Mother Nature had something special in mind when she created Valdez. Located in Prince William Sound within one of the most scenic areas of Southcentral Alaska, Valdez is home to towering mountains, abundant wildlife, and an expanse of ocean unique to the area.
Once an arrival point for miners and trappers headed over Thompson Pass toward Alaska's Interior region, Valdez grew quickly in the early 1900's, thanks to an ice-free port that harbored fishing boats and ships delivering cargo for the long trek north.
For most, the history of Valdez is not about triumph, but tragedy, as the town was the site of two catastrophic events, one natural, one man-made, but both significantly impacting its future. The first came in the form of an enormous tsunami as the result of a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that swept away nearly the entire town in 1964. The second event was the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker against fragile Bligh Reef in 1989, sending 11 million gallons of oil spilling onto pristine coastline.
As terminus for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, an 800-mile conduit from Prudhoe Bay, Valdez plays an important role in the oil industry, and as such, the town bustles year-round. Visitors are an important part of the Valdez landscape as well, with most arriving between May and September. But the city has boosted efforts to promote winter tourism in Valdez as well; backcountry skiing and local Nordic trails are plentiful, and more and more accommodations are being made available for the adventurous visitor.
Curious about Valdez? Here are five reasons to stay and play near Prince William Sound and a town where Mother Nature definitely plays favorites.
Location, Location, Location
Port Valdez was one of the few slices of flat land available when settlers first arrived in the early 1900's. Today's Valdez is a neat grid of homes and businesses with ample opportunity to sample the vast recreational opportunities afforded by those lucky enough to live here. Biking, hiking, fishing, and kayaking are all available within a few miles of town. Those wishing for a rugged backcountry experience can hire guides to shuttle them to remote beaches or trailheads for days or weeks in the Alaska wilderness.
With it's proximity to salmon streams, a saltwater sound, and mountainsides flush with vegetation and prey, Valdez's landscape is prime habitat for a number of mammal and bird species. The Harbor and Prince William Sound are home to otters, whales, sea lions, and bald eagles; and land mammals like black bears, goats, and moose roam the steep hills near town. A great place to spy bears is at the local fish hatchery during the evening hours, or along Duck Flats just outside of town.
With so much talk about climate change, glaciers are garnering a lot of attention in recent years, and most visitors wish to lay their eyes upon these flowing rivers of ice during their time in Alaska. Valdez is an excellent jumping off point for glacier viewing, with Columbia Glacier a popular destination. Allow at least 6 hours for a glacier cruise, and up to 9 if you'd like to venture further into the crux of glacial movement, and also see the epicenter of the 1964 earthquake that devastated much of Alaska's Southcentral coastlines.
There is much to be learned from a community like Valdez, and visitors should not understate the value of time spent in the city museums and on the ground of sites like Old Town. When the 1964 earthquake struck, much of the town's original site was destroyed by a tsunami. The museums of Valdez are excellent venues for learning more about this community. Allow at least an hour to wander the former site of Old Town Valdez, then drive to the toe of Valdez Glacier for a look at this retreating river of ice.
Have a desire to hike a mountain ridge? Fish for salmon? Maybe a weeklong camping trip on a rocky beach sounds appealing. Valdez has all that and more, and visitors are limited only by their imagination. The most productive Valdez visit encompasses all the high points of Prince William Sound; take a trip via kayak or day cruise boat to view glaciers and wildlife; hike the area's local trails or pick berries up on Thompson Pass; hire a guide who knows the hiding places of halibut or salmon. Which ever you choose, Valdez is a recreationalist's paradise.
For more information
The Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau provides year-round support for those seeking Alaska adventure. Whether you're aiming high for backcountry skiing or readying your fishing rod to be cast into the water of Prince William Sound, Valdez is the place to try new things and reach for the sky.