I cannot tell you exactly how I arrived at the decision to visit Valdez, but it is definitely a worthy destination in Alaska. Perhaps one of the best parts about Valdez is the breathtaking drive into the city. There are a couple of different routes dependent upon where where you are arriving from. They are the Glenn Highway and the Richardson Highway. If you are coming from Fairbanks, you will take the Richardson Highway all the way into Valdez. If you are coming from Anchorage or more to the west, you will drive on the Glenn Highway until it ends and you meet the Richardson Highway. It is the last 30 or so miles of the Richardson Highway as you drive into Valdez that are the absolute best.
If you are coming along the Glenn Highway, there are a couple points of interest before you reach the right turn onto Richardson Highway that will take you into Valdez. I left from Sheep Mountain Lodge which is located between mile marker 113-114. Once you start on your journey, you will see two scenic turnouts around mile markers 116-118. There are many gorgeous wildflowers during the summer, and on a clear day, it is great for taking photos or just enjoying the scenery. If you have a drone, this is a great place to fly it. As I continued on Glenn Highway, I made a random stop for some caffeine to keep the drive lively. The local store owner made two recommendations. They were the Tazlina Glacier and Willow Lake. Much further around mile marker 160 you will see signs for a turn onto Lake Louise Road. As you approach Lake Louise Road, turn back and look to your right and over your shoulder. On a clear day, you will see the Tazlina Glacier off in the distance, and it is rather impressive. You can also turn onto Lake Louise road for viewing. We made the mistake of driving all the way to the end of the road looking for the glacier. This is not necessary. It is rather far off in the distance, so it has to be a clear day for viewing. If you continue further towards Valdez, you will see a large turnout with a viewpoint of Willow Lake. On a clear day, we saw the Wrangell Mountains in the background, and it was gorgeous. As we headed toward the lake, I initially put it into our GPS as a stop. The GPS took us down a dirt road to a different viewpoint. I did not feel that the vantage point from here was that spectacular. So, I recommend to continue driving towards Valdez versus placing it in your GPS. You cannot miss the lake.
The drive starts to become especially captivating as you approach the Worthington Glacier Recreation Site around Milepost 29. Be camera ready as you drive! This portion of the drive I literally saw people with half their bodies outside the car taking photos and videos. At the Worthington Glacier, there is a large parking lot with, most importantly, restrooms. One of the only difficult things about driving such long hours is not knowing exactly where the next bathroom might be. Certain routes provided plenty of gas stations, restrooms, and places to get coffee. For other portions of the drive, this was not the case. As a note, from the junction of the Glenn highway to Valdez the options for gas were rather limited. Make sure your tank is relatively full as you head that direction. Once you arrive in Valdez, there is a gas station and a Safeway for grocery needs.
The Worthington Glacier allows for rather up close and personal viewing. We stopped twice as the light on the glacier looked different dependent upon the time of day. As you leave the glacier heading south, you will drive through Thompson Pass. There is a relatively large scenic turnout on your right side with great viewing. At this viewpoint, you can also make a short hike out for better views. The trail will be obvious. I had my tennis shoes on, but I would recommend hiking boots. We skipped this viewpoint zipping past it on the way in without stopping. If this happens, it is relatively easy to turnaround. Or, you can make note of the milepost on your way into Valdez and make sure that you don’t drive by on the way out without stopping.
After the scenic viewpoint, you will continue into the canyon driving by Blueberry Lake on your right. The name really fits as the waters are a very deep blue. Past the lake, you are entering Keystone Canyon. It is located at milepost 14 to 17 on the highway. Now, when I titled this post the breathtaking road to Valdez, this was exactly what I had in mind. The geology and landscape is really striking. As you approach the many waterfalls, it becomes even more picturesque. The two largest waterfalls are Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. You will want to stop and take photos at both. Horsetail Falls is more accessible on the side of the road.
For convenience, another stop that you may want to make on your way into Valdez is at the Valdez Glacier Lake. To access, you will make a right turn onto Airport Road and continue straight. It will eventually veer further right into Glacier Campground Road. Most of the road is gravel. I visited the lake late in the day. The water was rather calm, and there were not many visitors. At first I was worried the lighting was too dark, but I ended up with some great photos. This was another must do on my Valdez list.
I used a combination of resources and references to plan out stops. The best book I purchased was the Moon Alaska book. It referenced me to a website called The Milepost. This website has the details for a number of highways in Alaska. Here is the link for the Richardson Highway https://themilepost.com/routes/richardson-highway/. Not everything is included like scenic viewpoints, but it provides a really great overview and certainly helps to simplify things.
Valdez is rather small, and I arrived on a beautiful afternoon when the skies were rather clear. My stay was at the Toteum Inn and Suites. It is very visible as you drive into town. I would describe it as a very commonplace hotel. It provided a spacious, standard room. They serve a free buffet breakfast every morning. For comparison, I would liken it to staying at a run of the mill Marriott, Hilton, or Hampton Inn. What provided the contrast was the taxidermy showcasing some of Alaska’s animals like bears, dall sheep, and wolves. They were on display.
You can walk from Toteum Inn and Suites to the harbor. Right next to the main harbor entrance across the street you will find the roadside potatohead. I had a late lunch and breakfast the following morning at this establishment. It certainly couldn’t be described as healthy, but it sure was good. Their salmon roll, chili cheese fries, and the potatohead burrito were all fantastic options. You probably can’t go wrong here. Another food option is The Fat Mermaid. I tried the salmon dip and a korean bowl with halibut. Personally, I enjoyed the food at potatohead more, but it was nice to sit down in the Fat Mermaid to relax and enjoy drinks. They are open fairly late by Alaskan standards for dinner. And, when leaving the Fat Mermaid, the midnight sun looked gorgeous over the mountains and pier.
There is a dock point trail for those interested in some walking. I made the walk to the trailhead and then did not proceed past go due to my concern over even more mosquito bites. Fisherman or not, driving to Valdez was really a highlight for me, and the small town feel was comforting. I thought spending one night was just right for my interests. On your way out of town, I recommend stopping at Latte Dah. Now, I only order iced drinks, so take my advice with a grain of salt. Their iced salted caramel mocha something or other was just fantastic. I’m sure it was terrible for me, but it tasted amazing! I highly recommend coffee here, and the service was so friendly.
Perhaps one of the good things about leaving Valdez is being able to enjoy all of the beauty you drove past on the way into town again as you leave. If you miss anything, or you want to stop a second time, you will take the same route back on the Richardson Highway. If you are exploring the interior of Alaska, Valdez is certainly something special.