Cordova is a real working town nestled in the heart of a spectacular wilderness, shaped by its dramatic natural setting, rich cultural heritage and colorful residents. A place well worth exploring, Cordova is a beautiful little fishing town located between Orca Inlet and Lake Eyak on the east coast of Prince William Sound.
Though inaccessible by paved road, Cordova can be reached by daily jet service from Seattle or Anchorage and via the Alaska Marine Highway ("the Ferry") connecting Cordova with Valdez and Whittier (both road accessible). The Alaska Marine Highway (already a Scenic Byway) has just been designated as an All American Road by the Federal Department of Transportation. With 3,500 nautical miles of spectacular scenery, the Alaska Marine Highway is the longest byway in the U.S. and the only maritime 'road' in the national highway system.
The area around Cordova is an outdoor paradise, and the town is a jumping-off point to 14 USFS cabins, great alpine hiking and the Copper River Delta, a staging and nesting area for millions of birds each year and the home of the world-famous Copper River Wild Salmon. Things worth seeing in and around Cordova include the Cordova Museum, a small but interesting museum with displays on marine life, relics from the town's early history and the Kennecott copper mine, Russian artifacts, and a three-seat bidarka or kayak made with spruce and sealskins.
A must-see is the Ilanka Cultural Center with displays of native artifacts, a full-sized totem pole and one of only five known fully articulated Orca (killer whale) skeletons in the world. For natural wildlife exhibits, visit the USFS Ranger District Office in the historic courthouse building featuring a whale skull, mounted wildlife specimens and information on the area's amazing bird migrations. You will also find information on hiking opportunities including Crater Lake, Alaganik Slough, McKinley Lake, Pipeline Loop, Sheridan Mountain and Saddlebag Glacier trails.
Mt. Eyak Ski Area provides the best view of the area and the vintage chair lift, first used in Sun Valley, provides a stunning panorama of Cordova, Prince William Sound and a portion of the Copper River Delta. The Small Boat Harbor is a hub of activity in summer and is one of the five largest ice-free harbors in Alaska. Cordova's fleet is composed primarily of salmon seiners and gillnetters as the town's economy is centered on its fishing fleet and fish-processing plants. Some canneries offer tours while they are operating.
There are more than 50 miles of road extending out from Cordova (the ferry can transport your vehicle or local car rentals are available), most of it centered on the Copper River Highway. At least a day should be spent exploring the highway, or take more if you want to include some for time fishing and hiking. The USFS office offers a brochure, which includes a map and milepost listing of trailheads, undeveloped campsites, wildlife-viewing areas and streams for fishing.
The Copper River Delta, a 60-mile arc formed by six glacial-fed river systems is partially accessible by the highway. Stretching for more than 700,000 acres, the delta is the largest continuous wetland on the Pacific Coast of North America. Its myriad tidal marshes, shallow ponds and outwashes are used by millions of birds and waterfowl as staging areas during the spring and fall migrations as well as nesting areas in the summer. May is the prime month for birders, a period when as many as 20 million shorebirds rest and feed in the tidal flats, including 7 million western sandpipers and the entire population of west coast dunlins. Look for arctic terns, dusky Canada geese, trumpeter swans, great blue herons and bald eagles. And don't be surprised if you spot a moose, brown bear, beaver or porcupine on your explorations. The Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival is held each May in conjunction with the spring migration. The U.S. Forest Service, the Prince William Sound Science Center and the Cordova Chamber of Commerce have formed a unique partnership to provide guided trips for birders, educational opportunities for children, world-renown guest speakers, and other seminars and workshops during this event.
The highway also provides access to a handful of glaciers that flow out of the Chugach Mountains. Sheridan Glacier can be viewed from the bridge over the Sheridan River 15 miles from Cordova or you can take a 15 minute walk from the end of Sheridan Glacier road and actually be at the face of the glacier. Several other glaciers spill out of the mountains, but Childs Glacier is by far the most impressive. Located to the west of the Million Dollar Bridge (an engineering marvel from the early 1900's) 48 miles from Cordova, a Forest Service path leads to within 200 yards of this spectacular glacier's face. At times, periodic calving almost stops the Copper River's downstream momentum.
Cordova boasts several other community events throughout the year, including the Iceworm Festival in February, the Wild! Salmon Days in July, the 4H Bluegrass Music Festival in July, Kids Science Camps from June thru August, The Native Village of Eyak Sobriety Celebration in November, and the Christmas Kick-off in early December. Other activities include flightseeing, river rafting, kayaking or canoeing, fishing charters for halibut and salmon, world-class extreme heli-skiing, and just plain kicking back and relaxing.
Location: Cordova is located at the southeastern end of Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska. The community was built on Orca Inlet, at the base of Eyak Mountain. It lies 52 air miles southeast of Valdez and 150 miles southeast of Anchorage.
Access: Scheduled jet service (45 min. from Anchorage) and Alaska State Ferry service from Valdez, Whittier and Seward. Charter aircraft service also available.
Accommodations: 4 hotels/motels; 18 bed and breakfasts; 13 restaurants/cafes
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