountains and ending with a 300-foot high face. Several tour companies offer day cruises to Columbia Bay with most trips including Mears Glacier and the icebergs it calves into Unakwik Inlet. Spotting marine wildlife along the way is usually a bonus of any outings.
Crooked Creek Information Site
The Crooked Creek Information Site
along the Richardson Hwy at entrance to Valdez is staffed by U.S. Forest Service naturalists with information on outdoor activities and fishing. From the nearby viewing platform you can watch chum and pink salmon spawn in July and August.
Earthquake Memorial and Old Valdez
When the most powerful earthquake in American history occurred in Southcentral Alaska in 1964, the land rippled around Valdez, a good portion of the town slid into the harbor and tsunamis destroyed what was left. The city has since been built on higher ground but out along the Richardson Highway visitors can still see overgrown foundations of Old Valdez. The Earthquake Memorial, listing the names of the dead, is in the area.
Gold Rush Days
Gold Rush Days
is a fun, five-day festival in mid-August that includes a parade, bed races, dances, a free fish feed and a portable jailhouse that's pulled throughout town by locals, who arrest people without beards.
Valdez is a kayaker's paradise. Outfitters in town rent boats, provide water taxi drop-offs and lead guided trips that range from a day to a week and include such spectacular sights as Columbia Glacier.
Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum
The impressive Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum is the center piece of Prince William Sound Community College and is devoted to Alaska Native culture and Alaskan wildlife. Displays include ivory and baleen artwork, moose-antler furniture and natural-history displays. The Alaska wildlife mounts include popular bears.
Lowe River begins at a glacier and north of Valdez flows through impressive Keystone Canyon. Outfitters take advantage of the canyon to offer whitewater raft trips daily during the summer that features Class III rapids, sheer canyon walls and cascading waterfalls. The highlight is Bridal Veil Falls, which drops 900ft from the canyon walls.
This Valdez Museum includes an ornate, steam-powered antique fire engine, a 19th-century saloon bar and the ceremonial first barrel of oil to flow from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Historical photo displays include Valdez being destroyed by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake and determined miners crossing Valdez Glacier in 1898 on their way to the Klondike Goldfields.
Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site
The main attraction at Worthington Glacier State Recreation Area
is the glacier itself. The recreation area, 29 miles north of Valdez along the Richardson Highway, includes outhouses, picnic tables and a large, covered viewing area while the mile-long Worthington Glacier Ridge Trail is a scenic hike along the edge of the glacier.