Valdez: Land of Water and Ice

Valdez AK 2018-16

Valdez is at the head of a deep fjord and offers great views of the Prince William Sound. For this reason, many Alaskans recommended that we take in Valdez while we are here in Alaska. They also told us that the drive over to Valdez was very beautiful so we timed our visit there when we would have sunny weather.

The drive to Valdez on the Glenn and Richardson Highways offered some amazing views.

Along the Glenn Highway, we saw the Matanuska Glacier which is 27 miles long and 4 miles wide.  It is the largest glacier that is accessible by car in the USA.  You do not have to drive to the glacier to view it because you can see it very well from the highway.  If you want to drive to the Matanuska Glacier and walk on it, you have to pay $30 per person to gain access.  There is only one road to its base and it runs through the Matanuska Glacier Park private property.  They also offer guided tours that cost $100 per person.  If you are a first time visitor to a glacier, you are required to take the guided tour because the park wants to protect both its visitors and the glacier.  If you have experience hiking on glaciers, you do not have to pay for the guided tour.  More than 20,000 people visit the Matanuska Glacier annually. We did not drive to the glacier but it was certainly one of the most impressive glaciers we have seen on our journey through Alaska.

On the Richardson Highway, we crossed over Thompson Pass (elev. 2805 ft.) before descending into Valdez.  At the pass, there is another well-known valley glacier called Worthington Glacier and it is a U. S. National Natural Landmark.  The Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site is a 113 acre park and is one of the most visited spots in the Valdez area.  There are spectacular views of the glacier and you can hike up several trails to get a closer look.  We saw some people walking up the face of the glacier while we were there.  This was just one of many breath taking views of the mountains, lakes, and glaciated peaks on our way to Valdez.

Just before we arrived in Valdez, we entered Keystone Canyon and it held another surprise.  This three-mile gorge has sheer perpendicular walls and a number of waterfalls.  The two largest ones are Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. The former drops 600 feet and the latter drops 328 feet to the Lowe River below.  While we were photographing the falls, we met some fellow travelers and they told us about a good dry camping spot at Valdez Glacier Park.  They were going back to their campsite so we followed them.  For the next couple of days we camped in sight of the Valdez Glacier and its lake. It was a perfectly wonderful camping spot. We could not have hoped for a better one. (Thank you Kathy and Scott!)

Valdez was named for the Spanish Naval Minister Antonio Valdés y Fernández Bazán in 1790. It became an important port because it is the northernmost port in North America that remains ice free during the winter months. Valdez is a town that has survived major catastrophes, including a historic oil spill by the Exxon Valdez and the worst earthquake recorded in North American history. After the 1964 Good Friday earthquake the town was moved several miles to the current town site. Today Valdez is a lovely city surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. This makes for gorgeous views along the harbor.

In the harbor, there is a small boat marina and docks for larger boats.  Along the small boat marina there were many fishing boats, restaurants, gift shops, hotels, etc.  We strolled along the marina and watched the fishermen who were preparing their daily catch.

Near the docks, they were having the third annual Alaska Cup Carving Championship.  This year the City of Valdez sponsored the event.  This competition draws world-class chainsaw carvers from as far away as Japan, Australia, and Germany.  There are ten select participants who work outside from 8 AM – 6:30 PM daily from Monday, July 30th – Thursday, August 2nd. It was free and open to the public. Their wood carvings were incredible.

Our friends Colleen and David, who were staying in Valdez too, told us about a couple of other places that we should not miss. The first one was the Solomon Gulch Salmon Hatchery, the largest single species hatchery in North America.  Built in 1982 to help support the fishing industry, this hatchery incubates 230 million pink salmon and two million Silver Salmon (Coho) eggs annually.  Every year the salmon migrate back to this spot by the millions in July and August.  You can also tour the hatchery and see the fish ladder and view parts of the fish hatchery.  Fishing is one of the main industries in Valdez and it is estimated that this facility contributes about $110 million to the region every year.

We also saw several sea lions enjoying their free lunch while we were there.

Valdez AK 2018-27-2-2

The second place that our friends suggested was the Mineral Creek Trail.  Although it is called a trail, it is actually a gravel road best suited for trucks and ATVs.  We did see some people running and also hiking along the road.  This ungraded road is narrow and has lot of potholes so you have to drive very slowly.  Not far down the trail, you cross a narrow wooden bridge over Mineral Creek.  As you wind your way up the canyon, there are a lot of waterfalls and fantastic views of the mountain ranges and snow-capped peaks.  We also had to traverse several streams that flow over the road.  It was a fun adventure into the back country.

On our last afternoon in Valdez, we inflated our kayak and went out on the Valdez Glacier Lake to take a closer look at the blue icebergs floating in the lake. Many kayaking tours who offer trips come to the Glacier Lake Park where we were camping to put in and take out. After getting out on the water, we could understand why this is a preferred location to kayak.

Just being on the glacial lake and paddling up to the icebergs and ice caves was exhilarating.  It was a great way to cap off our time in Valdez.

Valdez Glacier View Lake AK 2018-82

One thing that we did not get to do was a boat trip on the Lu-Lu Belle. A number of our friends who had taken the tour highly recommended it.  This cruise makes its way through a sea of icebergs right up to the Columbia Glacier.  When we called about getting a reservation, the cruise was fully booked.  We will have to do that the next time we are in Valdez.

Valdez proved to be a wonderful destination.  We had several fabulous and fun-filled days and we were glad that our Alaskan friends encouraged us to visit it.

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