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 their mountaineering history as the jumping-off point for climbers hoping to summit North America’s tallest peak – Denali. 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 streets.
No trip to Talkeetna is complete without a walk down Main Street, with two blocks of historic buildings, shops, art galleries, restaurants, and a brewery. The red and white Nagley’s Store dates back to 1921 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Other historic buildings include the Fairview Inn, dating back to 1923, and the Talkeetna Roadhouse, originally built in 1917. At the end of Main Street is Talkeetna Riverfront Park, offering views of the Susitna River and Denali on clear days. After a day of adventures, there’s no better way to unwind than by grabbing a drink at the brewery and sitting out on the deck, watching the hustle and bustle of Main Street under the midnight sun.
Learn about Denali
Visitors can get a feeling for the high adventure of climbing Denali in Denali National Park and Preserve at the Mountaineering Ranger Station. The National Park Service office processes the numerous expeditions to Denali during the summer and features a small display and video program for those thinking of scaling the peak.
The history of Denali 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 Denali and its climbing routes surrounded by Bradford Washburn's famous photos of the mountain.
A visit to Talkeetna Cemetery near the airport will leave anybody with a greater appreciation of how much risk is involved in scaling the highest peak in North America. The most prominent grave in it belongs to Don Sheldon, the famed bush pilot that rescued many climbers from the mountain. Also located here is a memorial dedicated to all the climbers who have died on the mountain and neighboring peaks.
Visitors can see the mountain up close on a flightseeing tour from the local airstrip. Several flightseeing companies offer scenic flights of the mountain and the Alaska Range and many offer glacier landings, where you will land on a glacier on Denali and have time to get out of the plane and take in the awe-inspiring sights. For visitors who want to experience Denali National Park and Preserve but don’t have the time to take a bus tour into the park, flightseeing trips are a great way to take in the landscapes of the vast park and get the best up-close views of Denali.
To view the wilderness around Talkeetna and the wildlife that resides there, visitors can book a river boat tour. Tour operators use jet boats and offer a range of trips, including a day-long run up the Susitna River to wild and scenic Devil's Gorge. Outfitters in Talkeetna also offer a variety of rafting trips in the area's rivers. Trips last from a couple of hours to all day and include the placid Talkeetna River and the wilder Chulitna River through Denali State Park.
Hiking & Biking
Just three miles from downtown Talkeetna is the Talkeetna Lakes Park trail system, a network of 8 miles of trails meandering around three lakes in the lush forest. The trails are a great place to hike and mountain bike in the summer and cross country ski, snowshoe, and fat tire bike in the winter. Near downtown Talkeetna, a pedestrian walkway connected to the railroad bridge crosses over the Susitna River and leads to beach access on the river and a trail that parallels the railroad. Outfitters rent mountain bikes and fat tire bikes in town so you can explore the area’s trails or join a guided bike tour.
Charter fishing guides use jet boats to put anglers within casting distance of king salmon in June and July on the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers as well as the other four species of Pacific salmon throughout the summer. Water taxi services are also available for those who want to be dropped off on a remote stretch of river to fish and camp for several days.
Dog Sled Tours
Talkeetna-area kennels offer daily summer tours that include musher demonstrations, up-close encounters with the dogs, and exciting dog sled rides through the woods on a wheeled cart. In winter, mushers will take visitors on dog sled tours through the area’s many winter trails.
Alaska Railroad and other adventures
Though small, Talkeetna offers a wide range of tours in addition to the most popular: flightseeing, boat trips, and dog sled tours. The Alaska Railroad stops in Talkeetna and connects south to Anchorage and Seward and north to Denali National Park and Preserve and Fairbanks. Visitors can hop on the Hurricane Turn train from Talkeetna, one of the last flagstop trains in the United States, providing backcountry access to adventurers and locals alike. Local operators offer guided ATV tours, ziplining, gold panning, kayaking, guided hiking, and even heli-mountain biking tours. The opportunities for adventure from Talkeetna are endless.
Talkeetna is a magical place in winter, with miles of groomed cross country ski trails, cozy cabins, and several restaurants open year-round serving up warm, hearty meals. The Oosik Classic Nordic Ski Race is a fun and funky 25k and 50k cross country ski race in March where participants dress in costume and tour the trails around Talkeetna. Other winter activities include fat tire biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and Winterfest – a month-long event in December featuring a tree lighting ceremony, parade of lights, Taste of Talkeetna, and the entertaining Wilderness Woman Competition and Bachelor Auction.
Staying in Talkeetna
For an iconic Alaska experience, book one of the many cabins located in and around Talkeetna. A wide range of cabins are available including comfortable cabins located within walking distance of downtown, cozy cabins overlooking the Susitna River, and more rustic cabins and yurts located in the forest and on lakes surrounding town. There is also a large lodge just outside of downtown Talkeetna, vacation rentals, guest houses, the historic Talkeetna Roadhouse, and a couple of campgrounds and RV parks.
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 and declined after the Alaska Railroad was completed. The town bounced back as the staging area for ascents of Denali, Mount Foraker, the Moose’s Tooth, and scores of other high peaks.