I cant entirely explain the charm of Valdez. After all, I didnt do much while I was there, and I was already sick of dealing with rain before I even arrived. Even the spectacular setting had little time to wow me, as it was only a few hours after my appearance that clouds had completely socked in the area for the duration of my stay. Not only that, but Valdez is expensive, isnt very good for tenting, and doesnt have much of a restaurant selection. By all rights, I should hate Valdez.
But I dont.
Valdez just has something to it that other Alaskan towns dont. I suspect much of my praise is owed to the natural surroundings, even with the small dose of it that I received. Also notable was what I perceived to be a younger population, which provided a nice break from the grey hair that dominated much of Alaska. But really, I just dont know what makes Valdez such a great place. All I know is that I want to go back.
Valdez is not especially difficult to get to, but it just takes time, and that is enough to keep Valdez from being overrun by the masses of tourists that plague other parts of Alaska. The most logical way of getting to Valdez is to fly to Anchorage and either drive the Glenn & Richardson Highways, or drive down to Whittier and take the Alaska Marine Highway System to Valdez. If I could redo my trip, Id opt with the ferry, as Prince William Sound is much more scenic than what you get by driving the entire distance. You can also get to Valdez by ferry from Juneau, but securing a spot on those ferries requires advanced reservations. The final option is to fly to Valdez on a small plane, with Anchorage being the most likely departure point.
Old Valdez was one of the hardest-hit towns when the magnitude 9.2 Good Friday Earthquake struck, with the epicenter only 45 miles away. Being that the town was on a river estuary on the Valdez Inlet, the town had no chance of making it through both the earthquake and the tsunami that followed. With 33 fatalities and a demolished town, the whole of Valdez relocated 4 miles away to what is considered safer ground should such a disaster strike again. All that remains today of Old Valdez is its network of gravel roads. More recently in Valdezs history is the construction of the Alyeska (Trans-Alaska) Pipeline, which has its terminus across the inlet from the town. Twelve years after that was completed, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound after leaving Valdez, but managed to leave the area right around Valdez relatively unharmed. Today, Valdez sees the occasional cruise ship and has a steady flow of RVers, but for the most part it is still a quiet oil-based town with a small fishing industry.
What to do, what to do
The number one thing to do is hope for good weather. Prince William Sound is frequently socked in with clouds and soggy conditions, and should you encounter those, youll end up like me and get a little bored. I stuck around hoping for the best, but the weather only got worse with each day, eventually squashing my hopes to do some kayaking. Still, I managed to find quite a bit to do in and around Valdez on land, and despite the weather, I had a great time.
Prince William Sound
If the forecast is looking decent, seize the opportunity to explore Prince William Sound. The scenery is stunningperhaps the best of what Alaska has to offerand the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife abounds. Day cruises are a popular option out of Valdez, which take you past cascading waterfalls and tidewater glaciers clinging to steep, green mountainsides. Kayaking trips are also popular, and usually include a boat ride to take you out to the more rugged and photogenic topography. If youre the type of person that easily gets seasick, have no worry, as Prince William Sound is home to calm and protected waters. I browsed around the various tour operators, most of which have their offices on North Harbor Drive, and at the end of the day they all looked about the same, offering similar trips on similar boats with similar prices. I almost went on a kayak trip with Anadyr Adventures to Columbia Glacier, but with the final cost being up around $200, I figured Id save the money and blow it on something when the weather wasnt so cruddy.
The Valdez Museum is a good place to spend some time on a rainy day. For only $5 it kept me occupied for a few hours, and could have kept me occupied for days if I went and read every single thing. A lot of the exhibits are made up primarily of writing and journals, so its not the most interesting museum and definitely isnt one for kids, but it still provides some great information on the history of Valdez and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The $5 admission also grants access to the Museum Annex, which is in a warehouse a few blocks away. If youre at all interested in the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake and Tsunami, you must make a trip to the Annex. If youre looking for information about the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, youre better off heading to Homers excellent Pratt Museum.
Waterfalls & Glaciers
You absolutely must pay a visit to Keystone Canyon, with Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls at its end. Its a very scenic spot, about 15 miles out of town on the Richardson Highway. Continuing the drive away from town on the Richardson Highway will take you up past Blueberry Lakes to Thompson Pass and soon youll lay eyes on Worthington Glacier. Although it is not-at-all advisable, you can walk right up to the face of the glacier, or you can take a short semi-trail along the moraine on the side of the glacier, although I dont recommend it (the best views are from down lower).
The most important thing to remember when visiting Worthington Glacier is to stay far, far away from the outhouses. If that means reverting to your childhood and going in your pants, do it. Ive seen my share of nasty outhouses, including some with no floors, but never have I seen such disgusting washrooms. Even unleashing a fire hose filled with Lysol would not be enough to sanitize them.
Closer to town is Valdez Glacier, but getting to it by road isnt possible nor especially safe, since blasting was taking place in the area. Youre better off just heading to Worthington Glacier.
Valdez doesnt have much in the way of trails, but what it does have is enjoyable. The visitor center has small pamphlets on each of the trails in the area, with directions to the trailheads and brief descriptions of the trails. Before the weather got too wet, I walked along the Shoup Bay Trail to Gold Creek Bridge, which is a common turn-around point before the trail gets more difficult and heads to Shoup Glacier (which I would have done with better weather). It certainly wasnt the most stunning hike Ive ever been on, but it was enjoyable nonetheless and Im sure it would have been much more rewarding with clear skies. The other three hikes around Valdez are the Mineral Creek Trail, Solomon Gulch Trail, and Goat Trail.
If you just want a nice leisurely stroll, head to Dock Point (right on the edge of town), where its a gentle 1 mile circuit that has a few interpretive signs posted along the way. Downtown Valdez and the Small Boat Harbour are also very nice to walk around, with quite a bit of activity going on throughout the day.
One or two companies offer short rafting trips down the Lowe River, which runs alongside the Richardson Highway from roughly Keystone Canyon until it empties into the Pacific. Never did I actually see a raft on the river, nor did I go myself since I was already cold and wet, but in nicer weather the $75 trip would be a tempting prospect.
Fish & Bird Viewing
If you have a few minutes you need to use up, the Crooked Creek Information Site is on the edge of town and has a large wooden platform from where you can watch spawning salmon and catch the occasional talk from a USFS naturalist. Just across the highway are some tidal duck flats that are great for spotting birds. If you want to fish, head over to the Alyeska terminal and park on the side of the road the guys I watched were hauling in a fish a minute. You may also spot sea otters swimming around in that area.
Although you could tour the pipeline terminal prior to the whole terrorism shebang, it is now under tight security, so unfortunately you cant even get close to it. Bummer.
Its Chow Time
If youre looking for a gastronomical destination, youre not going to be very happy with Valdez. Plan on making some visits to Eagle Quality Center, which is identical to Safeway beyond the name. If you insist on not cooking, No Name Pizza sure smelled good while I was doing my laundry next door, although it was a somewhat grungy looking place. There are a few other restaurants in town, but they didnt look very interesting and the locals I talked to didnt make a point of recommending them (although they did recommend getting a deli sandwich at Eagle).
Respite from the Rain
Considering that Valdez isnt a very large town, it offers a number of accommodation options. The best looking hotels were the Aspen Hotel and the Best Western Valdez Harbour Inn, which are a little pricey for my tastes at $120+ per night. Other places to consider are the Totem Inn, Keystone Hotel, and Glacier Sound Inn, but they too are not cheap. Like most Alaskan towns, Valdez also has a wide selection of B&Bs, which arent such a burden on the wallet.
Valdez has an assortment of campgrounds in and around the town, but none of them are especially good for tenters. Right in town is Bear Paw RV Park, Bayside RV Park, Eagles Rest RV Park, and Sea Otter RV Park, with the last one appearing the nicest of the four to me. A little ways out of town is Glacier Campground and Allison Point Campground. Glacier Campground had hundreds of spaced out, wooded sites, with very few people and safe-to-drink water. However, the flies and wasps were quite bad and the ground was impossible to hammer spikes into, so I gave up and left. Further from town, Allison Point Campground consists of a bunch of sites on the shoulder of the gravel road that leads to the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal. With the smell of rotting salmon and the amount of traffic on the road, it wasnt at all realistic for a tent but it was a great place to go fishing. Thirty or so miles from town is the most scenic campground at Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site. However, the bugs were bad there and its a fairly long drive to Valdez. Ultimately, I ended up sleeping in my 4Runner on the bug-free roadside pullout at Horsetail Falls, which was much nicer than anything I could have paid for.
Major Disasters be Damned
Even with two major disasters in the past fifty years, Valdez is a town not to be blown off. It may not be as glamourous as some towns, but it is a place where you can mellow out and take in the lovely environment without having to worry when the next tour bus arrives or cruise ship docks. Valdez could be better in many ways, but at the same time it doesnt really need to be. Throughout my life, theres been a fairly constant truth about me being bound to dislike places where the only weather I experience is cold rain. Valdez is the first and only place to have genuinely dispelled that belief.
Planning a trip to Alaska?
Click here to read my overview of the state of Alaska, which includes links to other reviews just like this one.
Read all 1 Reviews
Write a Review
Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug