Location: Situated on the southeast shore of Prince William Sound in south central Alaska, 30 minutes by air from Anchorage. There is Alaska Marine Highway "Fast Ferry" service between Valdez, Cordova and Whittier. Population: 2585. Visitor Information: Cordova Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, 404 First Street; Phone: (907) 424-7260; Website: ww.cordovachamber.com.
This picturesque community is a quaint fishing village nestled at the base of the Chugach Mountains, along the eastern shores of Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta. Cordova's rustic charm can transport visitors back in time to the rural America of the mid-twentieth century and is a must see destination on any Alaska vacation.
Modern-day Cordova owes its origin to Michael J. Heney, builder of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. The town was chosen as the railroad terminus and ocean-shipping port for copper ore transported by rail from the Kennicott mines near Kennicott and McCarthy. The railroad and town prospered until 1938 when the mine closed. Following the end of copper mining activity, fishing became the area's major economic base and remains so to this day.
The scenic harbor is full of fishing boats, such as the small flat-bottomed gillnet boats, well suited for the silt laden shallow waters at the mouth of the Copper River. The larger seine boats are set up for plying the waters of Prince William Sound for salmon. Even larger, the tenders proudly display the banners of the fish processing plants for which they are buying. It is common to see fishermen on the docks mending their nets or tenders tied alongside one of the many processing plants adjacent to Cordova's harbor where they offload fishermen's catches.
Cordova's angling opportunities abound and roadside streams make access easy. Salmon, Dolly Varden, cutthroat and rainbow trout and arctic grayling all reside in the area's waters. Trails access backcountry areas where quiet streams and lakes harbor fishermen's dreams. Fishing charters can get you out to deeper waters where immense halibut linger on the bottom.
Locally owned and operated charter companies can take you soaring above the delta in charter planes. Hunting and fishing charters can guide you to the Cordova area's secret places. Tour operators can do the driving for you to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier.
The drive along the 49-mile Copper River Highway, which heads east from downtown Cordova through the river delta to Childs Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge is considered to be one of Alaska's most scenic. The road passes through a spectacular landscape of rugged mountains and glaciers, icy blue ponds and fishing streams before reaching the Childs Glacier Recreation Area, a popular hiking and sightseeing area where the impressive 350' glacier meets the Copper River. It is common to see Child's Glacier actively "calve" house-sized chunks of ice into the river with a thunderous roar. Wildlife such as black bear, moose, beaver, mountain goats, trumpeter swans and numerous other species of birds can be observed along the road. The historic Million Dollar Bridge lies less than a quarter of a mile further.
Completed in 1910 at a cost of 1.4 million dollars, the remote location of the bridge, its impressive 1600-foot length and cantilevered design made it an engineering marvel of its time. The bridge was originally constructed as part of the 196-mile railroad system built by J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim family to transport $200 million worth of copper ore from the Kennicott mine to the port of Cordova, for shipping to Tacoma, Washington. The mine closed in 1938 and work began in the 1950s to convert the old railbed to a roadway.
During the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the northernmost span collapsed into the Copper River, halting further development of the Copper River Highway and creating one of Cordova's most photographed attractions. Flooding in 1995 raised the possibility that the earthquake damaged bridge would ultimately collapse into the river, depositing debris on Miles Glacier and harming the Copper River salmon run. State engineers determined that even with a $19 million price tag, it would be far less costly to repair the bridge than to remove it or clean up after a more serious collapse.
The mammoth undertaking of stabilizing and repairing the bridge began in the fall of 2003. Work crews labored year-round through the winter for two years under some of the most severe conditions in the world. Steel workers spent long hours suspended over the icy waters of the Copper River for most of this time. The work entailed raising Span Four of the Bridge out of the river and replacing the damaged and missing structural steel members on both Span Three and Span Four. The existing unstable Pier three was demolished and replaced with a new pier similar in shape and color to Piers One and Two.
In the summer of 2005, Alaska Governor Murkowski led the ribbon cutting ceremony marking the complete restoration of the bridge, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. With the collapsed span now firmly back in place on new concrete piers, the restored crossing will benefit residents and visitors who can now further explore the beauty and majesty of this scenic location.
The Forest Service maintains a series of trails for hiking through the varied habitats, from trails leading to the Sheridan Glacier, one of the few glaciers that you can actually hike on, to McKinley Lake for fall berry picking and salmon fishing or to Crater Lake for a mountaintop view of Prince William Sound to the west and Copper River Delta to the east.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of the Cordova Walking Tour, prepared by the Cordova Historical Society, which points out historic structures throughout the town. Observe the life of the Cordova fishermen as you tour the harbor area and watch the process involved in delivering the bounty of the sea from the boat to your table. Cordova also offers cross country and downhill skiing, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting, multi-day wilderness float trips, canoeing, ice skating, hunting, flight seeing and mountain biking.
At the end of the day, Cordova offers accommodations to fit every visitor's need. Guests can choose from the many hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts and full service campgrounds in the area. Restaurants offer savory local cuisine like Copper River salmon, halibut and other fresh seafood.
Founded in 2006 by salmon biologist and commercial fisherwoman Lauren Padawar, the Alaska Glacial Mud Co. provides 100% natural and nourishing spa therapy products to the world. The raw material for luxurious beauty masks and soaps is sustainably hand-harvested from the vast Copper River Delta, where the river deposits it at the impressive rate of 60 to 100 million tons annually, from timeless glaciers that have ground remote mountains into pure nutrient and mineral-rich powder. Give them a call at (907) 424-4695.
Activities Near Cordova:
Cape St. Elias Light House
For a novel type of camping try out the Cape St. Elias light station. The best way to get there is by flying with the Fishing and Flying Company in Cordova. You will land on the beach and hike approximately two miles to the light station. Lodging at the Cape is rustic, with no electricity or running water.
Orca Cannery - Orca Adventure Lodge
Located on the eastern shores of Prince William Sound just two miles north of Cordova, the Orca Cannery complex consists of 28 buildings, structures and features built for commercial fish processing, fifteen of which date from 1910 to 1945 and meet the eligibility criteria for National Register of Historic Places as contributing properties of a historic district.
A cannery town originally built in the 1880s, Orca has recently been rebuilt into Alaska's finest adventure destination. While retaining its historical flavor, Orca has full amenities to offer the most discerning guest. Each of the thirty-four rooms has great ocean views. The chef and crew cook up delectable delights in the cannery cookhouse next door, while great guides offer unique and safe excursions into the wilds of Alaska.
Behind the facility, you can look up into the trees and watch nesting bald eagles or wander the beach to see resident sea otters play or join the camaraderie of the game room. Exciting activities await: skiing, hiking, wildlife photography, boating, river rafting, ocean kayaking, sport fishing, flight seeing and more. Airport and town shuttle are available.
Native Village of Eyak
View one of only five complete killer whale skeletons in the world at the Ilanka Health Center. In a twist of fate, a whale named Eyak died on the shore of Hartney Bay on July 11, 2000 just 5 miles from Eyak. The Native Village of Eyak and the Prince William Sound Science Center began a partnership to resurrect Eyak (or the skeleton at least) in the name of science. Dozens of volunteers worked on the project and it is now complete. Don't miss seeing this amazing representation of marine mammal life.