The tiny, funky hamlet of Talkeetna is straight out of many visitors’ mental picture of life in small-town Alaska. Located 115 miles north of Anchorage in the Mat-Su Valley, it’s a not-to-be-missed stop in Southcentral Alaska.
Said to be the inspiration for the fictional community of Cicely in the popular TV show “Northern Exposure,” it’s no surprise Talkeetna rings so true with visitors. Its artistic, outdoorsy and creative residents cling proudly to the character of their community and celebrate the influence of North America’s tallest peak, in whose shadow the community rests – Mount McKinley. A turn-of-the-20th-century gold-mining center, Talkeetna has retained much of its early Alaska flavor. Log cabins, a roadhouse and clapboard storefronts line the dirt streets. Main Street, the only paved road in town, greets visitors with a hand-hewn sign reading "Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna.”
Gold brought miners to the Susitna River in 1896, and by 1910, Talkeetna was a riverboat steamer station, supplying miners and trappers in the nearby mining districts. The town’s population peaked at more than 1,000 during World War I, declined after the Alaska Railroad was completed and has bounced back as the staging area for ascents of Mount McKinley, Mount Foraker, the Moose’s Tooth and scores of other high peaks.
Things to do
Visitors can get a feeling for the high adventure of climbing Mount McKinley at the Mountaineering Ranger Station. The National Park Service office processes the numerous expeditions to Mount McKinley during the summer and features a small display and video program for those thinking of scaling the peak. The history of Mount McKinley and the climbers who made the first ascents is well preserved at the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum, a small complex that consists of four restored buildings. The most fascinating building by far is the Section House that contains a relief model of Mount McKinley and its climbing routes surrounded by Bradford Washburn's famous photos of the mountain.
Visitors can see the mountain up close on a flightseeing tour from the local airstrip. Scenic flights of the mountain and the Alaska Range are awe-inspiring and many offer glacier landings as well. At times, passengers even catch a glimpse of climbing parties en route to the summit.
Talkeetna abounds with outdoor adventure other than viewing Mount McKinley. Riverboat and jet boat tours up Talkeetna Canyon, Devils Canyon, Chulitna River and Tokositna River are popular and the boats are also often used for charter fishing trips. Horseback excursions are also available on trails with majestic views of Mount McKinley. Shopping local galleries and dining at several local eateries, including a brewery, is also an easy way to spend an afternoon.