Special Contributor Juno Kim traveled to Valdez for an ice climbing festival. This is her report. -Scott
Valdez. A small Alaska city at the end of the road. It’s one of the places that I always wanted to visit since I’ve been in Anchorage. I’ve heard amazing things, especially the drive to Valdez. It’s one of the most scenic roads in Alaska. And that’s saying something.
As a world-class heli-ski destination, Valdez has a well-earned reputation as an extreme sports hub. But this pleasant small town on Prince William Sound is accessible and welcoming even to those of us not so inclined towards extremes. Especially in winter, as I learned. I spent a long weekend in Valdez exploring this Alaskan maritime community and its spectacular mountainous surrounds. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.
Valdez Glacier in winter
I’ve been to glaciers, including many glaciers around southcentral Alaska. But exploring the huge icebergs frozen into the lake at Valdez Glacier really highlighted an already enjoyable weekend. Valdez Glacier is just a 10 minute drive from town. Even though the face of the glacier might be underwhelming, the icebergs are magnificent. Accessible across the frozen lake in about a 25 minutes walk, many of the icebergs have ice caves and tall, narrow crevasses. Very cool photos ops!
Drive – Thomson Pass
The Richardson Highway is very well maintained throughout winter and the scenery here is gorgeous even by Alaskan standards. If you’re making the 5½-hour drive from Anchorage, you’ll go over the 2,600 ft Thompson Pass. This has the distinction of being the snowiest place in Alaska, with an average of 500 inches of snow per year! Continue driving through Keystone Canyon, and you’ll see why this area is known for its waterfalls. In winter, they’ll be frozen, making this a superb ice-climbing destination.
Valdez is a vibrant community in winter with many events. These festivals bring visitors from all over (but mostly from Alaska this year). Notably, the Ice Climbing Festival, Fat Bike Bash, and Mayor’s Cup Snow Machine Race are perfect events to enjoy Valdez’s stunning winter scene.
I visited Valdez during the Ice Climbing Festival this year. I never thought frozen waterfalls were a sight to see, and that’s because I never been to Keystone Canyon in winter. Valdez is affectionately known as the “Land of Waterfalls” especially because of Keystone Canyon. All those amazing waterfalls are frozen solid, which provide perfect icewalls for ice climbers. The frozen Bridal Veil Fall was absolutely stunning. And the ant-like climbers on that tall ice wall was a sight to see.
There are hiking trails and walking paths for all abilities in Valdez. For a low-effort, high reward hike, check out the beautiful Meals Hill, right in town. This gentle uphill slope leads you to nice views over Port of Valdez and the Alyeska Oil Terminal, as well as others facing north towards town and Mineral Creek Canyon. The Dock Point Trail is another easy family favorite, showcasing the northern extent of the temperate boreal rain forest. Enjoy views of Harbor Cove, the Duck Flats wetlands and abundant wildlife after a short climb.
Dining and Brewery
Who would have thought the best burger in Alaska would be found in modest Valdez? There are no chain restaurants here (well, except Subway). While locals may find options limiting, for us visitors, dining in Valdez is an experience of itself. Expect more options in summertime, but I loved all the places we went from one Asian restaurant in town (that everyone goes) to breweries. I didn’t expect to find the best burger I had in Valdez, but I certainly did.
Museums are always high on my list of places to go. It’s a great way to get to know the destination before exploring. And Valdez has two to check out if you need to defrost for a couple hours. I enjoyed the exhibit about Alaska Native history and the artifacts. Also, it was quite impressive to see the building of the Richardson Highway and how people used to travel before the road was built!
Valdez is known as a summer destination but as you can see there are lots of reasons to travel in winter. I’ll be going back soon (can you tell I really enjoyed it there?) so I will have more to report back!
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