A Local's Guide to Valdez
Stan Stephens fist moved to Alaska in 1961. He was a citizen activist on oil issues since 1984 and was a major force behind the formation of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Stephens served as the council’s president for two terms and on its board from the time of its inception in 1990 until 2012, ensuring a healthy balance between industry and the environment in his beloved Prince William Sound. In July 1999, Stephens was honored by the States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force with a Legacy Award for oil spill prevention in recognition of his many years of personal commitment to improving the maritime safety in Prince William Sound. Stan served on the Board of Directors of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, where the Stan Stephens Stewardship Award is presented each year in recognition of organizations or individuals who work to protect a place or resource or pursue a just cause that greatly benefits Alaska travel and tourism. Although Stan passed away in 2013, his passion for Valdez and knowledge of Prince William Sound is still valuable today.
No matter where you are in Valdez there is a spectacular view, and that makes having the corner office look like solitary confinement. An Alaska resident since 1961, I chose to make Valdez a place to work and play, and I love to share it with visitors. I began my tour company, Stan Stephens Cruises & Tours, in 1971. I would have to insist that anyone who has not been to Valdez, or even if they have, stop by and see what all the fuss is about.
Fishing on the Way to Valdez
When traveling to Valdez via the Richardson Highway, those who like to fish will want to try salmon fishing for chinook (king) and sockeye (red) salmon on the Gulkana or Klutina Rivers. Both rivers are accessible from the Richardson Highway and you can hike along the shore until you find your spot, or you can hire one of the many guide services available. Both rivers run very fast and the Klutina is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Alaska, so hiring an experienced guide is a good idea. Once you hook a king salmon in the Klutina you are in for a real battle. You are not only fighting the strength and endurance of the fish but also the current of the river. Both rivers wind through hilly terrain. The Gulkana is a beautiful winding river that covers about three miles for every mile of the highway. There also are camping spots along both rivers.
Stop for Breakfast in Valdez
If you happen to arrive in Valdez in the morning, there are a number of great places for breakfast. Many are usually bustling with sport and commercial fishermen exchanging Alaska stories. If you listen in on a conversation or two, you might just pick up a tip on the best fishing hot spot.
For a good cup of coffee, Valdez has many espresso stands and coffee shops. My favorite is A Rogue’s Garden, where you can not only pick up a great cup of coffee but also choose from fresh treats like bagels, scones, or cookies. While waiting for your fresh cup, you can peruse the store shelves filled with organic and natural foods.
Go for a Walk in Valdez
Once you get to Valdez, visit the Valdez Visitor’s Center for help and suggestions on what to see and do. I love to hike and run, though at my age, the pace is a bit slower and it takes longer to travel on the remote trails. I think we have one of the best hiking or running trails in Alaska on Mineral Creek Road. This road follows a canyon with 3,000- to 4,000-foot mountains on both sides. This trail was at one time the route for gold mining operations that took place at the end of the road. There is still a stamp mill at the very end of the trail, 7 miles back, from the mining days in Valdez during the early 1900s.
The trail is full of high beautiful waterfalls and there are plenty of places you can go off the road and walk along the creek. The area is full of bird life and animal life. I run this trail very early in the morning in the summer, and I often see black bear or wolverine high on some of the snow slides. In late summer you can pick wild blueberries or salmonberries along the edge of the road. This is a great place right near the outskirts of Valdez to experience the unique beauty of Alaska.
Out on the Sound
There are many ways to experience the Prince William Sound area while in Valdez. I know that I am a little prejudiced, or maybe a lot, but I don’t think there is another spot in the world that can compete with the beauty, or wilderness coastal experience, or variety of bays and passageways like Prince William Sound. It is full of marine wildlife and bird life and has many tidewater glaciers, some advancing, some retreating. There are many high mountain glaciers, some of the highest glacier mountain fjords and deepest fjords in all of North America. You can spot waterfalls and streams everywhere. It is hard to pick a favorite spot because it is all so rugged, pristine, and beautiful. You can see much of this on one of Valdez’s many fishing or sightseeing charters, including my own, Stan Stephens Cruises & Wildlife Tours.
If you have your own boat you can explore and become more familiar with some of the many bays and passageways. I especially like Long Bay, just past Glacier Passage. This bay is divided by two arms, and at both ends are long valleys and streams where salmon spawn. Each of those arms has islands and passageways, with both small and large waterfalls. Black bear are everywhere, bird life abounds, seal and otters frolic, humpback whales and orcas feed right off the bow of your boat. The bay has both shrimp and crab, and there are places where you can hook a halibut or two.
There is one small bay off one of the arms called Billy’s Hole that has a narrow passageway into the bay. At the end of the bay, there is a stream that flows out from a lake in the upper valley, and if you like to hike like I do, you can anchor your boat and follow the stream up to the lake. There is a stream that flows into the lake, and if you follow it back into the Granite Mountains, you will see the bottom of the stream is partially composed of beautiful white granite. The mountains are beautiful back here with water running off them with many colors of granite on display. All the bays in Prince William Sound are different, which you can see if you get a chance to stray from the beach and follow a stream or valley inland. Long Bay is just one of hundreds of bays that will bring your life back to reality and with nature.
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