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Exploring Downtown Valdez, Alaska

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Just getting to Valdez is no easy task.  It is a long way from anywhere, isolated by mountains from the rest of the world, with just one road into the city.  This is a working town, filled with boxy buildings, but its natural beauty makes up for architectural blandness.  The nearest Walmart is 266 miles away — heck, you won’t even find a McDonald’s nearby.  It’s often rainy, but in exchange, you get to experience a rainforest and a subarctic climate, all at once.  It’s a strange mix of good and bad, and yet Valdez is surprisingly appealing.

Location

To reach Valdez by car, you’ll take the Richardson Highway (Alaska Route 4).  It’s 117 miles from the junction with the Glenn Highway at Glennallen to the end of the road at Valdez.  Thompson Pass is located about 30 miles east of Valdez.

You can also reach Valdez by ferry.  Valdez is located on the Alaska Marine Highway System, which connects to several other ports.

My Visit

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To get a lay of the land, I’d suggest you start your visit with a look at Valdez from the Overlook trail.  This short trail takes you up to a viewpoint on a hill, just a few blocks from the Port Valdez inlet.  From here, you can see just about all of town — the business area along Egan Avenue (about as close as you’ll get to a “Main Street” in Valdez), and residential neighborhoods beyond it.

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Turn around and look the other direction, and you’ll see the Valdez Convention and Civic Center.  It also offers a movie theater.

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You’ll find the trailhead for the Overlook trail along Clifton Court, about two blocks north of the waterfront.

From there, drive around and check out the town.

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No surprise, fish are a pretty big deal in Valdez.  But there’s no explanation for this giant fish that’s swimming through the air in the middle of a parking lot on Egan Avenue – Valdez’s main thoroughfare.

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Yes, fish are everywhere — even the sculptures along the harbor are fishy!

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Whale watching is as simple as finding a dumpster in Valdez.  Take a boat trip out into Prince William Sound, and you’ll likely see the real thing.

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No Fu King way.

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Bless you.

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Along the waterfront, you can pay a visit to the Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferry port.  From here, you can sail to Whittier or Cordova in about 6 hours.

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One of the most beautiful places in Valdez is the small boat harbor – especially if you visit around sunset on a beautiful day.

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The calm waters of the harbor provide a near-perfect reflection of the clouds in the sky above.  The only problem is, the green glacier water creates an odd tint in the reflected image.

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Unfortunately, beautiful sunsets like this are rare in Valdez, because on most days, the sky is cloud-covered and rainy.  I was very fortunate to have good weather on the day I spent in Valdez.  Hopefully you will be just as lucky.

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You’ll find a short trail on an island near the harbor.  The Dock Point Trail loops around the island, connecting to a couple of good viewpoints.  It’s worth a short, half-hour hike, if you have the time.

As you look across the bay, you’ll see the southern end of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System — the oil pipeline that delivers crude from above the arctic circle. You can get close to this area by driving out Dayville Road.

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It isn’t easy to find a nice place to stay in Valdez.  There’s only one “nice” hotel, as far as I can tell — a Best Western — and it was stunningly expensive, thanks to its location near the harbor.  There are several other hotels and motels around town — but most appear to be prefabricated housing units that date back to the oil spill in the mid-1980’s.  They are probably okay, but very basic.  After weighing my options, I chose to stay at a B&B in the residential part of town near the Mineral Creek Trail.

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Anna’s Ptarmigan B&B offers two rooms.  Since no one else was staying there at the time, I had my choice — and I chose the room with a double bed and a single fold-up bed.  That sliding glass door opens into a mini-kitchen with a TV – a shared space.  The bathroom is also shared — but since I was the only one there, I had it all to myself.  Anna lives upstairs and stays up there most of the time, so I had plenty of privacy.  She served a delicious breakfast both days, and offered plenty of advice on the area.  Best of all, the price was excellent: $75 per night.  I would have paid more than that at the sketchiest of motels in town.

The Bottom Line

Valdez is a remote and somewhat quirky town that resolves around the fishing and oil industries.  Don’t be disappointed by rainy weather – that’s part of the Valdez experience!  If the weather is good enough, you’ll find some great hiking opportunities near town.  And maybe you’ll catch a nice sunset at the harbor.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse look at the drive around Valdez, including a trip out Dayville Road, and around Old Valdez Townsite:

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