Valdez is a small fishing town based in a deep-water fjord in the northeast of Prince William Sound. The town was first established during the Klondike gold rush, in response to claims that the Valdez Glacier Trail provided prospectors with better access to the gold fields. The claims were untrue (the trail was twice as steep and twice as long claimed); however, the settlers remained and the town grew to become the first overland supply route in Alaska’s interior.
With just under 4,000 residents at last count, Valdez is a very small town. However, it remains a popular tourist destination given its proximity to many natural wonders. The town is surrounded on three sides by the snow-capped, heavily glaciated Chugach Mountains. These are some of the tallest coastal mountains on earth and afford many fantastic winter sports opportunities, particularly heli-skiing and snowboarding.
Surprisingly, in addition to the snow and ice, Valdez is also home to towering spruce rainforests – the northernmost temperate rainforest in the entire world. Known as Blueberry Hill, this rainforest forms an important habitat for local black bears and bald eagles, as well as being a common destination for hikers.
The fjord itself is also an admired attraction. Kayaking and canoeing are popular with locals and tourists. This is unsurprising when you consider that there are breathtaking views of the Chugach Mountains from almost every point on the water.
Valdez is the northernmost ice-free port in the United States, and while not the largest port in Alaska, is extremely important given its access to the Alaskan interior. Cruises to the region dock at John Thomas Kelsey Municipal Dock, which is part of the Port of Valdez.
The cruise terminal facilities at John Thomas Kelsey Municipal Dock have been recently restored; however, they remain fairly simple. There is a 600-foot wooden wharf that cruise passengers can use to disembark via the mooring dolphin.
- Picnic tables
- BBQ area
- Kayak launching area
There are dining and accommodation options available in the town; these are all accessible with a short walk from the port.
How to Get Around
There are no public transport services in Valdez, but given the town’s small size, it is unlikely that this will have any impact on the traveller’s experience. Most of the major sites within the town are easily accessible by foot or on the local bike hire system. Taxis and hire cars are available if travelling to the airport, which is a few kilometres outside of town.
Travel times from John Thomas Kelsey Municipal Dock:
- It is a 30 minute journey to the Valdez town centre.
- It is a five minute journey to the Valdez town centre
- It is a 13 minute journey to Valdez airport.
- Currency - The currency in Valdez is the United States dollar (USD). Coins are available in 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢ and USD$1 denominations. Notes are available in USD$1, USD$5, USD$10, USD$20, USD$50, and USD$100 denominations.
- Time Zone - Valdez uses the Alaska Time Zone. It is nine hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Daylight savings is in effect between March and November. During this time the city is only eight hours behind UTC.
- Weather - Valdes has a subpolar oceanic climate. Winters are cold (although not as cold as other parts of Alaska) with heavy snowfall. It is coldest in January with average low temperatures of -8.2 degrees Celsius and average highs of just -3 degrees Celsius. The summers are cool and crisp, warmest in July with an average of 16.8 degrees Celsius.
- Lu-Lu Belle Glacier Wildlife Cruises – The Lu-Lu Bell is one of a number of small cruises that leave from Valdez to explore the glaciers in wondrous Prince William Sound. This is a small vessel that has been ornately decorated with polished wood, rich leather and oriental rugs. There’s no more comfortable way to see the impressive glacier-calving and all the wildlife in the harbour.
- John Hunter Memorial Trail - While just a six kilometres round trip, the John Hunter Memorial Trail is not a hike for the inexperienced. Trekkers must tackle a steep uphill hike through the spruce forest before reaching picturesque Solomon Lake. There are a number of beautiful views of the mighty Chugach Mountains.
- Valdez Museum - For such a small town, Valdez has a surprisingly gargantuan museum. Valdez Museum provides fascinating insight into this town’s storied history. There are exhibits that explore the Klondike gold rush, the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, and the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. There are also curiosities from times gone by, including a steam powered fire engine and an ornate 19th century saloon bar.
- Old Valdez - Just outside of town on the Richardson Highway is Old Valdez, the site of the original Valdez township. The remains of Old Valdez are a testament to the awesome power of nature. The original settlement was devastated in 1964 as a 9.2 magnitude earthquake ripped through the town, shortly followed by tsunamis. Among the ruins of the old town is an Earthquake Memorial that pays tribute to all those who died in the disaster.