My husband, Harrison, and I spent three days in Valdez, Alaska and loved every single minute.
Even with constant rain as we drove in, we could see just how charming this mountain-laden town is!
You will find Valdez in the south-central part of Alaska on Prince William Sound.
You might know of Valdez for two major catastrophic events:
- A 9.2 magnitude earthquake that triggered a tsunami that nearly swept the entire city in 1964.
- The oil spill disaster in 1989 which left the town soaking in 11 million gallons of crude oil.
Despite these two events, Valdez is a great place to visit today- just let me show you why!
For one, the port city is home to abundant wildlife, majestic mountains, and gigantic glaciers.
For another, if you’re an adventurous soul, Valdez is a gem with lots of recreational opportunities and natural wonders.
I hope this guide to Valdez, Alaska to help you plan the perfect trip here!
Also, before we go any further, I should point out that Valdez is pronounced Val-deez. (I walked around calling it Val-dez and felt silly when I heard how locals pronounced it!)
The Best Time to Visit Valdez
Harrison and I visited Valdez at the very end of August/beginning of September, and I thought it was a great time to visit.
The weather is fairly warm, the days are longer, and you can take part in a variety of summer activities.
Summertime is also prime time for salmon fishing, and you stand a better chance of spotting bears and other wild animals.
One thing to note is that some things start closing once September rolls around. We weren’t able to find an operating boat tour after September 1st, even though I expected tours to operate through Labor Day Weekend!
Weather in Valdez
As you can imagine, Alaskan winters can be unforgivingly harsh.
But because of Valdez’ proximity to the water, its weather is mild compared to much of the rest of Alaska.
That said, it is still wet for much of the year with long, windy, freezing winters and mildly warm summers.
January is the coldest month with temperatures averaging between 17 F° and 27 F°.
And July is the hottest month with average temperatures ranging between 49 F° and 63 F°.
Where to stay in Valdez
Even though it’s small, there are a lot of accommodation options in and around Valdez like a lodge, hotel, motel, campgrounds, (Air)B&Bs, or even cabins.
Here are a few popular choices:
- Mountain Sky Hotel & Suites
- Robe Lake Lodge
- Glacier Sound Inn
My husband and I stayed in this A-frame AirBNB here and it was perfect for us!
If you’ve never used AirBNB before, you can book through this link for $65 off your first trip!
How to get to Valdez
For its terrain, landscape, and remoteness Valdez is pretty easy to access.
- You can hop on a 45 minutes flight from Anchorage,
- Take a scenic drive five hours long from Anchorage,
- Enjoy a ferry ride from Whittier which takes approximately six hours, or
- Get on a two–day leisurely ferry cruise from the beautiful Juneau.
If you decide to fly, note that similar to most areas in Alaska, weather in Valdez can be pretty unpredictable which can cause flight delays.
Valdez is also a tiny town of roughly 4,000 people.
Despite its size, there are plenty of fun things to see and do in this town.
21 Things to Do in Valdez
1. Boat Tours
Valdez is a great place to experience anything aquatic.
The waters are teeming with marine life, and boat cruises give you a chance to come up close with sea lions, seals, puffins, sea otters, mountain goats, and orcas!
Some spots also offer incredible whale watching opportunities.
Plus, as you head out of the harbor the surrounding mountains are a sight to behold.
Lulu Belle is one of the cruise ships offering glacial and wildlife cruises in the region.
A 7+ hour boat ride tour goes for about $150.
If you’re traveling as a group, you can do a private boat tour that accommodates up to 50 individuals.
The prices of a private cruise tour range between $3500 and $8000 based on the tour length.
2. Kayaking & Rafting
There are several great places for kayaking, including but not limited to:
- Valdez Glacier Lake (pictured above)
- Port of Valdez with access near Kelsey Dock & Plaza
- Harbor Cove
For white water rafting, head up the Lowe River with Pangea Adventures.
3. Valdez Glacier Lake & Valdez Glacier
If you enjoy off the beaten path adventures this might be the highlight of your Valdez visit.
Loaded with icebergs from active calving of this gigantic ice block, Valdez Glacier and Glacier Lake is an alluring spot that serves as a paddleboarding hub in summer and ice-skating venue in winter.
You can drive right up to the lake, walk around the area and touch the icebergs that have washed ashore.
Valdez Glacier sits at the back of the Valdez Glacier Lake.
One of the best parts about Valdez Glacier is the fact that you can DIY without a tour or a guide.
It’s one of the more accessible glaciers in Valdez since you can kayak right up to it! It has receded quite a bit so you can’t see it from the lakeshore, but a kayak will take you to it!
4. Columbia Glacier
Valdez boats multiple impressive glaciers in Prince William Sound.
Situated on the eastern side of Prince William Sound is Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Valdez and the second-largest in North America.
Roughly 40 miles from the Valdez harbor, most boat tours to visit it are about 7 hours long with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities along the way.
In addition to the dramatic scenery of the iceberg littered path, the local boat captains share interesting details of the history of the area, the wildlife, and the rapidly changing landscape.
A 6 hours cruise costs around $150 per person while a private charter tour goes for about $1200 for up to 6 passengers.
5. Meares Glacier
Meares Glacier is yet another interesting place to visit in Valdez.
While most glaciers across the globe are retreating, Meares is actually advancing.
Just like other glacial and wildlife tours, on your way to Meares Glacier, you’ll have many opportunities to spot wildlife.
A nine-hour boat tour costs around $170, and you can also see the glacier on the ferry from Valdez to Whittier.
6. Shoup Glacier
You can kayak to the face of this glacier or explore the area by boat or helicopter ride.
In most cases, a day excursion starts with a motorboat ride to the tranquil Shoup Bay where the scenic adventure to the glacier begins.
A typical tour costs around $200 including soft drinks and snacks.
If you’re looking for an intense hike, you can also hike to Shoup Glacier! More about that in the hiking section!
7. Experience Worthington Glacier
Nestled between the towering Chugach Mountains and the adjoining Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier is one of the most popular attractions in Valdez thanks to its easy access.
It’s easy to access with a gravel paved trail leading to the viewing platform which makes for an easy walk to the face of the glacier.
Like most glaciers across the globe, Worthington Glacier is in retreat.
However, the melting hasn’t been as rapid as many other glaciers which means you should have ample opportunity to explore this 6000-acre ice block.
The iconic roadside glacier is about a 30-minutes drive from Valdez along the Richardson Highway and it has been a World Heritage Site since 1968.
8. Keystone Canyon
Situated along miles 14 through 17 of the Richardson Highway, Keystone Canyon is a haven for thrill-seekers offering adventurers tons of fun activities.
You can climb the steep-sided host walls which are over 600ft tall, hike some of the most popular trails like the Keystone Canyon Pack Trail, or kayak the Lowe River. You can also just stand in awe as you take in the area’s several waterfalls.
9. Rudleston Falls
Valdez is one of the snowiest places in the US with an average snowfall of 305.8 inches at sea level annually.
When all that snow thaws, the water cascades down the ranges and mountains forming epic waterfalls in different areas of the town.
It’s not uncommon to spot one as you stroll through Valdez.
10. Bridal Veil Falls
You can also raft or kayak the beautiful Lowe River which will bring you very close to the feet of the famed Bridal Veil Falls.
11. Horsetail Falls
Alternatively, you can drive to the Keystone Canyon and pull right up to the stunning Horsetail Falls! If you’re looking for a good hike, there’s a 1.8-mile trail that will bring you up close with the stunning falls in the area.
There are several fantastic hikes in Valdez. We got the photo above while walking on the Dock Point Trail.
When hiking in Alaska, you’ll want to dress in layers, opt for waterproof gear/shoes, make plenty of noise to ward off bears, pack bear spray, and bring plenty of water!
(We never saw any bears while hiking in Valdez and didn’t own bear spray, but it’s probably best to bring some just in case!)
I’ve listed the most popular hikes in Valdez here, ranked by difficulty level:
(.4 miles round trip, 20 minutes, easy)
We did this hike as well, and it was super easy! This trail is right by the Civic Center and the majority of the trail is stairs. You’ll get some pretty views of the Port of Valdez here. Bring a picnic as there’s a picnic pavilion when you reach the top!
Dock Point Trail
(.83 miles round trip, 30 minutes, easy)
Nestled between the Duck Flats and the beautiful Valdez harbor, the Dock Point trail is a .83 mile stretch along the bluff with a moderate incline. The well-maintained trail offers views of the wetlands, the harbor, and the surrounding mountains making this a great place to end your day with a peaceful stroll.
Keystone Canyon Trail
(2.6 miles one way, 2 hours one way, moderate)
This trail is easiest if you start at Bridal Veil Falls and hike down to the highway. You’ll find the northern trailhead at the Bridal Veil Falls parking area, and the southern trailhead halfway on the Old Richardson Highway loop. This trail offers incredible views of the mountains and views of the Keystone Canyon. You’ll also be right above Bridal Veil Falls for a cool vantage point of the waterfall.
John Hunter Memorial Trail
(3.8 miles round trip, 2.5 hours, moderate)
Previously called the Solomon Gulch Trail, this trail runs alongside the Trans Alaska Pipeline, but you won’t see the pipeline as it is underground. It takes you up to two different viewpoints of Solomon Lake and its two dams.
Mineral Creek Trail
(12.2 miles round trip, 6 hours, moderate)
This trail is a very popular gravel road that winds its way through a canyon. You’ll see waterfalls almost everywhere you look! It’s a there-and-back trail, so the gravel road extends for six miles before you turn back around.
Shoup Bay Trail
Section B: (12.6 miles round trip, 10 hours, difficult)
You can also just do section A of this trail, which is 6.5 miles round trip, 4 hours, and rated moderate. It ends at the Gold Creek Bridge.
This difficult trail has some incredibly rewarding views. Most famously, it leads you all the way to Shoup Bay Glacier! Sections can get very muddy and steep, so be sure you’re prepared! Bring plenty of food and water, and don’t forget bear spray. You’ll be crossing streams that are prone to flooding, so proceed with caution as water levels can change with the weather. If you prefer to hike one way and rest for the night, there are actually three public-use State Park Cabins in Shoup Bay. Be sure to reserve beforehand!
13. Thompson Pass
Thompson Pass offers a moderate off-trail loop that boasts panoramic south-facing views of snow-capped peaks and glacier-clad areas.
Some of the most popular activities here include day hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, kite skiing, and bird watching!
Also, since there are no marked trails you can explore several routes winding through the paths as you wish. Of course, you’ll always want to be careful to not damage any flora/fauna in the area!
Fun fact: in the winter, Thompson Pass is famous for being the snowiest place in Alaska!
14. Helicopter Tours
If you prefer to see Valdez from a different perspective, then a helicopter tour might be a great option.
It’s the easiest way to view otherworldly landscapes in the port city offering you a once in a lifetime experience (like landing on a glacier).
Heli-skiing and heliboarding are also popular in Valdez.
Plus it’s a unique way to explore areas that would otherwise be out of reach.
Alpine Air Alaska and Vertical Solutions are the two main operators in Valdez offering flightseeing tours.
15. Camping & RVing
Valdez is an excellent place to camp or bring your RV.
Although I’d always prefer a bed and shower at the end of my day in nature, Valdez is one of the few places I would consider camping.
With the possibility of seeing the northern lights and the majestic peaks of the Chugach Mountains surrounding the area, it’s unbelievably scenic.
Although most camping grounds in the area do not have electricity or running water, som have basic facilities such as showers and restrooms.
Some of the most popular camping grounds include the Blueberry campground located on the Thomson Pass and Glacier camping ground near Valdez Glacier & Glacier Lake.
For RVing, there are three main campgrounds:
Did you know that Valdez hosts some of the oldest fish derbies in Alaska?
And with lots of streams of glacial rivers and lakes in almost every corner of Valdez, it makes sense that fishing is such a popular activity for locals and tourists alike.
Dolly Varden trout, grayling, rainbow trout, and salmon are the biggest draws, while halibut and rockfish are also caught occasionally.
You can book a fishing charter and let a professional guide you to the local fishing hot spots. Valdez Outfitters offers world-class fishing in Prince William Sound.
Or, if you’re already confident in your fishing skills, you could strike out on your own! The beach area and harbor
I’m not very interested in fishing, so if you do it, let me know how it goes in the comments!
17. Learn About Valdez History
There are a lot of interesting historical quirks in Valdez, such as the unfinished tunnel near Rudleston Falls, pictured above!
Its history goes so much deeper than that, though! (Pun intended).
There are three perfect places to visit if you want to learn more about Valdez’s fascinating history and culture:
- Valdez Museum & Historical Archive
- Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum
- Valdez Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you’re a history geek, the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive has some interesting information about the Gold Rush era and the natural and commercial history of the city.
You can also learn more the oil spill and earthquake here!
Furthermore, the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum boasts an incredible collection of Native Alaskan artifacts. In fact, it’s one of the largest collections of its type in the world!
You can see incredible things that the Whitneys picked up during their travels in the mid 20th century.
Step into the Valdez Convention & Visitors Bureau for local resources and more information about Valdez. Here you can also ask Valdez experts directly about the town.
18. Local Food
Most of the popular spots in town are right across from the marina. In fact, all our meals for two days were basically right next to each other!
I really enjoyed the Fat Mermaid and the Nat Shack!
The Fat Mermaid serves up American fare like local seafood, pizza, burgers and fries, and more. (Their fries get an A+ from me, and I like to think I’m a bit of a french fry connoisseur.)
Besides pretty views of the surrounding mountains and the harbor, this laid back restaurant offers good fast WiFi.
I also loved the Nat Shack. They’ve got delicious crunch wraps and tacos. I ordered the local’s favorite (it says so on the menu) and boy was it tasty!
I also like how their menu is large with room for customization to fit your dietary needs.
19. Solomon Gulch Hatchery
The Solomon Gulch Hatchery is the perfect place to visit to view salmon as they return to spawn.
You can observe them right at the facility, which was designed specifically to protect the numbers of salmon spawning each year. They incubate, rear, and then release 250+ million pink salmon and 2 million Coho each year!
You can do a self-guided walking tour between 7am-7pm from May to October. However, the best time to view the salmon is from July through October.
As you might expect, fishing is prohibited in certain areas. Specifically, fishing is not allowed within 300 feet of the weir and fish ladder, nor is it allowed in the brood pond area.
And there’s a chance you’ll also see other creatures feeding on the fish, such as bears and eagles! That leads me to the next section on things to do in Valdez, Alaska… wildlife viewing!
20. Wildlife viewing
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a section purely about wildlife viewing!
From humpback whales and bears galore, to bald eagles and sea lions, keep your eyes peeled wherever you go!
Boat tours are typically best for seeing puffins, seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales, and porpoises.
Look up in the trees as you’re walking around town- we learned from locals that some black bears even wander around in the suburbs!
And anywhere you can find fish and salmon, keep an eye out for bears as well. I hope this goes without saying, but you’ll want to keep your distance and just see them from afar!
21. Winter Activities
Come snowfall, Valdez offers incredible winter activities such as:
- ice climbing
- fat bike riding
- cross-country skiing
Famous for its great snow- especially in nearby Thompson Pass, which is the snowiest place in Alaska- Valdez is perfect for winter snow sports!
People come from all around to experience the snow capital of the United States.
I hope you can see what a magical place Valdez is!
With incredible mountain views, waterfalls, oceanfront, and glaciers, it is definitely worth visiting!
If you’ve ever been and can think of more things to do in Valdez, comment below!
And if you’re visiting Alaska, here are more helpful posts for you:
- The Ultimate Alaska Itinerary
- 50 Best Places to Visit in Alaska
- 36 Things to Do On the Kenai Peninsula