Things To Do In Valdez
Valdez is a city in Alaska situated to the north of Port Valdez on Prince William Sound. While famed for its fabulous fishing, today it is best known as the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline. As a fishing port, Valdez provides a starting point for commercial and sport fishermen alike. With many species of salmon, lingcod, rockfish and the Valdez specialty, halibut, accessible to just about anyone, fishing Valdez is a true treat. It is also a major freight hub for goods destined to Alaska's interior.
Surrounded by mountains, rainforests, waterfalls, and glaciers, the city has breath-taking scenery as well as world-class skiing and snowboarding (including heli skiing and snowboarding) and nature adventures for those seeking wild animals, birds, and flora. Other notable activities in the area are whale watching, glacier tours, hiking and climbing.
The strategic port of Valdez can trace its history to the late 1700s. The city, however, has a much less desirable history. The city was created as a scam by steamship companies to lure gold rush prospectors away from the traditional routes to the Klondike. Thousands died as a result since the route was twice as long and much more dangerous. Construction of a railway line that would have connected Valdez to the rest of Alaska and led to the city's expansion ended in a shootout between rival companies and was never completed. It wasn't until the turn of the century that a roadway was connected to the city, and it was 1950 before the road, the Richardson Highway, was open in the winter. The city was almost destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1964 and was later, literally, moved to a more solid location 4 kilometers away.
When To Go:
Valdez is a year-round wonder. You will certainly want to base your trip on your desired activities, however, since winter and summer offer quite different experiences. The summers in Valdez are filled with endless adventure spurred by the never-setting sun. From May through September you will often experience warm, though frequently rainy, weather.
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This is the time for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The winters come early and bring with them lots of snow. Lots of snow means great Alpine and cross country skiing. There will often be a good skiing snow base by early November and the snow typically remains through April. And, while the temperatures are lower and the scene's have changed, some of the most inspired nature photography can be found during these months.
Here are some amazing things to do while you are in Valdez:
A short drive out of the city will bring you to one of the most beautiful places in Alaska. The Thompson Pass has spectacular waterfalls and glaciers that are right off the highway. This is a favorite place for photographers and artists who want to be up close to nature. Moose are found in abundance and can often be spotted just off the roadway. Bald eagles fly overhead and create a majestic scene, and for those who have never witnessed the United States' national bird soaring on the winds this is a true must-see.
While the Thompson pass is open year-round, most of the wildlife has sought more favorable locations during the winter, and the pass is known for its treacherous winter driving conditions. This is a sight best visited during summer months.
A premier fishing location, you will not want to visit Valdez without at least trying to catch one of the monstrous fish or migrating salmon to be found in the waters of Prince William Sound. And when you do set out on your adventure, be sure to pay the small fee to enter the Fishing Derby which gives cash prizes for the largest fish of the day, week, month and year for several species of fish. Many of these prizes get up to $15,000.
Some of the past derby winners include a 15 pound silver salmon and nearly 300 pound halibut. The average silver salmon entered weighs close to ten pounds. Valdez is also a very popular sport fishery for the pink salmon with thousands being caught right from the shore.
With choices of boat rentals and small to large charter boats to get you to your fishing destination there are options for every skill level.
Prince William Sound
Among the most amazing, pristine wildernesses left in the world, the Prince William Sound features majestic glaciers, many types of whales including the humpback and killer whales, sea lions, and porpoises. Eagles soar overhead as gulls swarm in search of food.
The natural beauty of the sound is magnified by the Chugach National Forest along the shore. You'll be able to see fishermen bringing up their catch from the deep waters and bears, moose, fox, and other wildlife gems try their best to catch or forage food alone the coastline.
The highlight of the Sound, however, is the tidewater glaciers. If you have never seen a calving glacier then this is a part of Alaska that you truly must see! Prince William Sound has more tidewater glaciers than anywhere else on earth.The glaciers that extend into the sound are massive and stretch for miles. Beyond their sheer size and beauty, the sound of a glacier getting ready to calve, or shed enormous amounts of ice into the sea, is incredible and somewhat frightening. The glacial ice cracks and crackles until, with a low rumble that crescendos into a large crashing boom, monolithic, hundred-ton, ice chunks drop into the ocean below creating huge waves that can last for days. Seeing this event on television pales in comparison to this mind-blowing experience of nature.
Alaskan Glacier Cruise
While you can certainly experience the sights and sounds of the Prince William Sound yourself, you will likely miss the luxury of a chartered glacier cruise. Many boats are fitted with plush interiors, serve up gourmet meals, and provide excellent education along the way. A typical glacier tour takes from 7-12 hours and is a perfect way to see all that the sound has to offer.
The two main glaciers for viewing are the Mears and Columbia glaciers. On your trip out you will cruise the shoreline looking for wildlife. In addition to the land dwellers seeking food along the coast you may spot sea otters, seals, sea lions and whales cruising the shallows.
The Mears Glacier is one of many in the Prince William Sound, but the only tidewater glacier entering the sound from the Unakwik Inlet from the Chugach National Forest. It is over a mile wide as it enters the sound and is currently advancing.
The Columbia Glacier is retreating and is the fastest moving glacier in Alaska and one of the fastest moving in the world. It releases several tons of ice into the sound each day. Because of the frequent calving the glacier is one of the most famous. You will not only witness this awe-inspiring event, but may get to watch kayakers dodging the icebergs as they are tossed and hurled by the subsequent waves.
For those adrenaline junkies out there, a heli skiing trip into the Chugach Mountains is just the thing. Grab your skis or snowboard and hitch a ride with one of the five heli skiing tours in Valdez. The world-class snowfall and pristine runs bring people from all over the world for deep powder, big mountain free skiing. Valdez has even been a host of the World Extreme Skiing Championships.
Cross Country Skiing
Valdez offers magnificent cross country skiing opportunities in and around the city. The city itself provides over 4 kilometers of groomed trails. A local favorite is the trail selection at Mineral Creek. Of course, you can always head out to the mountains and cut your own trail through millions of acres of powder and unadulterated wilderness.
The imposing Lowe River was once the only “highway” that connected Valdez to the rest of Alaska. The river passes though Keystone Canyon, a splendid section of glorious land that features breathtaking waterfalls including the stunning 900 foot Bridal Veil Falls, amazing views of the Chugach Mountains, and sheer canyon walls.
The section of river that is typically rafted starts at Class I and II rapids and escalates to Class III as the canyon narrows and the waves and rapids increase. At times you can actually hear the boulders being moved on the riverbed. If you love the thrill of rafting or kayaking a trip to Keystone Canyon should not be missed.
Valdez Hiking Trails
With glorious nature at your doorstep, Valdez is the perfect place for a stroll, hike, or trek. Take an hour, or go for several days. Valdez has many groomed and marked trails for adventures of all ages and abilities. Of course, you can go off the beaten path if you like as well. Be aware that this is true wilderness and you may encounter eagles, moose, bears, and if along the coast, even whales.
The top 6 trails in the area are:
Worthington Glacier: The mile long hike is not too taxing, there a beautiful views of the magnificent Worthington Glacier, and there is easy access and even viewing platforms.
Thompson Pass: True Alpine hiking, or you can walk along the access road for the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. Stellar views and many fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities.
Keystone Canyon Pack Trail: This is an historic trail that gets hiked by a lot of clubs. You can go for a day or a week. Enjoy the many magnificent waterfalls and beautiful cliffs.
Mineral Creek Trail: This amazing trail is of moderate difficulty. The 6.5 miles to the old Smith Stamping Mill takes you along and old 5.5 mile road and then through the wilderness. The century old gold processing mill is worth a visit for its historic value, and the trek there is priceless given the amazing beauty of the trail that is often frequented by bears and mountain goats.
Valdez Glacier: More of an advanced route for those who are familiar with glacial terrain, this trail can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. The initial trail is pretty flat, but once you start to ascend up the glacier the skill level changes pretty rapidly.
Shoup Bay Trail: This stunning trail provides views of the Valdez Port, Shoup Glacier, and the beautiful Gold Creek Delta. The first few miles are moderately challenging. Continue on for another 7 or 8 more advanced miles to reach the tidewater glacier. Be aware that past mile 3.5 the trail is not always maintained and can be steep and wet.
The Valdez Museum is over 100 years old and has quite a history of its own. It was founded by an original Alaskan prospector in 1901 and then destroyed in the “Great Quake” of 1964. It was later rebuilt and the expanded collection of history is now housed in two buildings four blocks from each other.
The museum addresses the history of Valdez, the Copper River Basin and the Prince William Sound. Collections include photographs, documents, textiles, and artifacts. Making the museum unique is its focus on four main Alaskan themes: The Alaskan gold rush, the great earthquake of 1964, the monumental construction of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, and the horrific Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Solomon Gultch Hatchery
Salmon have a very special place in the hearts of Alaskans. Keeping the salmon stock stable despite the growing demands of the fishing industry takes some help and hard work. The Solomon Gultch Salmon Hatchery provides that extra hand in ensuring renewable salmon stocks. Incubating 230 million pink salmon eggs and 2 million coho salmon eggs each year helps keep salmon numbers healthy. Since salmon return the place they are spawned, nearly 13 million adult pink salmon and 200,000 cohos return to the hatchery every year. The hatchery is different from fish farming in that the eggs are hatched here, but the young are turned into the wild as soon as they reach viable size.
The hatchery is easily accessible and is open every day in the summer for unguided walking tours. If you have never seen what millions of salmon look like you will not want to miss the truly awe-inspiring salmon return in June (pinks) and August (coho).
Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum
The Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum houses one of the largest collections of Native Alaskan art and artifacts in the world. Exhibits include pieces of ivory and whale baleen, masks, dolls, fur garments, wildlife mounts, and elements displaying the natural history of Alaska.
For a change of pace from larger more commercial museums, the professionally designed exhibits present a fascinating perspective in historic native life and the development of Alaska.
Valdez Winter Carnival
Each March the city of Valdez hosts three days of carnival fun. The event features survival suit races, snowshoe softball, a torchlight parade, and the famed Polar Bear Splash In.
The Splash In is not for the faint of heart as it requires you to strip down and plunge though a hole in the ice into frigid waters as any true Polar Bear would. If you are not up to participating, it makes for some great photographs. As you might imagine, libations flow freely afterward.
Gold Rush Days
The summer counterpart to the Winter Carnival, the 5 day Gold Rush Days celebration in mid-August features a parade, bed races, a free fish feed and a portable jailhouse used to 'incarcerate' those who are found without beards. Artists participate in “Quick Draw” competitions, while bakers try their hand at cupcake wars. Between the food, entertainment and crafts this is truly a week of good times.
Snow Machine Tours
Just because its winter doesn't mean you can't get out and explore the amazing sights and sounds of Alaska. Snow Machine (snowmobile) tours are run out of most winter lodges and take you through the picturesque Chugach Mountains.
The vast snowfall makes for an experience of a lifetime as you race through trails and then take on pristine powdered snow ridges. Tours range from beginner to advanced thrill seeking adventures.
Take a day to head out into Prince William Sound in search of the largest creatures on earth. Valdez is home to several types of whales including the humpback, killer whale, gray whale, minke and beluga. While whales can be found year round, most of the whales migrate long distances and can be seen during their specific return to the fertile waters of Alaska.
Each whale has its own season, for example the best time to see killer whales is in September, while humpbacks are best viewed June to August. Your captain will know what whales are there and where to find them. There are few things more amazing than seeing a pod of these monoliths rise from the depths.
Mountain Man Snow Machine Hill Climb
In the middle of April, racers and spectators gather in the Thompson pass to watch snowmachiners race up a 1,700 foot slope in hopes of reaching the top and getting a prize for the fastest time. It is not as easy as it sounds and makes for several days of fun as BBQs, drinks, and camaraderie are found in abundance.
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