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 – 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. A hand-hewn sign reading "Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna" on Main Street..
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 Denali, 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 Denali 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.
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 Denali. 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 Denali. Shopping local galleries and dining at several local eateries, including a brewery, is also an easy way to spend an afternoon.
To view the wilderness around Talkeetna and the wildlife that resides there visitors often book a boat cruise. Many 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.
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.
A handful of air charter companies offer the ultimate experience on a clear day in Talkeetna; a flightseeing tour of Denali. Veterans pilots take passengers in bush planes for a circuit of Denali and often include a ski landing on one of its glaciated flanks. You're so close that from April to mid-July you might even be able to watch climbing parties heading for the peak.
Mountaineering Ranger Station
Visitors can get a feeling for the high adventure that is climbing Denali 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 a video program for those thinking of scaling the peak.
Outfitters in Talkeetna offer a variety of float 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
Sled Dog Demonstrations
Talkeetna-area kennels offer tours daily in the summer that includes mushers displaying the gear used during the Iditarod, an up close encounter with the dogs and an exciting ride through the woods on a wheeled cart pulled by a team of sled dogs.
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 rescue so many climbers from the mountain. Also located here is the Denali dedicated to all the climbers who've died on the mountain and neighboring peaks.
Talkeetna Historical Society Museum
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 12-foot by 12-foot relief model of Denali and its climbing routes surround by Bradford Washburn's famous mural-like photos of the mountain.
Talkeetnas Artisan Market
The best of Talkeetna's artists can be seen and purchased at the Talkeetna's Artisan Market just north of the Sheldon Hangar.