Valdez, Alaska

The picturesque small town nestles against snow-capped mountains on a branch of Prince William Sound, a wide bay with island glaciers and icy waters. Valdez is the northernmost ice-free port on the continent. The small port town is also often referred to as “Little Switzerland” by the approximately 5,000 inhabitants. Valdez is a popular travel destination not only in summer but also in winter.

According to usaers, the city was named after the Spanish officer Valdez, who was the first white man to enter the area. With the gold rush, the first permanent white settlement arose in Valdez. In the fall of 1898, thousands of prospectors arrived in Valdez to make their way to the Klondike goldfields. Many of the arrivals were provided with maps showing a non-existent route over the mountains of the Chugach Range and over the Valdez and Klutina Glaciers. This trail proved a murderous trap for many: hundreds were blinded by the extreme light reflections off the snow and ice, or fell into the deep and dangerous crevasses. A year later the army built a trail through Keystone Canyon and over Thompson Pass. This developed into the main artery from the coast to the interior around 1920 and was Alaska’s first automobile road. A few years later, the road was then upgraded to today’s Richardson Highway.

In 1964, the great earthquake that had its epicenter just a few miles west of Valdez hit the town hard. Huge tidal waves destroyed the place, taking houses and people with them. The survivors decided to rebuild the site a few miles away. This is how today’s Valdez came into being. Some foundations and a plaque on the old Valdez site commemorate the victims and the old settlement.

The discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay brought new economic hope. Valdez was chosen as the port of shipment for the recovered oil. A huge oil terminal was created, which forms the end point of the 1,280 km long Trans-Alaska Pipeline. As an oil port, Valdez experienced an economic boom in the years that followed. On Good Friday 1989, the news of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster shook the whole world. 40 million liters of crude oil spread over large areas of Prince William Sound and polluted over 2,000 kilometers of coastline. Thousands of animals died. The oil spill is still having negative effects on the flora and fauna in Prince William Sound and the adjacent waters.

Valdez information 

Location and Size
Valdez, situated at the head of a deep fiord in the northeastern part of Prince William Sound, is surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. They are the most glaciated mountains in the Northwest of the United States. The city covers an area of ​​709 km².

Approx. 4,550 people live in the small port town of Valdez.

With its mountains and high rainfall, Valdez is ideal for backcountry and heli-skiing in the winter. In summer, however, the frequent rainfall is less pleasant: thick clouds often hang in the mountains, obscuring the peaks and making the city appear gray and overcast.

Average temperatures in Valdez in °C
Month Jan Feb March Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Max -3 -1 2 7 11 15 17 16 12 6 0 -2
Min -9 -8 -5 -1 3 7 9 8 5 0 -5 -8

The general rule for optimal clothing in Alaska is “onion principle”. That means you wear a first layer directly on your body (avoid cotton if possible), a second warming layer (e.g. a fleece jacket or similar) and a jacket as a third layer that protects against wind and rain. When the temperature changes, you can easily put on or take off a layer.

VUSA tips for visits and excursions in Valdez

Meares Glacier Excursion
The 9 hour tour is perfect for travelers wanting to experience Prince William Sound with its glaciers, exciting wildlife and rich history. Cruise the majestic waters of Prince William Sound from Valdez to Meares Glacier. See otters, seals, sea lions, humpback whales, orcas, bottlenose dolphins, eagles, puffins and cormorants. The Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises tour operates from June 1st to August 31st, departs at 10:00am and returns at 7:00pm (note: tours do not run daily!).

Prince William Sound and Columbia Glacier Tours
Experience a cruise to the Columbia Glacier’s floating icebergs, which you can only see from a small boat, not a ferry. Stan Stephens offers the 9 ½ hour Meares Glacier Tour (June 1 – August 31 daily at 10am) and the 6 ½ hour Columbia Glacier Tour (May 19 – September 16 daily at 12pm).

Kayak tours
Kayak tour providers such as Pangea Adventures offer tours of various lengths. For example the 3-hour Duck Flats Tour, the 8-hour Shoup Glacier Tour or the 10-hour Columbia Glacier Tour.

Valdez Museum
Small museum with an interesting exhibition about the history of the site, the 1964 earthquake and the aftermath of the “Exxon Valdez” oil spill. Open daily from mid-May to early September from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (217 Egan Drive)

Valdez Old Town Site
Memorial and remains at the original site of Valdez before the earthquake. The “old” town is reached by driving about 3 miles north on the Richardson Highway to Mineral Creek Road, turning onto it and continuing towards the sea. You get directly into the “town center” of the former Valdez.

Prince William Sound Community College/Whitney Museum
Large collection of Alaska Native art, artifacts and stuffed wildlife donated by Jesse & Maxine Whitney. Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in summer.

Guided Hikes
Pangea Adventures offers various hikes around Valdez. An easy 4-hour glacier hike on Valdez Glacier and a moderate to difficult 5-hour hike on Worthington Glacier are available daily from mid-June to mid-September.

Valdez, Alaska