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.