Valdez is a popular tourist destination in Alaska, fairly easily accessible year-round
by road, water, and air. Despite the heavy snow that falls every winter
season, road crews reportedly do
a good job keeping the Richardson Highway open.
There is plenty to keep visitors occupied for a few days or an entire
season, whether you prefer more
active or more sedentary activities or, like us, a variety of both.
Activities along the waterfront
can be as easy as watching boats come and go from the pier to
hiking several hundred (or thousand) feet
up into the mountains for a bird's-eye view of the scene.
On this page I'll give you an idea of the range of things visitors
can enjoy doing in Valdez and a synopsis of what we did in the short amount of
time we were there, including photos from the Whitney Museum.
In the next three entries I'll show you more pictures of the scenic
waterfront, the trails we hiked, the bike path, Valdez Glacier, and our
PLANNING YOUR FIRST VISIT TO VALDEZ
I say "first" visit because if you go to Valdez once, you'll most
likely want to return someday to enjoy some of the same things again
and/or try some new ones you didn't have time for the first time!
Or you might be like the woman we met who has a winter home in Texas
and volunteers each summer at the Valdez visitor center. She's been doing
that for twenty years. Some people get so hooked on Alaska
they move there year-round. I'll tell you about one of those couples in
Colorful flags and fish
sculptures lead the way to the waterfront.
Whether you plan to visit Valdez for your first or twenty-first time
you can do considerable online research before arriving in town and
then pick up more current, detailed information from various sources
when you get there.
Don't just look for maps and brochures. Talk to the people you meet.
All the full-time and part-time residents we talked with were more than happy to share their
opinions with us about their favorite places and activities.
Other visitors can be a great source of information, too.
Their perspective may be more similar to yours as a fellow traveler. They can
make recommendations about campgrounds and other accommodations,
restaurants, various tours and fishing charters, trails to hike, and
other things they enjoy or consider to be good values for their tourist
You can take a ferry ride from
the Valdez Ferry Terminal to other places in Prince William Sound
such as the towns of Cordova and
Whittier and several glaciers (Columbia, Hubbard, etc.).
In a fortuitous meeting with the woman in the campsite across from us at
the Valdez Glacier CG we got some of the best information on the whole
trip, not just about Valdez but about all the places we plan to visit this
is an MWR supervisor stationed at Fort Greeley near Fairbanks who was visiting her
Valdez staff while we were there. I'll refer to the "Cliff Notes"
I took during our conversation for the
rest of our trip.
After we got set up at the Valdez Glacier Campground our first two stops on the afternoon we arrived were to
the visitor center and the nearby Chugach National Forest Service cabin,
which is located just in front of a lovely waterfall at the base of West
We learned a lot just from talking to the volunteers at the visitor
center and the ranger at the NFS. We got updated verbal recommendations
as well as city and trail maps, brochures, and a handy printed sheet of paper entitled
"101 Fun Things to Do In Valdez" which gave us information about some
interesting things to do and hunt for that weren't listed in the more
professionally produced materials we'd gathered.
We already had a moderately long list of things we wanted to do while
we were in Valdez. We found even more on that list. I'll include more
details about some of them in this series of entries. Many of the other things
sounded interesting but we simply ran out of time.
That gives us more incentive to come back again!
Inside the Chugach National
Forest information center
We managed to do quite a bit in two and a half days (list below). We
could have eked out more if the weather had been a little better and if
some of the trails hadn't been buried in snow. Most
of these activities were free:
- Picked up information at the visitor center and forest service
cabin + admired the waterfall
- Rode our bikes and/or drove every street in town and near town;
it was a three-mile ride to town from our campsite at Valdez Glacier
CG, mostly on a nice bike path
- Strolled the waterfront several times admiring the views and
watching boats and people
- Watched for bald eagles, bears, and other critters in our
campground and at Duck Flats:
A duck floats on the water at
Duck Flats. When the tide goes out it's more of a mud flat.
- Read numerous interpretive signs, information kiosks, and
historical photos around town
- Hiked the Overlook Trail, Dock Point Trail, and Mineral Creek
- Admired the murals, sculptures, carvings, totem poles, and flags
This 30-foot-tall wooden "Whispering Giant" statue
by Peter Toth is one
of his 70+ statues in the U.S. and Canada
that honor Native Americans.
- Explored the historical and cultural exhibits at the Whitney
Museum on the Prince William Sound Community College campus (more
about that below)
- Watched a fascinating video about the wildlife and glaciers in
Prince William Sound
- Visited the Old Valdez town site and thought about the people who
died in the devastating 1964 earthquake and tsunami (photos on the
first page of this series)
- Photographed interesting buildings and boats, colorful flowers,
and awesome scenery
Interesting bottle tree in front
of a house; in the background
is a wooden replica of an old Alaskan food cache.
- Walked along the lake at the base of Valdez Glacier; we observed
Worthington Glacier from the highway on the way to and from Valdez
because the road to it was blocked by snow.
- Checked out the Civic Center:
The Civic Center sits on a hill
above a small city park containing Ruth Pond.
I'll have lots of photos of the waterfront, bike path, hiking trails,
campground, and Valdez Glacier on the next three pages.
THE WHITNEY MUSEUM
We enthusiastically recommend a visit to this museum. We spent a
couple hours there because we also watched a film but you can enjoy the
exhibits in less time than that.
The Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum, located on the campus of the
Prince William Sound Community College, is a modern facility housing an
extensive collection of Native Alaskan artifacts (art, bead work,
ceremonial masks, dolls,
furs, carved ivory, etc.), big game animal mounts (bears, moose, bison, musk
ox, Dall and bighorn sheep, wolves, a fox, a trumpeter swan, and more), prehistoric objects like arrowheads, and
other historical and cultural exhibits.
Exterior view of one wing of the
museum (above), and a closer look
at the photo collage on the side
of the building (below)
The Whitneys came to Alaska in 1947 on a visit and ended up living
there the rest of their lives. (That phenomenon really does happen!) They collected an astonishing array of
Alaskan artifacts for their gift shop and home. Many of the items are included in this collection.
Here are some of
the photos of historical and cultural artifacts that I took inside:
Display of pioneer frontier life
Native Alaskan watercraft made
from animal skins
Beautiful fur jackets and boots,
Functional Alaskan ulu knives;
some of the handles are intricately carved.
Collection of old tools, fishing
nets, and other equipment
Here are some of the animal mounts on display:
Grizzly bear (L), wolves (R)
Grizzly bear (there are polar and
black bears, too)
Caribou, polar bear, male Dall
L-R, mountain goat, polar bear, trumpeter
swan, musk ox
Jim inspects the moose. There's
a red fox behind it.
Collection of animal horns,
walrus tusks, and fur
During the summer the museum shows two films throughout the day. We
watched the one about glaciers and wildlife in Prince William Sound and
got even more enthusiastic about taking a boat tour while we're in
Alaska. Although we didn't go out on a tour of the Sound from Valdez we
hope we will be able to see a variety of marine mammals, birds, and
calving tidewater glaciers on a catamaran tour from Seward in a couple of
Admission to the Whitney Museum is free; donations are encouraged.
MORE THINGS TO DO IN VALDEZ
There are many other things visitors can do in Valdez. I won't list a
hundred of them but here's a list to whet your appetite, so to
- shopping tax-free; Alaska has no sales tax (or state income
- enjoying locally-owned restaurants and/or bars
Some of the shops and eateries
near the waterfront
- viewing and photographing wildlife (birds, bears, moose, mountain goats, marine mammals,
- taking a day cruise through Prince William Sound
- taking a ferry to Cordova or
Whittier for the day or overnight
- visiting one or more state marine parks
- going on a charter fishing trip for halibut, salmon, etc.
- sailing or sea kayaking in the Sound
- canoeing or kayaking at Robe or Blueberry Lake
- fly fishing in a local
creek or lake
- fishing in an organized derby
- seeing several glaciers in the area
- taking an ice-climbing tour on a glacier
- hiking into the mountains (too much snow for us to do
that this week)
- exploring Keystone Canyon (trails, waterfalls, old roadbed, etc.)
- visiting an abandoned goldstamp mill
- finding the "Man Camp"
Above and below: Can women who work in Alaska
during the summer stay at
Man Camps, too??
- picking berries in season
- panning for gold
- taking an historical tour
- rock climbing
- watching the earthquake videos at the Valdez Museum
- camping along the
- riding ATVs or snow machines at Thompson Pass (year-round)
- rafting the Rowe River
- exploring the pioneer cemetery
- finding more murals and totems than we did
Totem near the Whitney Museum on
of the Prince William Sound
- flight-seeing over the mountains, glaciers, and Sound
- searching for geocaches
- touring the fish hatchery
- watching salmon head to their spawning grounds
- watching bears fish for spawning salmon
- going cross-country skiing and enjoying other winter sports
- attending special events year-round
- and more.
Dress warmly whether you're just doing sedentary things in town or
seeking adventure out on the water or in the mountains. Even in the
summer the average high temperatures are relatively chilly (60 F.) at
sea level and colder higher up. The
weather is unpredictable and can change rapidly because of all the
mountains and water.
And did I mention it rains and snows a lot?? Bring clothing and gear
for that, too.
Next entry: more photos from the waterfront
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil