Most likely, you are familiar with the City of Valdez because it is where the Alaska Pipeline ends, and it is infamous for the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred in 1989. The first is definitely true; the second needs a bit of explanation. The oil spill actually occurred when the tanker ship named Exxon Valdez struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef, over 28 miles away from Valdez, as it was heading toward California.
Lesser known to those who have not yet visited the area, Valdez is a remote fishing port surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls. Started as a gold rush town in 1898, it now has a population of about 4,000, houses a community college, operates a fish hatchery, remains an oil port, and is part of the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system with a ferry that operates between Valdez and Whittier. It has also served as a host town for extreme skiing and snow boarding competitions in the winter.
The drive to Valdez on the Richardson Highway, through Thompson Pass and Keystone Canyon, is one of the most breathtaking drives in Alaska. This road is the ONLY road to travel to Valdez by automobile. Other ways to travel to Valdez are by boat or by small plane. At one time, there were plans to bring the railroad to this part of Alaska, but a shootout in 1907 between rival railroad companies brought the construction of it to a halt in the Keystone Canyon.
One other historical note: In 1964, the Good Friday Earthquake struck 45 miles from Valdez. It took the lives of over 30 people and devastated the town’s infrastructure. Over the next three years, a new townsite was established four miles away, and any intact buildings were moved. They now have historical markers sprinkled around the old townsite, and we boondocked overnight at the location of the old post office.
On our way to Valdez, we boondocked next to the Nelchina River on Glenn Highway, which runs between Palmer and Glennallen. Using iOverlander, we found a small, abandoned campground full of overgrowth and cavernous potholes. It had about 8-10 spots, with only a couple of already-occupied ones large enough to fit our 30-ft. Airstream. Luckily, we were able to share an extra-large spot right on the river with Tim and Anne (@rocthebus), a couple from New York who had been in Alaska for about a month. As full-time RVers, they came to Alaska in a remodeled shuttle bus but soon discovered it had major framing issues underneath and were advised to replace the unit altogether. They had just purchased a small skoolie and had been living in it for about one week when we met them. We soon learned that they would be coming to Minnesota for the sugar beet harvest at the end of September, and we plan to meet up with them! They will be about 1.5 hours north of us.
We spent two restful nights next to the Nelchina River and enjoyed getting to know our new friends. We were lucky enough to see them again as we left Valdez heading north while they were heading south into town.
Visitors and Alaskan residents alike debate about which port town is better – Homer, Seward, or Valdez? All three locations are similar – sport and commercial fishing, boat cruise tours, scenic views and more. We have been to all three, and I think it just comes down to personal preference and experience in those areas. I would go to Valdez again simply for the drive to get there.
For several nights, we stayed at the Valdez Glacier Campground, a few miles past the airport and not far from Glacier View Park at the base of Valdez Glacier. Because of heavy and low rainclouds, views of the mountains and glacier here were obscured, but the lake beckoned us with large chunks of glacier ice forming a stunning waterscape.
At our campground one day, we had two bear sightings! The first walked right past our door and alongside our Airstream before scampering off into the brush. Later that day, after dinner, we went for a walk around the campground and as I (Karen) turned around to ask Carl to move along, I noticed a mama bear and two cubs cross the road behind us. I was able to get a couple of pictures before they sauntered into the woods. We soon learned that these bears had be scrounging around others who were tent camping, and one of the bears had actually ripped open a vinyl window on their pickup’s soft-sided camper shell to see what was inside!
Valdez has a few restaurants, and we ate at The Fat Mermaid down near the harbor. We also visited the Solomon Gulch Hatchery and the Allison Point Campground (a place we’d like to stay next time) which are on the other side of Port Valdez from the town, on the same road that ends in the restricted area of the Alyeska Pipeline Services. We visited Crooked Creek, a natural spawning area for pink salmon, and we attended the Gold Rush Days Festival – live music, food vendors, wine walk, can-can girls, a parade, and more.
One must-do for visitors to Valdez that we DIDN’T do was to take a glacier/wildlife cruise on the Lu-Lu Belle. We had just taken a similar tour in Seward and opted to skip this well-known adventure this time around. I would like to take the Lu-Lu Belle tour next time, as well as take the 6-hour ferry from Whittier to Valdez. Of course, we will need to travel with a smaller RV to accomplish that!
For a brief photo/video show, watch our youtube video (above or at https://youtu.be/cA1V1t_ocjc?si=rHXgav921lCoy0OS ).