A small city located on the coast of Southcentral Alaska, Valdez is right on Prince William Sound. In this Alaskan paradise, bald eagles soar, waterfalls rush and bears munching on salmon are a regular part of the view.
In Valdez, the wild seems to be part of the town, and the charming town a part of the natural world.
This former gold rush town now runs on the fishing industry, both commercial and sport. The massive amounts of perfect snow and glittering ice caves also attract world-class athletes to heli-ski and ice climb.
Although most popular in summer when the fishing season heats up, Alaskans and visitors alike find a visit to Valdez fun and refreshing any time of year.
How Far Is Valdez From Anchorage?
It takes 6-7 hours to drive from Anchorage to Valdez, but a leisurely journey is best to really appreciate the scenery of the drive.
Take the Glenn Highway out of Anchorage and stop at the Matanuska Glacier, visible from the roadside. The cool breeze and glacier valley view are refreshing before heading into the small town of Glenallen.
There the Glenn Highway ends and intercepts the Richardson Highway, a North-South connection from Valdez to Fairbanks.
The Wrangell Mountains are on display as you head up into the peaks. The Worthington Glacier greets visitors with a roadside view before the winding Thompson Pass.
You will want to tackle this part of the drive during daylight if possible. Thread through the mountains and descend into the rainforest, passing waterfalls Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls before cruising into Valdez.
From Fairbanks or the Alaska-Canadian Highway, head to Tok and take the Richardson Highway to Glenallen. It is also a 6-7 hour drive from Fairbanks, making Valdez a great place for Alaskans from all over to meet up for the weekend.
Best Activities To Do In Valdez Alaska
The best things to do in Valdez include exploring all the natural beauty of the area from the tops of the nearby mountains to the edges of Prince William Sound.
Explore the area by hiking through the mountains and glaciers near Valdez, trails through waterfalls tumbling down cliffs and rainforests crawling with wildlife. Prince William Sound offers an endless list of recreational opportunities and sea life to observe on Valdez boat trips.
On land, there are plenty of Valdez attractions to explore in the small and tight-knit community of people who love living in all the splendor this corner of Alaska has to offer.
1.) Start At The Visitor’s Center
On the corner of Fairbanks Drive and Chenega Avenue in downtown, the Valdez Convention & Visitor’s Bureau should be your first stop when exploring the area.
Find everything you need to know about local attractions and current events at the center, open year-round. They have information about hiking and safely exploring the wilderness as well as hours and contact info for local businesses of all kinds.
Start here to find out all the options available when in Valdez.
- Address: 309 Fairbanks Dr Valdez AK 99686
- Website: valdezalaska.org
2.) Watch The Wildlife
In the summer months, Valdez is rich with salmon and the shallow waters around the Solomon Gulch Hatchery are full of fish.
Run by the State of Alaska, this is a great place to view the bears scooping the salmon out of the water. The hatchery offers tours and a viewing platform where visitors flock to see these fierce, wild creatures in action.
When the tide is high, the viewing conditions are ideal so make sure to check the tide schedule before planning a visit to the Solomon Gulch Hatchery.
- Address: 1561 Dayville Rd Valdez AK 99686
- Website: valdezfisheries.org
3.) Go Fishing
Valdez is a fishing town without question and visitors from all over Alaska and the world flock to Valdez for the abundant fish in the Prince William Sound.
A popular trip is seeking the deep seas halibut that live in the deep, cold waters.
Salmon, rockfish and cod are also sought after and there are fishing trips for every style.
4.) Take A Valdez Boat Ride
Head to the water’s edge and find the Valdez small boat harbor as a starting point for all Valdez tours and adventures.
Boat rides and tours including fishing trips, glacier viewing, whale watching tours, guided sea kayaking, seaside camping tours and more are available.
Make sure to include a Valdez boat ride in every trip to the area to fully appreciate the beauty of the Prince William Sound.
5.) Hike Like A Pioneer
At Mile 13.5 on the Richardson Highway you will find Horsetail Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the Keystone Canyon.
Just beyond the falls lies the trail head of Goat Trail, a very old route through the Chugach Mountains. Originally a native Alaskan trail, it was expanded for sleds and pack horses in 1909 to create a route to the gold fields further north.
This trail was the beginning of the Valdez Trail that connected Valdez and Eagle, Alaska.
Today, it is used for hiking the 2.5 miles of trail that winds along the Lowe River. The trail is well-worn, easy to navigate and the view is spectacular.
6.) Learn About Culture
Right downtown on Lowe Street lies the Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum, the home of a vast collection of native Alaskan arts and artifacts, cultural heritage exhibits, and information about the natural world of the area.
Displays include mounted animals, dolls, masks, baleen and ivory. Cultural and educational programming are always changing, so inquire about the latest offerings.
- Address: 303 Lowe St Valdez AK 99686
- Website: mjwhitneymuseum.org
7.) Dine Al Fresco
Along the waterfront, a line of local restaurants spreads out with a wide variety of options for dining on Prince William Sound. During the summer months, dining outside next to small boat harbor is nice on a sunny evening.
Fresh Alaskan seafood is always on the menu and ‘Catch of the Day’ is available everywhere you dine. Valdez temperatures are relatively cool year-round, but the fresh breeze and the harbor view are worth the chill.
8.) Camp By The Sound
If you want to sleep in the great outdoors, Shoup Bay State Marine Park is a great place to camp.
Located right on the Prince William Sound, there are places for tent camping and picnicking on the shore. There are cabins available for rent as well at this unique state park primarily accessible by boat.
Lying five miles southwest of Valdez, this remote and wild place is rich with wildlife and striking views.
- Address: Shoup Bay State Marine Park Valdez AK
9.) Get Close To A Glacier
Columbia Glacier is a major feature of any Valdez boat tour and for good reason.
This massive wall of ice descends 10,000 feet from the Chugach mountains to the water where it breaks off, or calves, into Prince William Sound at a steady rate.
Visit Columbia Glacier by boat or helicopter tour to view the ice sheets from a close distance. Take a kayak tour to glide among the icebergs and get closer to the glacier’s face.
No matter how you choose to see this unique feature, don’t miss the Columbia Glacier when visiting Valdez.
10.) Go Ice Climbing
Each February the Valdez Ice Climbing Festival hosts climbers from all over the world trying their hand at scaling the frozen cliffs and crevasses of the area.
The deep blue of the glacial ice and the perfect conditions make the sport popular in the winter. Tours provide all the equipment needed as well as teaching the basics.
Enjoy this emerging sport in a place with perfect ice for climbing.
11.) Go Kayaking In Prince William Sound
The Lowe River, fed by glacial streams, is perfect for kayaking if you crave white water action. If you prefer the smooth surface of Prince William Sound, head out in an ocean kayak to visit the coastline and sea life up close.
You can choose from half-day kayaking adventures to kayaking camping trips that can last for several days.
Kayaking is a favorite of locals and visitors, and a great way to explore the wilderness of the area.
12.) Stroll The Dock
On the edge of the Vadez Bay runs the Dock Point Trail, a simple loop on the waterfront. This trail takes less than 30 minutes and is under a mile in length.
Loop around this trail for an easy hike, and appreciate the views as bald eagles, puffins, sea lions and sea otters are all inhabitants of this area and may make an appearance.
Remember the Dock Point Trail when a quick stroll and some fresh air are in order.
- Address: 200 Kobuk Dr Valdez AK 99686
- Website: valdezak.gov
13.) Stop by the Museum
The Valdez Museum and Historical Archive is a popular attraction in Valdez and you will want to visit both locations for the full experience.
Exhibits mark the history of the area including original inhabitants of the land and traditional cultural practices, the Gold Rush Era of the early 1900’s, the Pipeline Era of the 1970’s, bush pilot history, and catastrophes including the Valdez Earthquake and Tsunami and the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill of 1989.
Exhibits also include a replica of a prospector’s cabin, a elegant parlor, and two restored fire engines – Locations lie on Hazelet and Egan streets and combine to form the complete collection.
14.) Hike Across A Glacier
One of the unique features of Valdez is access to a number of glaciers in the area.
Glaciers can be tricky and unpredictable as snow and ice melts and refreezes, morphing the terrain.
Worthington Glacier is roadside before the Thompson Pass and when conditions are right, tours of the glacier are offered. Get geared up and head out on the blue ice to see a real Alaskan glacier.
15.) Watch Whales
At the small boat harbor in Valdez there are wide variety of options for tours to see the local whale populations.
Humpbacks frequent the area as well as belugas, and pods of orcas and porpoises are frequently leaping across the surface of the Sound.
Most tours will head into Prince William Sound to the Columbia and Meares Glaciers hunting for views of the whales.
Find some of the best whale watching in Alaska here in Valdez.
16.) See A Play
Home to the Valdez Theatre Conference, the Prince William Sound Community College hosts Alaska’s premiere theatre festival each June.
The local community hosts a variety of theatrical events throughout the year at the Valdez Civic Center and the playwriting program at PWSCC creates new work regularly.
Check out the latest information at the Valdez Civic Center lobby or at the Valdez Visitor’s Center.
Valdez Civic Center
- Address: 314 Clifton Ct Valdez AK 99686
17.) Raft The Keystone Canyon
Keystone Canyon is about 20 minutes from downtown Valdez and the drive into town heads through the canyon from mile 14 to 17 on the Richardson Highway.
The Lowe River is a popular spot for the adventurous to kayak and raft through the canyon. This is also a place where ice climbing is the chosen sport in winter up the narrow canyon walls.
There are opportunities for hiking as well, or simply drive through and stop at the several waterfall viewpoints.
18.) Go Skiing
Valdez is renowned by skiers for the amazing conditions high up in the Chugach mountains. For the proficient winter sports enthusiast, Valdez is a world-class destination for snow-covered slopes.
Book a tour when the conditions are right and shred the mountains for a unforgettable heli-skiing adventure.
There are also options for riding a snow machine in the powder. No matter how you enjoy the snow, a day in the mountains here is one to remember.
19.) See The Glacier Lake
Drive right up to the Valdez Glacier Lake and see the floating icebergs in this pristine dark blue water.
Accessible by road, the Valdez Glacier is easy to find and beautiful to enjoy. Kayaking and paddle boarding in the glacier lake are popular in summer, while ice skating is the winter sport of choice.
- Address: Valdez Glacier Lake Valdez AK 99686
- Website: valdezalaska.org
20.) Hike Mineral Creek
Winding along the Keystone Canyon, this 12 mile trail is a poplar trail with waterfalls along the way.
Head out the gravel road 6 miles and back near the rainforest and streams of the area. The trail winds past Horsetail Falls and four more miles.
Along the way lie remnants of Gold Rush era mining equipment ending at the ruins of a stamp mill.
The trail takes about 6 hours round trip with 800 feet of elevation gain, so plan a day for hiking the Mineral Creek.
21.) Overlook The Sound
Next to the Valdez Civic Center is a steep hill with a covered picnic table at the top.
The Overlook Trail is a little 0.4 mile jaunt up to the overlook and back down. A great place to take in the scenery and have a picnic, the Overlook Trail is one of the charming things about downtown Valdez.
- Address: 110 Clifton Ct Valdez AK 99686
While there are many more adventures that can be had in Valdez Alaska, the above options will be enough to get you started.
Spend a few days here and explore what Valdez has to offer before exploring the rest of Alaska.
If you are camping along the way, be sure to view some of the best RV camping spots in Alaska that you should check out.
Carey Seward has written about travel for the Jeju Weekly News (South Korea) and The Cardamom Diaries Blog (Guatemala). Seward is also a
multidimensional artist who writes, directs, produces and performs original works in theatre, film, music and on the page. Theatrical projects written, directed and produced in Fairbanks, Alaska. She has also produced, costume designed and performed with the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre since 2000, most recently performing as Music Director and Band Leader for Macbeth (2019), as well as leading the company as Executive Director from 2017-2019. As a teaching artist, Seward works as an Artist in the Schools (2004-2019) teaching
drama, playwriting and Shakespeare. In 2021, pursuits include Theatre Alaska’s AK Writer’s Workshop 2021, a student at Primary Stages ESPA and On the Page Screenwriting Studio, publishing the “With Love” Travel Romance series and writing for The Alaska Frontier.