Prince William Sound
Southcentral Alaska's Prince William Sound is an area famous for its scenery and its wildlife. Dotted with islands, this 70-mile-wide gulf extends 30 miles north and west from the Gulf of Alaska to the Kenai Peninsula. It is bounded to the southeast by Montague and Hinchinbrook islands, which form Hinchinbrook Entrance, the 10-mile-long water passage from the Gulf of Alaska to Prince William Sound. To the north: a rugged, glaciated coastline and the Chugach Mountains.
The star attraction of Prince William Sound is Columbia Glacier, one of the largest and most magnificent of the tide-water glaciers along the Alaska coast. Columbia Glacier is also the world's fastest moving glacier, retreating at a speed of 80 to 115 feet per day. It has receded more than 6 miles since 1982. The glacier is currently 34 miles in length, 3 miles wide and more than 3,000 feet thick in some places. Visitors to Prince William Sound see its tidewater terminus 6 miles away. How close you get to the glacier's face depends on iceberg production: the more icebergs, the less chance boats have to get close. The glacier was named by the Harriman Alaska expedition in 1899 for Columbia University in New York City.
There are several ways to explore Prince William Sound. From Whittier, Valdez or Cordova, take the state ferry or one of the privately operated excursion or charter boats to tour Prince William Sound. Flightseeing trips are also available. All-inclusive tours of Prince William Sound are available out of Anchorage. Depending on itinerary and transportation, you may return to Anchorage the same day or overnight along the way.
Air services offer flightseeing trips of the Sound and wilderness drop-offs to U.S. Forest Service cabins scattered throughout Prince William Sound. There are scheduled state ferry crossings of the Sound between Whittier, Valdez and Cordova. Daily scheduled cruise tours and custom sightseeing cruises of Prince William Sound’s glaciers and wildlife depart from Whittier and Valdez. Prince William Sound tour operators include: Phillips’ Cruises & Tours; Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises; Major Marine Tours; Prince William Sound Eco-Tours; and Lu-Lu Belle Glacier Wildlife Cruises.
Whittier is located at the head of Passage Canal on Prince William Sound, 60 miles southeast of Anchorage via the Seward Highway and Whittier Access Road. Created by the U.S. Army during WWII as a port and petroleum delivery center, today Whittier is home port for fishermen, recreational boaters, the Alaska state ferry and a number of privately operated excursion and charter boat services. In addition, several cruise lines call at Whittier during the summer season.
Valdez (pronounced val-DEEZ) is 115 air miles and 304 highway miles from Anchorage, and 366 highway miles from Fairbanks. Situated in a majestic fjord, where the 5,000-foot-tall Chugach Mountains rise from Prince William Sound, Valdez is often called Alaska's "Little Switzerland." The city lies on the north shore of Port Valdez, an estuary named in 1790 by Spanish explorer Don Salvador Fidalgo for Antonio Valdes y Basan, a Spanish naval officer. Valdez is the southern terminus of the Richardson Highway and the trans-Alaska pipeline. The small community of just under 4,000 people offers all services. Like Whittier, Valdez is home port for fishermen, recreational boaters, the Alaska state ferry and a large number of privately operated excursion and charter boat services offering fishing and wildlife and glacier viewing cruises on Prince William Sound. Kayak outfitters are located at the harbor and offer guided trips as well as daily kayak rentals. Take a helicopter flight from the airport and see this extraordinary area from above.
Cordova, located on the southeast shore of Orca Inlet on the east side of Prince William Sound, is accessible only by plane, boat and ferry. With around 2,300 people, hotels/motels and B&Bs, shopping and other visitor services are available. Boat charters and kayak rentals are available at Cordova's harbor, which is also home to a commercial fishing fleet.