The best things to do in Valdez relate to Prince William Sound, so I've put those options first, in order of their interest to most readers.
Sightseeing & Wildlife Tours
For most visitors, a daylong ride on a tour boat into the Sound is likely to be the most memorable part of a visit to Valdez. The main tour-boat company in town is Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises (tel. 866/867-1297 or 907/835-4731; www.stanstephenscruises.com). The office is on the dock at the end of the small boat harbor near the Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn. Stephens has been showing off the Sound and defending it from pollution for decades. After passing through the long fjord of Port Valdez, boats enter an ice-choked bay in front of Columbia Glacier on a 6-hour tour that often encounters birds, seals, sea otters, sea lions, and sometimes whales, for $115 adults. A light lunch is served. Going on to Meares Glacier, farther west, adds 3 hours to the round-trip but brings you to a glacier that you can get a better look at and that may drop ice into the water. That cruise is $150 and includes a hot lunch and a snack. Prices are half for children 2 to 12 on either trip.
Sea Kayaking & Sailing
Right around Valdez, short sea-kayaking day trips to see wildlife on the Duck Flats may be just what you want for a first try at the sport, but that area is hardly wilderness, as it's also reached by road and is within sight of the oil facilities. Day trips to Shoup Glacier get you into more of the beautiful, remote country that makes Prince William Sound so exceptional. Pangaea Adventures (tel. 800/660-9637 or 907/835-8442; www.alaskasummer.com) offers guided sea kayaking from Valdez or rentals for experienced paddlers, for whom the Sound is a paradise. Their Shoup Glacier trip combines amazing scenery, lunch on the beach near the ice, and satisfying paddling that's a bit more challenging than the very easy outings usually offered to visitors. They also operate multiday guided camping trips deeper into the Sound, or, for those who prefer a bed, lodge, and "mother ship" expedition, wherein clients paddle by day and stay onboard or in a lodge at night. Pangaea offers many other services as well: water-taxi and kayak drop-off, ice climbing and glacier hiking, river rafting, and even trips that combine these activities in the Sound and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Check out the website.
Raven Charters, Slip C-25, Valdez Boat Harbor (tel. 907/835-5863; www.alaska.net/~ravenchr), is run by a family that shares its home on a substantial 50-foot ketch with clients to sail and explore the Sound. The wind tends to be light and changeable, but a sailboat makes a comfortable base for discovering interesting, isolated places. All-inclusive prices for the whole boat start at $1,050 per day for up to four passengers, or $850 for a day charter, with discounts for longer trips.
Fishing & Boating
The ocean waters around Valdez are rich in salmon and halibut. It's possible to fish for salmon from shore. Popular spots include Dayville Road west of the fish hatchery, the city dock near the ferry dock in town, or even the harbor floats. Except at the hatchery, you're hoping a fish swims by your lure or bait at the right moment: There isn't a freshwater destination to concentrate the fish. Chances and the fishing experience are improved if you get out on the water. Many small fishing charter boats are available in the boat harbor, or you can rent your own boat and gear; book either through Fish Central (tel. 888/835-5002 or 907/835-5002; www.fishcentral.net). They can also take care of processing and freezing your catch for shipment.
Hiking & Mountain-Biking
Valdez has a broad selection of good dayhikes and an overnight. The visitor center can advise you on choices beyond those I list here. In addition, you can join guided hiking and glacier activities, including ice climbing, with Pangaea Adventures.
The easiest hike is a pleasant forest and shore walk to Dock Point, starting at the east side of the boat harbor, at the end of North Harbor Drive. It's a peaceful, natural walk close to town, with boardwalks and overlooks and berries along the way in season.
For a longer hike and perhaps an overnight, the Shoup Glacier Trail runs 12 miles west from town along the shore of Port Valdez to a lagoon in front of the glacier's face. The going is generally flat, and there are many places to get down to the beach, with wild iris and many other flowers. Cool yourself in a waterfall. Camping is unrestricted, but be sure to bring mosquito repellent and review bear avoidance techniques. If you plan to go all the way, consider reserving one of the three state parks cabins near the glacier. Or you can get a lift one-way from a water taxi, such as the service offered by Pangaea Adventures. The trail starts at the end of West Egan Drive.
The Solomon Gulch Trail starts across from the fish hatchery on Dayville Road and goes steeply up to Solomon Lake, where locals swim. Be prepared for bears. Trails off Mineral Creek Road, above town off Hanagita Street, are great for walking, mountain-biking, or berry picking, and in winter there is a fine cross-country skiing trail network. The Valdez Goat Trail runs from the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls at mile 13.8 of the Richardson Highway for a distance of 2.5 miles on an abandoned roadbed, past some great views.
Valdez is a magnet for backcountry alpine and extreme skiing and snowboarding, thanks to its prodigious snow and limitless steep mountains. A bunch of guide companies offer these trips, operating by helicopter from early March to early May. One established operator is Valdez Heli-Ski Guides (tel. 907/835-4528; www.valdezheliskiguides.com). Expect to pay around $925 for a day of around six runs, or book a package with lodgings and meals.