First off is Valdez worth visiting, it's a long way down a dead-end road? If you traveled to Alaska to see what you thought Alaska looked like, then yes. (To see what Valdez has to offer check out the Visit Valdez tourism site.)
When I was a kid I had a huge map of Alaska on my bedroom wall with postcards I collected while visiting Alaska. When I moved to Alaska in my mid 20's it was to Haines. Another incredibly beautiful Alaskan town. It took me another 8 years before making my way to Valdez. By this point I had been to the Arctic Ocean, up on Denali, a hundred miles or so deep in to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, remote locations in Glacier Bay National Park, and everywhere else on the road system except to Homer. But when I visited Valdez for the first time I was blown away. About a year later we moved here. I've talked with lifelong Alaskan residents who were in Valdez for the first time now in their 30's and 40's. They were always amazed they didn't visit sooner figuring they had seen everywhere else on the road system. Why drive that far only to have to turn back. Could it really be that different? It really is.
Valdez is like a lot of Southeast Alaskan towns, along with Seward and Whittier where you have large, beautiful mountains running straight into the sea. But what makes it more appealing? For Southeast Alaska with the exception of Haines, Skagway, and Hyder, it's on the road system. When compared to Seward and Whittier there's more to access. Only Haines has more road system in the same type of setting.
Over all though, Valdez has more glaciers and waterfalls, along with close road access to incredible alpine and glaciers. It's a best of everywhere, all in a short distance.
In winter Haines and Valdez are about par with each other for quality and quantity of snow. Valdez has the most ice climbing of any other town and some of the best in the state overall, whereas Haines has hardly any. Valdez is also an amazing location to watch the northern lights with big mountains and open water for great reflections in photos.
How do I get to Valdez? Ravn offers flights to and from Anchorage. Be prepared as flights can be canceled for weather. Drive, the Richardson Highway leads to Valdez and is open all but a few days in winter occasionally when it needs to be closed for avalanche dangers or extreme snow removal. Also the ferry travels between Valdez and Whittier in a sporadic fashion as it doesn't get enough demand to run daily or even more than once a week in winter.
When is the worst time to visit Valdez? We're not saying it's not worth visiting, but if you can plan around it we'd suggest avoiding the end of April - mid May. That is our ugly season, where we exit the beauty of "youthful" snow covered winter, and hit the "acne teen years" of everything being brown and dead looking. Generally, by the end of May the plants have greened up and Valdez is in its "prime". Mid-April-May is also an in-between time where you're loosing out on winter activity options, and the typical summer activities might not be completely clear of snow or ice.
When's the best time to visit Valdez? August is arguably the best time to visit Alaska. But July and August are great months for visiting Valdez. For many people Valdez is a fishing destination, these are when the salmon are mostly running. Along with spawning salmon comes better bear viewing. The days are still long, the weather is still warm, and all summer activities are available. By July much of the alpine at Thompson Pass is clear of snow enough for good hiking. This also prime berry picking season (mostly blueberries and salmonberries). By the end of August fall colors are starting to appear in the alpine and you begin to see the northern lights again.
Where's the best place to RV camp? There are three locations that come to mind. We've had clients say KOA is a great location, it's a little out of town so a quieter setting and has been said to have the fastest WiFi. Bayside RV has a great view and in early summer they put on a show feeding the wild bald eagles. They have a permit for that, and donations to help pay for the food are encouraged. Another location is Bear Paw. Bear Paw has two locations, one next to the harbor a good centralized local for downtown activities, and another that's adults only with views right along Port Valdez.
What is there to do in Valdez? Most people first think of fishing (both shore and deep-sea charter) and day cruises out to the tide water glaciers, or our world class skiing when they think of Valdez. Valdez has hiking and nature walks, rock climbing, year-round ice climbing, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, whale watching, bear viewing, mountain biking, fat biking, great road biking, atving, general wildlife viewing, snowmachine as we say up here or snowmobiling as the rest of the world calls it, cross country skiing, sometimes ice skating, snow showing, a shooting range, great longboarding, a free public swimming pool, the Convention Center also has a nice theater that plays movies Thursday-Sunday.
What wildlife can I see in Valdez? Valdez has lots of salmon viewing while they're spawning. Bald eagles are present year round. Whales right in town are usually seen mid-April through May, they can be a hit or miss with seeing them in town. Both brown and black bears are easily seen mid-April through September, but it is possible to visit without catching one. Best time to visit for bears is August. Moose are around but not a guaranteed sighting. Coyotes are possible to spot. If you see a wolf in Valdez there's a 95% chance you're wrong and it's really a coyote, it's not impossible for a wolf to make it around here but it's safe to say there are no wolves in Valdez. You'd generally start seeing them outside the Lowe River Valley and further out. Mountain goats are easily seen, best viewing in April and May when they're down low eating fresh new foliage. All kinds of birds pass through Valdez.
Where's the best place to view bears in Valdez? Along Duck Flats near town and Dayville Rd across Port Valdez. Do I need to be worried about bears? No just don't be stupid. Give them their space and don't leave food out and you should be just fine.
What are the fast food options in Valdez? Subway. If your kids want McDonalds you're going to have to drive about 300 miles to the nearest one. Yeah same with Starbucks.
Where do you buy groceries? We have Safeway, and food cache which is an assortment of things from Costco marked up to be just cheaper than Safeway. Groceries in Valdez are expensive. Rogues Garden organic and yummy goodies, also sells what some people call hippy food.
Cell phone signal? Some carriers drop service by 7 mile, some make it to 10 mile. Basically around Valdez cell service is less than optimal but it works? Well, depending where you are. Verizon works up at Thompson Pass for a little ways. AT&T probably works the best in town but it the fastest one to loose signal as you travel out.
Public showers? The swimming pool has public showers and the harbor has showers at the harbor master building. Hot water for showers is available to purchase from the harbor master office. Cold showers are free.
Taxes? The only tax in Valdez is a bed tax. There is no sales tax.
Where's the best place to buy souvenirs? There are a couple tourist traps in town one is located across from the visitors center and the other is behind the post office.
Where's the best place to eat? Completely opinion on this one. My wife and I usually date night at the Wheelhouse (the restaurant attached to the Best Western) it's got a view over the harbor and out to the mountains, the food is good, and it's decent priced for Valdez. The Wheelhouse is open year-round. Old Town Burgers has good burgers but they're a little bit more than the Wheelhouse. They're open most the year closing a little in winter. The Halibut House is good too when they're open if you want fish and chips. Fu Kung is great Asian food, open year round, good portions for prices. A lot of locals like the Fat Mermaid as well, they're open year round.
Where's the best place to camp? Somewhere you backpack into. But for campgrounds I've had people say Blueberry campground up on a Thompson Pass is the prettiest campground along their whole drive up from the lower 48. Great views and some fun trout fishing in Blueberry Lake. Glacier Campground out by the airport is probably the most popular campground near town. Don't worry the airport only has a couple scheduled flights a day and they're small planes. It's not like camping near LAX.
What's the worst part about Valdez? Our town itself is probably the most eclectic assortment of architecture and city planning. While it is improving thanks to the city and business making an effort. For the most part town itself close up is not postcard worthy. In defense of Valdez it was wiped out by a Tsunami following a 9.0 earthquake and had to relocate to a safer location and rebuild in a hurry to survive economically. But the end result left much to be improved aesthetically. That and our WiFi.
What are the best tours in Valdez? Our tours of course. We offer private guided tours.