CORDOVA, ALASKA – Q &A with Lauren

5 min read

aerial view of Cordova, Alaska

Cordova is an island on the mainland surrounded towering mountains, expansive wetlands and glaciers. We are 150 miles SSE from Anchorage and can only be reached by air or by boat. With a winter population of about 2,400 people, most locals know each other by first name.  You can walk everywhere.  Salmon fishing powers our economy, dominating life and conversation. As a result, any trip to Cordova opens a vivid window on life in a working Alaskan port, with rich seafood for dining and marine charters for adventure.

Q: How long have you lived in Cordova?

I moved to Cordova 19 years ago. I was 23 years old and I had traveled extensively. The first time I visited Cordova, two years prior, left a huge imprint. It was the first place I had traveled where I could still speak English and use American money, but the scenery and culture was as enchanting as more exotic places I’d visited.

Q: What drew you in?

Cordova has an existential connection to the salmon culture of Alaska. There’s a true reliance on salmon, both as a subsistence lifestyle and for the commercial fishing economy. It’s not like any other Alaskan coastal town. It’s a working town that’s completely reliant on industry outside of tourism and inextricably linked to the healthy intact ecosystem of the Copper River.

Q: Tell us more about the fishing.

I love salmon. I’ve been both a commercial fisherman and I’ve worked in commercial fisheries management with ADF&G. But most of all, salmon is part of a subsistence lifestyle for Cordovans. Whether caught by subsistence, commercial or sport, salmon is on the dinner menu most nights. We pickle it, smoke it, can it, cure it, roast it, grill it and have a festival about it! For visitors, they can get a taste of this culture by visiting the Salmon Jam Festival, dining out locally or trying their hand at sport-fishing.

Q: What else makes Cordova unique?

The Copper River Delta is amazing—it’s the largest contiguous wetland on the Pacific coast of North America. There’s 150 miles of braided wild river wetlands that teem with wildlife: bears, wolves, lynx, coyote, moose, deer, trumpeter swans, and eagles. And then you have an annual migration of 23 million shorebirds! Cordova’s also a springboard for remote lodges further east near the Tsiu River, with Orca Adventure Lodge and Alaska Wilderness Outfitters that are based out of Cordova, not to mention Points North Heli-Adventures that serves up Chugach powder to its clients.

Q: What’s your favorite place in town?

Mt. Eyak ski hill! It’s always in the sun, it’s right in town, it’s a great workout and the views are off the hook! The town of Cordova rest at the base of Mt. Eyak. From town, you can hike the Eyak Mountain Trail from 5th street or start at the ski hill (parking lot) which is always in the sun any time of year. These two trails converge at about 600’ elevation and both trails lead to ski hill top station and the ridge. From there you can head to the peak or connect up to the Crater Lake trail via the O’Leary Cutoff trail.

For those who want a long day hike or an overnight, the Alice Smith Intertie trail that extends along the ridge for about 12 miles and heads back to Power Creek. For the distance, the Alice Smith Intertie trail has to be one of the most breathtaking hikes in the world. It’s a 360-degree panoramic view of how this place comes together with the Prince William Sound, Copper River Delta and Chugach mountains.

fat tire biking at Sheridan Glacier

Q: Does Cordova have a hidden gem?

Sheridan Glacier is the most phenomenal attraction. You can land at the airport, get off the plane, and if you’ve got a pack raft you can be kayaking on a glacial lake within 20 minutes. You can even just appreciate it from the shore, with the icebergs scattered across the 6-mile Sheridan glacier face. The lake freezes over every winter and there’s incredible ice skating or biking. I took my 70-year-old dad fatbiking there and it’s going to be one of the most vibrant memories of his entire life!

Q: What else do you love to do in winter?

There’s an incredible downhill ski area, run by the nonprofit Sheridan Alpine Association—a total anomaly for a town our size—and it has one of the first single-chair ski lifts from the early 1950’s that was purchased and installed here from Sun Valley in the 1970’s. Cordova also offers backcountry skiing, heliskiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Eyak Lake is also usually skateable at some point in winter.

Alice Smith Cut-Off Trail near Cordova, Alaska

Q: How about summer?

The Forest Service maintains an inordinate amount of trails for the number of people who live here. Ride a fat bike along the Copper River when it’s not high water, or explore the sand dunes. Raft the Sheridan River. Or hike Haystack Trail; it’s a super family-friendly hike that has vistas of the entire Copper River Delta.

There’s also great camping. And so many moose! Some locals actually refer to the Copper River Delta as the Copper River Moose Ranch. You’ll have a good chance of seeing them especially along Alaganik Boardwalk Slough which is especially amazing in early June, when there’s a massive purple iris bloom!

Q: Favorite festivals?

The Ice Worm festival is a hoot, with survival-suit races, a parade, and local competitions. Visitors will feel the love and energy of this town. The Shorebird Festival is also a sure bet. Shorebirds offer a feast for the eyes, and the town practically vibrates with energy. Salmon Jam Festival is a great time to come as well as we have a 5K/10K and marathon, live music and all kinds of activities centered around wild salmon.

Q: What’s your favorite memory of Cordova?

The very first time I came here! I was camping out and things got pretty miserable because it was raining and wet and all I’d brought was a down sleeping bag (NOTE: bring synthetic down camping in a rainforest). It’s sort of typical weather for Cordova and I still enjoyed the hikes, but on the third day, the clouds cracked open and I could see all the mountains that surrounded this place, with rainbows everywhere. It was truly magical. In the end, I have decided the amount of rain we get is a very small entrance fee for this ticket to paradise.

Q: What’s it like to live in a roadless community?

It’s a love-hate relationship. There are times where I think I played the Cordova greatest hits album too many times from a recreational standpoint— that I’m tired of doing the same things over and over. But then I realize everyone does that no matter where you live. Every runner or cyclist goes on the same routes. So when I get to feeling trapped or isolated I know it’s time for a trip. With our busy lives, we tend to do the same things over and over. So really, it’s not all that different here. And, the greatest hits in Cordova are pretty spectacular. My day-to-day is someone else’s vacation. It’s an incredible place to call home.

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