From Tok to Valdez

tok to valdez012Today we travelled from Tok to Valdez. When we arrived in Tok the day before yesterday, we immediately went to the Tok “Mainstreet Alaska” Visitor Center. This place has more information than anyone can possibly want about the state, plus some very interesting displays.tok to valdez001

Tok is the point where people must decide if they are going straight to continue to the official end of the Alaska Highway at Delta Junction, and then on to Fairbanks, or if they are going to make a left or head southwest on the Tok Cutoff to Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Valdez. We chose to make a left.tok to valdez002

Interestingly, most everyone that we have spoken with on the way here has chosen to go straight, or North. So it seems we will be swimming against the tide.

When we made that left, our plan was to go directly to the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, stay there a few days and then continue to Valdez. But in our long conversation with the nice lady at the Visitor Center about our planned route, she mentioned that if we saw a forecast of a good weather window in Valdez we should immediately head there. It seems Valdez is famous for having long periods of rainy weather. That is when we made our first change in plans.

We looked up weather and saw that there were several sunny and partly cloudy days coming up in Valdez, but no rain until about about five days later. And so we opted to head to Valdez first and then stop at Wrangell St. Elias afterwards, which we had to pass back through anyway on our way to Anchorage. This was not a change in route but rather a change in the order of our stops.

And so, yesterday, we handled a few chores, visited the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, and headed to Valdez, 240 miles away.

tok to valdez006tok to valdez004tok to valdez013Alaska Day 1 driving recap:

Road Name: Tok Cutoff

Road Type: 2-lane

Road Conditions:  Some very good stretches and pretty bad ones.   A lot more frost heaves than the Alaska Highway, the road is literally in waves at points.  Some gravel breaks and construction. Very careful attention required.

Road Name: Richardson Highway

Road Type: 2-lane

Road Conditions: Generally in better condition, with gentler frost heaves.  Easier cruising.

Miles Today: 260

Driving Time: 5:45

Total Miles in Alaska: 352

Total Miles since entering Canada: 2346

We had construction delays while waiting for pilot cars. One of those construction areas had freshly laid asphalt on the right lane, and as we followed the pilot car on the left lane, we saw a big tanker truck coming  right by the asphalt and partially in our lane. There was a gravel mound lining the edge of the road to our left, and so we had little room to maneuver. Our mirror cleared the tanker’s mirror by about one inch. Too scared to take photographs. The RV behind us freaked out so much that he went up on the gravel mound before passing the truck. Ay, ay, ay!tok to valdez003

Happily, there was still some beautiful scenery along the way; lots of lovely ponds and other wetlands, mountains, and wildflowers.

Bear cub scampering across the road

Bear cub scampering across the road in the distance

We saw some trumpeter swans, eagles flying and Hector saw two bears quicly crossing the road ahead of us. I did not see them, but accidentally captured one in a photo I was taking of the nasty road.

As we turned into the Richardson Highway from the Tok Cutoff, the scenery became more spectacular. Views of the astounding Wrangell Mountains, peaks rising to over 18,000 feet appeared, though several were shrouded in clouds. And more beautiful wetlands.tok to valdez007

We turned into a road to take photos of Mount Drum, the most visible of the mountains. But we had to drive into a general aviation airport tarmac to turn around. Hector did look up at the sky before driving there to make sure there were no aircraft landing 🙂tok to valdez008

tok to valdez009

We made a quick stop at the Wrangell St. Elias National Park visitor center to load up on info for our visit after our Valdez stop.  This is the largest U.S. National Park, the size of six Yellowstones.   We’ll be back!tok to valdez011tok to valdez010

tok to valdez025As we got closer to Valdez, a series of waterfalls appeared. It reminded me a bit of Yosemite.tok to valdez026

We arrived at one of the waterfalls as a rainbow was reflected on it. Absolutely stunning.

tok to valdez019tok to valdez014Then the road goes over Thompson Pass then down to Valdez.  it was jaw dropping.

High alpine scenes around every turn.  The Worthington Glacier comes almost the road.tok to valdez015

tok to valdez018This road was one of the most beautiful roads that we have been on, if not the most beautiful, ever.

Pictures really don’t capture it.

tok to valdez021

tok to valdez028And, after thinking it could not get any better than this, we arrived in beautiful Valdez, (“pronounced Valdeez, if you please”) where the mountains meet the sea.

~ Brendatok to valdez027

13 thoughts on “From Tok to Valdez

  1. Valdez is Steve’s favorite stop despite the rough road leading there. Hector’s pictures of your journey has captured it beautifully and we enjoyed looking at them as it always bring a smile on our faces as we reminisce while following your adventure.
    Do check out Solomon’s Gulch for the salmon running (which i hope they are now as we went there in Aug). At Bayside RV park, a licensed lady is allowed to do Eagle feeding at 5PM not sure if it still going on.

    For Wrangell St Elias NP, we stayed at Kenny Lake RV Park. I don’t think Island Girl would like to be driven there 🙂 its too rough and remote.

    • I can see why this was Steve’s favorite, so glad you are reminiscing. The salmon are not running yet. Thanks for the tip on Wrangell St. Elias, we are still trying to figure out where to stay.

  2. This is the most beautiful scenery yet on your trip. Those mountain ranges are just breathtaking! Your photos are amazing. Boy, I’m not sure how you made such good time with the road conditions and construction.

    • You are right, it is the most beautiful, and actually we traveled during not so great light so the photographs did not quite capture the beauty. Pam, lots of folks have traveled faster than us, but we liked our pace just fine.

  3. I agree, the drive to Valdez is one of the most beautiful drives we have ever done. I love the waterfall photo with the rainbow. In fact, I love all the photos!

  4. It seems that now the real fun begins! Can’t wait to see Alaska through your eyes. Love that photo of the planes with the stunning mountain and clouds in the background. A glacier that comes down almost to the road is not something I would have expected to see.

    • You are quite right! We are so happy to be here, and I already found a fabulous state campground for you that we don’t fit in!

  5. You are much wiser than we. Our four days in Valdez were rain, rain, and more rain. But it is still a beautiful city. Glacier View Park looks like a great place to kayak (too much rain for us) if you have the time. Timely capture on the bear. I think that photo captures Alaska Roads perfectly.

  6. I found your web site a couple of months ago and was thrilled to see that you were visiting Alaska. I’ve been there a few times for a week or 2 but my goal upon retirement in 3 yrs is to drive there with a travel trailer. Valdez was my favorite spot (after Denali) but we had wicked weather. We had a kayak trip booked but had to cancel. Even with wind, rain and heavy fog, I could tell that Valdez was stunning and I would have to return. I’m looking forward to seeing it thru your eyes, especially with the lovely weather. We were there mid Aug so salmon were spawning ….. out at Alison Point on Dayville Rd there were bears hanging out. Enough that they put up digital reader boards warning people to be cautious. Thanks for sharing your adventures. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reminisce.

    • We had only been here once on a two week vacation as well. This place is perfect for RVers though. We are fortunate not to have any rain to this point, but there has been a pretty consistent marine layer (fog) and cloudy weather. Like you said, still stunning. Salmon are not running yet, but they will be when we go to Haines, so we should see bears there. I too reminisce when I read other’s posts about places we’ve visited, it’s really fun.

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