Richardson Highway Part 2 – Glaciers, Waterfalls & Salmon
There are a lot of amazing drives around the world and while I really appreciate the feeling of endlessness that comes with vast wide open spaces, for me, nothing beats the excitement of driving into and being completely surrounded by mountains. If you agree, then chances are you will love this Alaskan drive!
We’re smack in the middle of the Richardson Highway as we make our way to Valdez and the route is one lush mountain on top of another. I found myself torn between stopping at every view point and driving faster to see if the next waterfall lined peak could be better than the last.
We get asked all the time why we choose a class A RV and one of the reasons is because we wanted this big honking windshield! This is our first view of what we’re about to explore and while the cat may not always be impressed with what’s down the road, it’s a scene we never get tired of…especially when there are glaciers in view!
If you recall our wild and crazy rafting adventures from our Richardson Highway Part 1, we met up with fellow traveling RV’ers The Banks and The Bonelli’s and we’re all still alive and traveling to Valdez together! We haven’t had many opportunities to caravan or travel with others much in the past and I have to say…It’s sooo much fun!!!
Copper River Salmon And Fishing The Klutina River
Catching the world famous Copper River Salmon has been on our Alaska bucket list from the beginning stages of this road trip and this is the spot to make it happen! We’re all pumped up, the timing is right and we’ve purchased all the gear and now were gonna get some salmon…so we thought. As with most new activities, there’s a learning curve that can only be learned once you’re doing it. So, here is what we learned about fishing for Copper River “Red” Salmon:
- Location – We checked with the public lands office in Fairbanks about good wild camping and fishing spots, then we reported back to our Alaska local friends to get their thoughts. Their general recommendation was to skip the free camping and go for one of the campgrounds. The reason being that it’s convenient and comfortable as the campgrounds are right on the river and its typically less crowded than the public areas. They were correct! There are a few options and they all seemed pretty similar. We landed at King For A Day (located at milepost 101) and it’s nothing fancy but location was good and the staff was very helpful to us newbie salmon fishers. Oh, and the photos below were taken around midnight…because when it’s summer in Alaska, this is what you do.
- Gear – When fishing from the river most people use a fly rod. We only had a traditional rod and reel as we were set up mostly for ocean fishing. It still worked but not nearly as well as the fly rod and not as much fun (fly fishing is sooo much fun). Also, at this stage the fish are swimming upstream and not feeding so lures and bait don’t work. The name of the game here is snagging. You have a simple set up of a weight, hook and bright colored yarn. Since the fish are not feeding you are literally trying to snag the fish in the mouth as he swims by! Snag it in the side or anywhere else and you can’t legally keep it, it has to be in the mouth! It’s a challenge that tests anyone’s patients. We spent two very determined days practicing our newly learned skills and finally just after midnight on the second day Jason landed a salmon…in the side, so we couldn’t keep him. But at least he snagged one!
- Fish – There’s no way to know when the fish will be there, other than when they are there. Before leaving Fairbanks we checked the fish counter and it showed fish, so we were stoked. Sadly by the time we checked into our campground (almost a week later) things had slowed down. The week before our arrival was hot with lots of people catching, then the rain came in for a couple of days, which had the rivers running swift and high, so the fish take a break. During our stay, there were still a few people catching here and there but not much.
Wow, talk about instant gratification! A short 15-20 min hike out lead us out past tiny lakes, onto the glacier moraine and up to what looks like the mouth of the glacier. We must have gazed up into that icy blue cave for over an hour. We felt like children amazed and mesmerized by the seemingly magical cave before us of continuously flowing water from giant frozen waves. Located at milepost 28.7
Valdez Goat Trail
This stretch of the highway enters an area know as Keystone Canyon and what must be a rain-forest because everything is lush, lush, lush! The whole area just begs to be explored so we parked our land yachts and decided to take a trail that has been traveled since the early 1900’s! The Valdez Goat Trail was a military pack train trail that was the first glacier free route to the interior of Alaska, and it was still occasionally used all the way up to 1952. Now, its a lovey 2.5 mile tree canopied hike that has a great view of Bridal Veil Falls and its lined with more salmon berries than we could pick! Bridal Veil Falls and trail access to the Valdez Goat Trail are located at milepost 13.5
Keystone Canyon Roadside Camping
Roadside camping is very popular in Alaska and we’re starting to understand why. This stretch of highway is one alluring pull out after another. Some had us feeling like we were on top of the world while others felt cozy as they were nestled into the side of a mountain. Because we’re still a traveling trio of RV’s we decided to stick together and landed at this river facing, private waterfall site for the night just about a mile shy of the goat trail.
Come to find out, this wasn’t an ordinary roadside pull out. During the big copper and gold mining days from 1910 to 1916 there were attempts to build a railroad through the canyon and into the copper region. Railroad companies battled to secure a right-of-way-north of Valdez and a tunnel which was built but never used is still here. It’s an interesting story of feuds, fights, murders and money that didn’t end well for any party involved.
Fuel Prices – Fuel around the area hovered in the realm of about $3.70 a gallon with only minimal differences from town to town all the way to Valdez. For the most recent pricing, check out the free Gas Buddy app.
Road Conditions – This portion of the Richardson Highway is a two-lane road and is in great shape.
Weather – Temperatures were mild and pleasant with highs hovering in the low 70’s and the lows in the mid 40’s.
Dates Visited – June 29 – July 3, 2015
Resources – We consulted the milepost and the Church’s Alaskan Camping book.
See all our Alaska travels and tips here: #Alaska Bound
Have you traveled the Richardson Highway? Share your stories, tips and thoughts with us in the comments below! We love hearing from you.