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Valdez is set on Prince William Sound with Chugach National Forest and the Chugach Mountains behind it. It has a storied past, including ties to the heady days of the Klondike Gold Rush, but it's hard for anything here to compete with the magnificence of the natural landscape and the abundance of wildlife thriving in it.
Which is exactly what made the 1989 oil spill involving the Exxon Valdez so horrific. Fortunately, the $2 billion cleanup proved very effective. It took more than three years, but when all was said and done, Prince William Sound, the wildlife, the city of Valdez and the tourists all came back. Today, Valdez is a cruise port well worth visiting.
Valdez is a quintessentially Alaskan town with friendly residents and an emphasis on the spectacular nature around it. Getting out in that nature is an Alaska cruise highlight.
Because of its more remote location, there are only a handful of cruise options for travelers who want to visit the area. While Valdez is not a cruise port destination, cruise lines often package it with other land tour destinations such as Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park and Copper River.
The Valdez Museum contains fascinating historical accounts, artifacts and exhibits about Valdez and the surrounding area. The museum is constantly being updated, and the displays are engaging. One of the most interesting exhibits chronicles the era of the Klondike Gold Rush, 1897-1898.
Gold Rush Days, held in August at the visitor center, is a fun-filled community event that features a fashion show, dance routines and tons of entertainment. A free halibut and salmon fry is part of the event, so all budget-minded travelers should take note! The highlight of Gold Rush Days might be the ugly vehicle contest; wait until you see the photos of past winners!
Tourists flock to Valdez for the excellent fishing, and prizes for the biggest silver and pink salmon are given out annually. Fish Central is one option for anglers, offering information, equipment rentals, tips on the best sites to fish during the time you're there and more.
Humpback whales and orcas populate the waters of Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska, and there are multiple boat tour operators who will take you out to see them, as well as the other marine life and birds in the area.
Glaciers, a slew of them, define the Valdez landscape, and there are a variety of ways to see them. Most popular are those you can see via tour boat or kayak, including Columbia and Shoup glaciers. Shoup is also accessible via an 8.5-mile hike.
Chugach National Forest is the second largest national forest in the United States, second only to Tongass National Forest, and it pretty much surrounds Valdez, with the imposing Chugach Mountains just beyond. Valdez Glacier Campground is a nice place to spend a couple of hours and to take a short hike. The trees and wildlife are abundant, the scenery gorgeous. Take lots of pictures but don't leave any food or food containers lying around; this is bear country.
Book a helicopter flightseeing tour and get a (whirly) bird's-eye view of Valdez's impressive collection of glaciers.
Exploring Prince William Sound by kayak. Nothing puts you closer to marine life or the feel of the "real" Alaska than bobbing inches above the surface of one of the state's most impressive bodies of water.
You won't go hungry in Valdez. There are a number of places to sit, relax and enjoy the ambience of this coastal town. Mike's Palace features a good selection of food from around the globe, including Italian and Greek, and, of course, there's seafood. Head to The Fat Mermaid for its waterside setting, 15 craft brews on tap, burgers, pizza, salads and more. Coffee lovers should stop in at A Rogue's Garden, which has organic coffee and an espresso bar as well as soups made daily and freshly baked bread.
Cruise ships dock at the Port of Valdez, with convenient access to the Richardson Highway.
There are several transportation options to choose from, but renting a car and driving the utterly scenic Richardson Highway tops the list. There are also rental bicycles, another good choice, and if necessary there are a few cabs, too.
Have you been to Valdez? What was the highlight? Have any tips or photos? Please share.
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Published March 2015