Welcome to Talkeetna, the quirkiest little town in Alaska
Alaska towns don’t come much quirkier—or friendlier—than Talkeetna. After all, how many towns have ever elected a cat as honorary mayor, presided over by the looming, watchful presence of North America’s highest peak? That beloved orange cat, Mayor Stubbs, passed away in July of this year, but Talkeetna’s quirky, cheerfully independent nature lives on as a fabled tourist mecca during the summer, a budding nordic skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling destination during the winter and a climbing village in the spring.
Getting to Talkeetna
Talkeetna is one of the most accessible towns in Alaska, but it’s still a two-hour drive north of Anchorage and about four-and-a-half hours south of Fairbanks, just off from the Parks Highway. If you don’t feel like making this beautiful drive, you can sit back and enjoy the scenery on a passenger train from Fairbanks, Anchorage or Denali National Park. And if you’re traveling by cruise ship, your cruise provider is practically guaranteed to offer a motorcoach land excursion to Talkeetna.
Don’t miss Main Street
Talkeetna’s Main Street is exceptional: full of locally owned art galleries and gift shops, dotted with cafes and restaurants where you can dine on fresh seafood or sip a locally brewed beer and watch the crowds go by. Don’t forget to stop in at the general store where Mayor Stubbs held court until his passing. There’s always been a cat at the store, and it’s possible that the kitten in residence, Denali, will serve as Stubbs’ successor.
Three mighty rivers reign
Talkeetna sits near the juncture of three mighty rivers: the Talkeetna, the Susitna and the Chulitna. You can visit the place where the Susitna and Talkeetna rivers come together in the 75-acre Talkeetna Riverfront Park at the end of Main Street. Just like everything else in Talkeetna, the park is only a short stroll from wherever you may be staying.
As you might imagine, those three rivers make for excellent floating and fishing, with more than half a dozen tour operators ready to help you get out on the water. You can relax during a river float that’s sometimes splashy but never too wild, take a fast-paced jet boat ride to scout for wildlife or fish for salmon, rainbow trout, Arctic grayling and burbot or freshwater ling.
There are plenty of outdoor tours to choose from
If you love being outside, Talkeetna is just big enough to offer lots of tours and amenities, but small enough to feel like the wilderness is waiting to welcome you the minute you step off the road. Go ziplining with a view of 20,310' Denali, drive your own ATV through wild Alaska trails or go exploring on horseback. There’s even an indoor escape room adventure to keep you busy on rainy days.
North America’s tallest mountain
Speaking of Denali: Even though Talkeetna is 150 miles away from Denali National Park and Preserve, it’s one of the best places to see “The Mountain” on clear days. Look for views of Denali’s unmistakable, sprawling massif as your train, coach or car nears Talkeetna. A pullout near mile 13 of the spur road, marked by a gold-painted rock, offers a beautiful vantage for photos of the mountain. Some hotels boast stunning views of Denali from the rooms and common areas.
That special connection to the mountain runs through the core of the town, so make sure you stop by the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station to learn more about Talkeetna’s place in the history of Alaska climbing. National Park Service rangers also talk about the relationship between Talkeetna and Denali in presentations at the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum.
You can even take your own flightseeing expedition to Denali, zipping around the mountain and landing on a glacier before returning to the comfort of your room in a hotel or lodge. During the spring, you can watch climbers taking off for base camp from the community airstrip.
Ride the train
One of the most beloved institutions in Talkeetna is the Alaska Railroad’s Hurricane Turn train, one of the last flagstop trains in the nation. The Hurricane Turn train stops anywhere along its line to let people on or off, so you might end up sharing space with intrepid hunters, fishermen, campers or residents of the few small communities still existing along the train line. You can hop on and off the train, too, as long as you’re prepared to deal with Alaska’s wilderness conditions until it comes back—or stay on the train for a fun narrated tour from the conductor.
Don’t miss the party
Talkeetna is home to some of Alaska’s best live music, but if you want to see, it you’ll need to hang around into the evening. That’s when the locals really turn out to play, transforming Talkeetna into a laid-back party town that welcomes friendly visitors with open arms.
Winter fun in Talkeetna!
Talkeetna’s small size and remote yet accessible location, make it a wonderful place to cozy up to the fireplace during the brief winter days, then scan the sky for stars and the dancing northern lights during the long, crisp nights. Other fun winter activities you can try in Talkeetna include dog sledding and snowmobiling (“snowmachining” to the locals), or you can take a flightseeing trip for a one-of-a-kind vantage over Alaska’s wintry landscape.