If you're not flying or coming by boat, chances are you’re driving to Valdez. And that’s a great idea! Driving to Valdez is a great way to get to an incredible destination while seeing a lot of Alaska’s beauty along the way.
Give yourself plenty of time to drive to Valdez, you’ll want to stop en route. Driving straight through without stopping you could estimate just under 7 hours from Fairbanks and about 5 ½ hours from Anchorage with perfect road conditions.
This being Alaska, you should always give yourself extra time for inclement weather and traffic delays along with sightseeing stops, which we’ll address below. But first, why would you want to visit Valdez, anyway?
Why Visit Valdez?
Photo: Jiyeon Juno Kim
Reasons to visit Valdez are numerous. See our website for Valdez itinerary ideas. Most visitors are attracted by the spectacular nature and outdoor opportunities around Valdez. The town is blessed with both the soaring Chugach Mountains and the abundance of Prince William Sound. Get a fishing charter or helicopter tour to a glacier. River raft through Keystone Canyon or navigate your kayak around freshwater icebergs in Valdez Glacier Lake. Or just kick up your heels at a campground and roast marshmallows. For difficult weather days, know that Valdez is home to 3 excellent museums. The town also hosts annual events that attract Alaskans from around the state, year after year. Here is a more extensive list of tours and attractions: things to do in Valdez.
How to get to Valdez
There is one road to Valdez: the historic Richardson Highway. You can begin your journey from Fairbanks, Anchorage, or even Canada. All of these routes converge in Glenallen for the final 2+ scenic hours into Valdez on the Richardson.
The Richardson Highway was the first major road built in Alaska, which began as a 409-mile pack trail from the port at Valdez to Eagle. The year was 1898 when the U.S. Army was summoned to provide an "all-American" route to the Klondike goldfields.
What to see while Driving to Valdez
Photo: Jiyeon Juno Kim
It’s 119 miles from Glenallen to Valdez. Out of Glenallen, you’ll drive along the salmon-rich Copper River with Mt. Drum dramatically rising to the east and the rest of the Wrangell Mountains in the distance. Stop in Copper Center for gas, groceries, or the small historical museum open in the summer only. Nearby is Copper Center Visitor Center Complex for the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park as well as the Ahtna Cultural Heritage Center next door. The mountain scenery builds in anticipation of your accent to Thompson Pass.
Thompson Pass is a 2,678-foot high mountain pass through the Chugach Mountains, known as the snowiest place in Alaska. Winter attracts backcountry skiers and snowboarders while summertime tempts hikers and berry pickers. Stop to hike to or at least admire Worthington Glacier, one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers. Any time of year is spectacular but in winter always check the road conditions of the pass before leaving home.
As you descend from Thompson Pass into Keystone Canyon, camp overnight at Blueberry Lake State Recreation Campground or just pull off the road frequently to enjoy the views and snap some photos. Keystone Canyon is famous for its impressive waterfalls. In winter, they’ll freeze and ice climbers will make a pilgrimage to this epicenter of climbers.
If you’re driving to Valdez from Fairbanks stop at Castner Glacier Ice Cave for a short hike to an incredible anomaly. And from Anchorage, the Matanuska Glacier hike is a popular stop along the Glenn Highway.
When to Visit Valdez
Intrepid travelers visit Valdez year-round. Summer is the most popular time to visit with RVers gathering in this outdoor paradise for days and even weeks on end. Hiking, boating, kayaking, and fishing are just a few of the activities to do here. Winter brings world-class heli-skiing, and summer, first-rate charter fishing. Catch the fall foliage in September and the Northern lights from mid-August through the end of April.
Annual weekend festivals take place throughout the year. The Fat Bike Festival and Ice Climbing Festival in February, The Mayor’s Cup Snowmachine Races in March, Valdez Fly-In and Air Show in May, Fish Derbies in Summer, and Gold Rush Days in August. Valdez has something for everyone.
Header image credit: Jiyeon Juno Kim