Valdez, Alaska is the terminus of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Valdez, Alaska lays claim to be United States’ farthest north ice-free port.
Location / Coordinates: Valdez, Alaska is located on the north shore of Port Valdez. Port Valdez is a deep-water fjord that reaches inland about 11 miles from Prince William Sound. A fjord is a steep walled inlet of a sea created by glacial gouging. Driving from Anchorage, Valdez is just over 300 miles and six to seven hours away.
Coordinates: Latitude N61.13 & Longitude W146.34
Population / Elevation: Valdez, Alaska has about 4,450 residents that call this port city at sea level, “home.”
Description: Alaska’s “Little Switzerland” also known as Valdez, Alaska is a beautiful place, surrounded by the towering Chugach Mountains, awe-inspiring glaciers, and scenic Prince William Sound. Today’s Valdez is neatly laid out and easily accessible.
What to do there: Valdez, Alaska—what to do first? The Valdez Halibut Derby runs through the summer season, the Silver Salmon Derby starts the end of July and runs until the first of September, and the Valdez arm supports the largest sport fishery in Prince William Sound. Pink salmon, Coho (Silver) Salmon, Halibut, Rockfish, and Dolly Varden can all be found here. For more Pink Salmon fishing head for the Allison Point fishery.
Enjoy the great outdoors, take the Richardson Highway and head north about 17 miles to view Horsetail Falls, then continue on to see Bridal Veil Falls. Don’t forget to take your camera.
There are day hikes for the beginner and for the advanced hiker in and around Valdez, Alaska. The Dayville Road is a good choice for a combination of scenic views and fishing. So are the Alaska State Marine parks at Shoup Bay, Jack Bay, and Sawmill Bay. They are accessible by water, and offer camping on tent platforms. Kayakers and fishermen find these to be on the favorite list.
For more wildlife and glacier viewing, book a cruise or a flight-seeing package with one of the several companies is town. The fjords and passageways of Prince William Sound, the Columbia Glacier, and Meares Glacier are an awe-inspiring backdrop for the Orca Whales, Humpback Whales, Steller Sea Lions, Sea Otters, Seals, Puffins and other great wildlife of this area. It’s quite an eye-full!
Get close up and personal with the marine wildlife and rent a kayak.
History buffs will enjoy the Original Valdez Townsite, 4 miles from downtown Valdez on the Richardson Highway. The Valdez Museum in the current downtown Valdez presents exhibits of lifestyles and work places from 1898 to the present.
For older history, visit the Maxine and Jesse Whitney Eskimo Museaum Collection at the Valdez Airport Terminal. The Valdez Consortium Library offers an extensive Alaska Historical & Archive section for those who really want to know more about Valdez and its colorful past.
History: The Port of Valdez was named for the famed Spanish naval officer, Antonio Valdes y Basan in 1790 by the Spanish cartographer Lt. Salvador Fidalgo. Valdes was an Admiral, head of the Spanish Marines and Minister of the Indies at the time. Fidalgo was sent to Alaska by the Spanish to determine the extent of Russian influence and to establish a claim for Spain.
The town of Valdez was somewhat established in the winter of 1897-98. Valdez, Alaska was a port of entry to the goldfields of Dawson City and the Yukon. Thousands of stampeders heading for the Eagle Mining district and the Klondike arrived via ship in Valdez and headed north along the All American Route over the Valdez glacier into the interior, hoping to find their fortunes. Advertised as an established trail to the gold fields, gold seekers were surprised and greatly disappointed to find that there was no town nor a real trail.
The head of the bay was the location for the tent city that sprang up. Valdez soon became the supply center for it own mining region. Four thousand gold seekers passed through Valdez in 1897. A few stayed on and built businesses in Valdez, the rest continued on an often perilous journey over the glacier and then on to the interior. Many died of starvation and scurvy that winter, relief parties brought the sick back to Valdez for relief.
The Army began cutting a rough trail through Keystone Canyon and over Thompson Pass. This new trail would lead to Eagle, and eventually become the Richardson Highway in 1919.
In the 1920s Valdez grew to over 7000 people. This coastal city was the place to go to get into the Interior of Alaska. Several booms were going on in and around Valdez, gold, copper, and silver were being discovered in large quantities. Valdez had a bowling alley, a dam and hydroelectric plant, a sawmill, theaters and a public library, everything a growing community needed.
Cordova was chosen over Valdez for a railroad from the Kennecott Mine to the coast for its Copper River and Northwestern Railway. The Seward to Fairbanks via Anchorage railroad route was another way to access the interior in 1924. Valdez was no longer the only way into Alaska. Soon after, mining ceased to be profitable. Even the Army left Valdez. The population fell to less than 500.
Good Friday, at 5:36 p.m., on March 27, 1964, an earthquake struck just 45 miles west of Valdez. Registering 9.2 on the Richter Scale, the quake triggered an underwater landslide which caused several tsunami waves. The first waves washed away the Valdez waterfront and the 30 people standing on it were drowned. Most of Valdez had been built on unstable ground. In 1967 Valdez was condemned, relocated four miles east to its present site, and rebuilt.
The 1970s were good to Valdez. Construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline began in 1974 and was completed in 1977. Crude travels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, 800 miles of it, from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Valdez. The Billionth barrel reached Valdez on January 16, 1980.
In March 1989, another Good Friday, The oil tanker, Exxon Valdez, struck Bligh Reef about 25 miles from Valdez. The largest oil spill in North American history was the result. It was an environmental disaster. The population of Valdez quickly grew to nearly 10,000 people, mostly working as cleanup workers. The oil spill caused thousands of birds, sea otters, and other wildlife, both marine and land, to die. Many of the fish populations have not yet recovered. Hundreds of miles of beach were covered with thick black oil.
Today, Valdez is somewhat back to normal.
How to get there: Valdez, Alaska is easier to get to today than during the gold rush days of the 1800s. The Richardson Highway connects Valdez to the rest of Alaska. The Alaska State ferry system services Valdez (from and to Seward and Cordova), as do day cruises, charter boats, and flight-seeing planes. Valdez has a small airport for private aircraft.
Facilities: Valdez offers several types of accommodations, hotels, B&Bs, campgrounds, and RV Parks. Ladies, there is a quilt shop here too! Restaurants, shopping, fishing guides, and tickets for sightseeing excursions are all available in Valdez, Alaska.
RV info: There are several RV parks in Valdez, Alaska. They offer spacious lots, pull thrus,full & partial hook-ups, shower and laundry facilities.