The main road south from the Wrangell-St Elias National Park turn-off to Valdez is one of the most spectacular roads we have travelled in North America. If you enjoy glaciers, this is the road you’ve been waiting to drive.
The road provides views of huge valleys, snow capped mountains, big waterfalls and glaciers along most of its length. Plenty of parking areas and opportunities for photo stops resulted in this relatively short drive taking a long time!
The town of Valdez is nestled on the edge of a fjord, surrounded by towering mountains and slowly receding glaciers. It is a very picturesque spot to camp – look up and in any direction from any position in town and you’ll see glaciers.
Valdez is probably better known for the oil spill disaster in March 1989, when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef as it was leaving Prince William Sound and spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil into the water. Valdez escaped the worst of this thanks to ocean currents taking the spill away from the town and it’s now a major fishing port, providing access to the Alaska Marine Highway via the many ferries which dock here. It also hosts cruise ships visiting the beautiful Prince William Sound.
We had hoped to book a boat tour from here, but the huge number of tourists, many of them traveling in RV’s of all descriptions, put paid to that idea. They were all booked out! Fishing and seafood features here with salmon, halibut and King Crabs being very popular fare. There are few shops and a couple of cafes, but mostly visitors come for the spectacular scenery, boating and fishing.
This is the first place we have come across the phenomenon of spawning salmon. To see huge numbers of these fish fighting their way up the streams and rivers after years in the ocean, spawning and then dying, is at first a bit confronting. Rivers and small creeks come alive as salmon head back to their breeding grounds as part of their lifecycle. The process is most dramatic in creeks with just centimeters of water as they become choked with dying fish, their remains ultimately enriching the environment. Bears and other carnivores feast on the fish, ensuring they build fat reserves to get them through the next winter and you’ve never seen a happier seagull! Everyone wins it seems, even the salmon who have had a good life in the ocean for years before taking the big swim!