Psssst. I found a place you just have to visit. Meet Valdez, Alaska’s true adventure playground.
Alaska is a place known by everyone, whether that’s because it’s a regular feature on National Geographic, it’s on your bucket list to visit or because you are aware of oils greatest wilderness building project, you have heard about this place.
Regardless of your reason for being able to place Alaska on the map there is no mistaking that it is a mysterious final frontier. You can hardly find a place more remote or wild and are unlikely ever to encounter the kind of people who can live in such conditions.
The town of Valdez is one such place you can seek out those people, in fact, despite occasionally appearing to be a tourist town the truth is that every inhabitant is very Alaskan and no, they aren’t putting on a fishing debacle just to amuse their visitors, this port town derby is very serious and very real. Reaching out to any number of these people and their stories gives us reason enough to put Valdez on the map but there are several others and I’d like to share them with you now.
Be prepared for the final 50miles/75kilometers drive into Valdez to take hours, if not a whole day to complete. Not because of the road conditions, it is perfect but because the final section of the Richardson Highway rises and falls its way through the Chugach Mountain Range. Staring at the 360º vista atop the Thompson Pass, snaking through the keystone canyon and becoming mesmerised by the Bridal Veil Falls cascading from somewhere above the clouds are just a few of the experiences which encapsulate Alaska’s natural beauty.
The World’s greatest gift comes to life… and death, upon Valdez’s shores with hundreds of thousands of salmon making their lifelong journey upstream, swimming endlessly towards a place unknown and getting ready to spawn at the last breath. With several bodies of water flowing from the Alaskan Mountains into the Gulf of Alaska it is no surprise that Valdez is a prime location for salmon to make their transition from being saltwater species to a freshwater one. Due to the harsh landscape many salmon become beached even before finding fresh water and the coastal rocks and scarce streams become littered with their bodies. They are easy prey to the local wildlife including the seagulls who maintain a constant argument over who’s fish is who’s despite being outnumbered by salmon by almost a hundred to one.
It is completely extraordinary to hear an enormous crack of thunder, falling ice and realise that belongs to a calving ice field but this is something that is happening every single day to Meares Glacier. Stans Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises will take you into the heart of the action but the best bit is all of the incredible animals that you’ll find along the way. Admiring a sheer wall of ice nearly 200m high is made amusing by the seals trying to keep their balance on mini ice sheets and otters ducking and diving to get a closer peek at you.
Interested? Take a peek of ‘Whisper in the Presence of a Glacier‘ for more travel inspiration.
From a car sized salmon to an RV park reminding it’s customers “don’t forget your fish” it is not hard to see that Valdez is obsessed with fishing. Even not he gloomiest days you can see hoards of locals wading thigh deep into the water to practice their cast and catching of salmon and they are sure keen to lend you a tip or two.
Walk or cycle around town but be bear-aware, sightings of grizzly’s are common around Valdez’s coast. Less worrisome animals you are almost certain to see include bald eagles, seals, otters, eagles and if you are extra lucky, a pod of porpoise.
The Prince William Sound is not only an awesome protector of Valdez port from the Gulf of Alaska but a landscape well worthy of the title ‘Final Frontier.” Sheer rock faces tower from the sea to the sky streaming with waterfalls and fringed with snow and snaking glaciers. Valdez is nestled in the heart of this gigantic mountain range thus it is possible to view enthralling scenery from every angle.
One of the world’s most worthy (well, how else did it get its name) roadside attractions. Worthington glacier practically spills onto the highway but why admire it from the road when you can take a fifteen minute walk and marvel at a shimmering blue ice cave, cascading waterfalls and the valley it has painstakingly calved over hundreds of years. Note: entrance into the cave is very dangerous unless you are taking a guided excursion.
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With three glaciers within reach Valdez is a prime location to seal yourself in a Kayak and paddle among some ice giants. Gliding upon the ocean within an ice field is an adventurous twist to any kayaking I had previously experienced and it is one that Pangaea Adventures are eager to repeat day after day.
A little more about Valdez…
Tiny Valdez is accessed through a scenic drive between the Chugach Mountains, is a little over 300miles/500km from Anchorage, northern Alaska’s most prominent city. Being a southerly coastal town Valdez enjoys a short but sweet summer from June through to early September when the population bursts from 2,000 to 4,000 inhabitants. During these months locals engage in an on-going fishing derby and make the most out of the surrounding mountains, while in winter they enjoy activities such as heli-skiing (Valdez was the first place to drop skiers into the mountains via helicopter) and ploughing snow from the only road into town. Summer visitors can partake in glacier hikes, whitewater rafting or even go to watch a calving glacier.