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This fun-filled area is a port of call for adventure

Sitting on Prince William Sound and graced by a backdrop of glaciers and snowcapped peaks, Valdez is the quintessential Alaskan playground. Visitors may have a hard time choosing whether to hit the trail in the rugged inland mountains or launch a kayak into the waters. Anglers can spend weeks exploring the region’s myriad fishing opportunities while nature lovers will max out their cameras’ memory cards on images of wildlife and surrounding glaciers.

Valdez wasn’t always a recreation mecca. The harbor began life as a landfall for Spanish explorers—it was named after Spanish naval officer Antonio Valdés y Fernández Bazán in 1790—and later became a bustling hub for prospectors during the turn-of-the-century Klondike Gold Rush. The oil industry took root here in the late 1970s, as mammoth vessels filled up at the Valdez oil terminal, the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Fortunately, the tanker traffic hasn’t gotten in the way of all the kayaks, sailboats and pleasure craft that ply the harbor’s waters. Hardly an industry town, Valdez boasts a downtown with all of the intriguing shops and excellent restaurants you’d need for an outstanding vacation.


© State of Alaska/Robin Hood

Great Glacier Cruises

Located near the ever-changing contiguous glaciers that rise over Prince William Sound, Valdez is a popular starting point for day cruises. Besides the glaciers themselves, this side of Prince William Sound has calmer waters and a lot more wildlife than the western, Whittier side. On any given day trip, you’ll likely see huge colonies of sea otters, horned and tufted puffins, cormorants, humpback whales and even bald eagles.

The Columbia Glacier—the largest tidewater glacier in south-central Alaska—descends from an icefield 10,000 feet above sea level, down the flanks of the Chugach Mountains, and into a narrow inlet that leads into Prince William Sound.

This iconic glacier, which was featured in the documentary “Chasing Ice,” is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world. Since the 1980s, the glacier has lost about half its total thickness and volume. The veteran outfitter in the Valdez area, Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises, comes highly recommended. Full-day cruises focus on the Columbia Glacier. After passing through the long fjord of Port Valdez, boats enter the bay in front of the glacier, where bird and marine life are prolific.



Whether you’re looking for a short stroll or a multiday backpacking adventure, the Valdez area offers superb and accessible hiking along lush, scenic, well-maintained trails that start right from town. With serrated peaks rising sheer in every direction, the scenery in the Fjord of Valdez takes the breath away. While those much-coveted moose encounters are limited to Keystone Canyon, the odds are strong that you will at least spot a bear, an eagle, or even a whale as you hike Valdez’s myriad trails.

Beginning at the east side of the boat harbor, Dock Point is a tranquil forest and seafront walk with boardwalks, panoramic overlooks and berry picking along the way. For the more intrepid, Shoup Glacier Trail starts at the end of West Egan Drive and runs west for a (mostly flat) 12 miles along the shore of Port Valdez to a lagoon with a waterfall right in front of the glacier’s face. If you aim to go the distance, it’s advisable to reserve one of the three state park cabins near the glacier.

Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site encompasses 113 acres and includes one of the most-visited spots in the Copper River Basin: Worthington Glacier. Within the park, there are trails and picnic sites and shelters. Adventurous souls can don their crampons and sign up for the highly recommended Worthington Glacier Hike and Ice Climb offered by Pangaea Adventures. A shuttle van takes visitors through Keystone Canyon and over Thompson Pass to where a short hike leads to the climbable sections of Worthington Glacier. The guide provides a Basic Climbing 101 lesson and then hooks up top ropes before each aspiring climber tries their hand at climbing the glacier ice wall.

Sea Kayaking and Sailing

For first-time kayakers, or if you are short on time, the calm waters of duck flats—a chain of small islands recognized for their nesting birds and sunbathing seals—can be toured in a double- or triple-person sea kayak. For the more adventurous, day trips to Shoup Glacier provide access to Prince William Sound’s wild and stunning reaches. Pangaea Adventures’ Shoup Glacier trip combines amazing scenery, lunch on the beach near the ice and a satisfying paddling adventure that’s a bit more challenging than the straightforward outings usually offered to visitors. Pangea also offers multiday guided camping trips deeper into the Sound in a wilderness lodge-based adventure, as well as “Mothership” expeditions, which involves the creature comforts of staying on the boat at night.

Valdez’s Rough and Tumble History

Today, Valdez is a popular town that is a pleasant place to explore for a day. There are a handful of attractions and landmarks that speak evocatively of Valdez’s turbulent past. The Valdez Museum & Historical Archive features a model of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline; the ceremonial first barrel of oil to flow from the pipeline; an ornate, steam-powered antique fire engine; a 19th-century saloon bar and an informative exhibit on glaciers.

Also on display are arresting photos of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, along with an exhibit featuring letters from the prospectors who attempted the All-American Route from Valdez to the inland goldfields—a treacherous journey that took the lives of many gold-seekers.

For More Information

Valdez Convention & Visitors Bureau




Alaska Travel Industry Association