Fishing from the Mat-Su to Valdez
Sample some of Alaska’s best fishing opportunities, without the crowds, in this seven-day driving itinerary through Southcentral Alaska. This loop trip also includes stops at historical mine buildings, glistening roadside glaciers, and an optional side trip to the quirky small town of McCarthy.
Day 1: Wasilla & Hatcher Pass
Fly to Anchorage, rent a car or RV, and stop by the grocery store to put together a quick picnic lunch. Once that’s done, drive 45 miles north to Wasilla, home of the world famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Here, you can take a quick dog cart ride and catch a glimpse into the history of this unique race. Your next stop is another 25 miles northeast: Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine State Historical Park. Once you’re done exploring the park’s historical mine buildings, drive up to the pass and take a short hike in the alpine tundra. Enjoy your picnic near the shores of one of the alpine lakes, just off the road, then return to Wasilla, where you’ll spend the night.
Day 2: Mat-Su Valley
Hire a local guide to take you to some of the best freshwater fishing in the Mat-Su Valley. Late summer fishing for silver (coho) salmon and early fall fishing for rainbow trout are two of the most popular pursuits in this part of the state; many of the lakes are also swarming with hungry pike. If any members of your party don’t want to go fishing, they can enjoy day hiking, paddling, biking, or even ATV rides on the trails around Eklutna Lake, or go whitewater rafting on one of the Mat-Su Valley’s rivers. At the end of the day, head to the nearby community of Palmer, where you’ll spend the night.
Day 3: Palmer to Glennallen
Before you leave Palmer, visit a local musk ox or reindeer farm for an unusual opportunity to get up close and personal with the animals. Next, continue east on the Glenn Highway to the Matanuska Glacier, Alaska’s largest road-accessible glacier, where you can take a glacier trekking or climbing tour. Spend the night in the rural community of Glennallen, located about 140 miles east of Palmer.
Day 4: Glennallen & Copper Center
Despite its small size, Glennallen is the regional hub for this part of the state. That means it offers the most services in the area, along with the most recreational activities, from hiking and river rafting to fishing and flightseeing. One of the biggest highlights here is a chance to fish for the world-famous Copper River red (sockeye) salmon. Once you’ve enjoyed the tour of your choice, drive just 16 miles to the small community of Copper Center and its spectacular visitor center, where you can take in views of the mountains in the neighboring 13.2-million-acre Wrangell St.-Elias National Park. Spend the night in Glennallen or Copper Center.
Day 5: Valdez
Take the Richardson Highway south and west to the port town of Valdez. Even though the drive is just 100 miles—about two hours—leave yourself at least half a day so you can stop to view Worthington Glacier, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horsetail Falls, all located on the last 30 miles of highway into Valdez. Once in Valdez, you’ll have time for a half-day kayaking trip, a guided whitewater rafting trip past the towering waterfalls of Keystone Canyon, or a visit to the town’s three museums, which display Alaska Native artifacts and tell the story of the outsized role this little town has played in Alaska’s history.
Day 6: Valdez
Enjoy a full day casting for Valdez’s famous halibut and salmon with an oceangoing fishing charter. Valdez also hosts a couple of popular fishing derbies that run all summer long, so make sure you buy your derby tickets before you step on the boat. There’s nothing worse than reeling in what would have been a prize-winning fish, only to realize you never entered the derby. If anyone doesn’t want to fish, send them on a full-day cruise to Columbia Glacier, one of the most active tidewater glaciers in the world. Fishing and glacier charters usually return well into the evening, so end the day with a relaxing meal at a local restaurant or by pulling in to a picnic site to grill your own fresh catch of the day.
Day 7: Prince William Sound to Whittier & Anchorage
Ride the Alaska Marine Highway state ferry through Prince William Sound to Whittier. The trip takes about six hours, and the ferry can accommodate cars and trucks—as long as you book your ticket before all the vehicle berths fill up, which can be months in advance. Once you reach Whittier, you’ll drive through the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America on your way back to Anchorage. The drive from Whittier to Anchorage is about 60 miles, with stunning mountains on one side and the fast-moving waters of Turnagain Arm on the other.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
For another great adventure, consider detouring between Days 4 and 5 to visit the tiny community of McCarthy and its neighboring ghost town of Kennicott, both planted smack in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the nation. There are two ways in: either take a fly-in trip from Glennallen, Copper Center, or the small community of Chitina, or drive the unpaved 60-mile McCarthy Road, which is notorious for containing old railroad spikes that sometimes surface to puncture tires. But as long as you’re careful, the road is in much better condition nowadays than its tire-popping reputation implies. Stay overnight, then drive or fly back to resume your trip to Valdez.
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