Off the Tourist Trail: Cordova, Alaska

Photo Courtesy of Alaska Marine Highway System

When the clouds part in Cordova, Alaska, a wall of mountains becomes visible behind downtown’s modest buildings. Immense glaciers curl between their cliffs.

Most people familiar with this little-visited slice of coastal Southcentral Alaska associate it with its river, the Copper. It flows just to the east of downtown, with a 50-mile-wide mouth of braided wetlands fanning into the Gulf of Alaska. The salmon caught here every spring and summer are highly prized, thanks to their bright hue and high fat content. They’re said to be the best in the world.

And yet the town of just over 2,000 residents isn’t a tourist hotspot. No massive cruise ships dock here in summer, and no roads reach Cordova from other towns. But there is a small airport that links Cordova to Anchorage, Juneau and Seattle, and the town is a stop on the Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferry route. And there are plenty of reasons to visit, even if you don’t eat a single bite of salmon.

Visitors can tap into the natural splendor of the area with scenic float plane tours that soar over nearby glaciers and via hiking trails that access 44 miles of pristine wilderness. Several glaciers are also easily viewable on foot, including the Childs Glacier, which frequently heaves icebergs into the Copper River.

Wildlife enthusiasts delight in opportunities to sea kayak with otters and orcas and view millions of birds making a stopover in the Copper River Delta as part of the largest migration in the U.S. A handful of guides offers sport fishing trips, too.

After you work up an appetite, Cordova’s dining options won’t disappoint. At the Reluctant Fisherman, local seafood dishes are served with a view of the harbor. Baja Taco, with its kitchen inside a converted school bus, specializes in beer-battered fish tacos, among a slew of otherwell-executed Mexican dishes. And Harborside Pizza covers the comfort food genre with giant pizzas and snacks like chicken wings.

Indoor activities abound as well. The Ilanka Cultural Center honors the culture of the Alutiiq, Ahtna, Tlingit, and Eyak peoples through exhibits, classes, artifact preservation and art displays. The Cordova Historical Museum, housed within the large, modern Cordova Center downtown, covers the town’s Native history, European settlement and mining and fishing industries.

To plan an Alaskan getaway where few tourists go, visit the Cordova Chamber of Commerce website at