Local outfitters can arrange glacier-hiking outings on Worthington Glacier, near Valdez. // © 2014 Christopher Batin
Valdez, Alaska, is truly a phoenix in the tourism industry.
After being damaged in a major earthquake in 1964 and suffering from the horrors of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, one might expect that visitors would stay away from this part of Alaska. Instead, Valdez has grown into a must-see destination, geographically blessed with endless mountains and 11,000 square miles of adventure known as Prince William Sound. If I cruised into the Port of Valdez and decided to sample all the day trips that interested me, I would end up staying there the entire summer. With so much to do, it’s easy to see why the town is a favorite with visitors.
Local outfitter Pangaea Adventures, for example, offers the best kayaking trip in the state, with ample wildlife viewing, crackling ice and the massive expanse of Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Southcentral Alaska, to explore. A follow-up trip could be a multi-day guided kayaking adventure at nearby Meares Glacier — camping on the shoreline, burning driftwood and listening to the thundering roar of ice calving throughout the evening.
For glacier hiking in the area, Worthington Glacier can’t be beat. Accessible by road, the glacier’s terminus is one of the easiest to climb without technical gear, but I recommend a guided tour for the upper portions.
For a top-notch Prince William Sound exploration cruise, check out Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises. I have taken guests on these tours since 1982, and it has never failed to provide fascinating information about local culture or up-close views of glaciers and wildlife. Seals, eagles, mountain goats, sea lions, sea otters, Orca and humpback whales and brown and black bears are just some of the wildlife I’ve spotted on the cruise. The vessel also visits Columbia Glacier and Meares Glacier, an active calving glacier. Boat captains offer excellent narration that covers gold mining, area history and wildlife facts. The cruise includes lunch.
For the adventurous, a guided visit to the remote outer islands facing the open sound should be on the itinerary. Visitors can camp out while watching whales feed nearby. Anadyr Adventures offers guided, overnight trips customized to individual needs and abilities.
Valdez is one of the snow capitals of the world — more than 300 inches falls annually in the city and 600 to 900 inches in nearby Thompson Pass — so it’s no surprise that snow sport options abound. Valdez Heli Ski Guides provides excellent heli-skiing and backcountry trips. Also, as numerous waterfalls freeze solid in nearby Keystone Canyon, this area offers some of Alaska’s best ice-climbing spots.
Anglers will appreciate the millions of pink salmon migrating to the Solomon Falls Fish Hatchery each year. Visitors don’t have to be experts to catch fish — it’s as easy as tossing in a line.
With so many outdoor adventures, it is no surprise that visitors end up returning to Valdez year after year.