Talkeetna comprises some of Alaska's best flightseeing, fishing, and river tours all in one. These are just a couple of reasons we recommend you spend at least one night in Talkeetna, a classic Alaska pioneer town halfway between Anchorage and Denali National Park. You're actually closer to Mt. McKinley from here (as the crow flies) than if you stood at the entrance to Denali National Park. In other words, if you want a taste of Denali National Park and a great view of Mt. McKinley, but are pressed for time, consider visiting Talkeetna instead.
Alaska's best flightseeing, great fishing, and river tours: just a couple reasons we recommend you spend at least one night in Talkeetna, a classic Alaska pioneer town halfway between Anchorage and Denali. You're actually closer to Mt. McKinley from here (as the crow flies) than if you stood at the entrance to Denali National Park. In other words, if you want a taste of Denali Park but are pressed for time, consider visiting Talkeetna instead.
Just two hours from Anchorage, this pioneer town has retained its rustic roots as an original supply station for miners and trappers. Today, of Talkeetna's 24 buildings, 15 are on the National Register of Historic Places. Many locals still live in log cabins, or out in the Bush without running water or electricity.
Since Talkeetna is the nearest town to Denali, it's the de facto staging area for many climbing expeditions. In summer, the town swells with a colorful cast of international adventurers who come to test themselves against the high peaks of the Alaska Range. Still, the construction of the 300-plus-room McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge in 1997 marked a major shift in Talkeetna's role: The town grew as a hub for organized tours, with the facilities to match.
Talkeetna offers an ideal combination for many Alaska visitors: all the outdoor recreation you'll need, balanced by the relaxation of a small town that keeps civilization at arm's length. The little red schoolhouse still stands, and you'll find only one stop sign and one parking meter.and it's broken.
The most spectacular thing to do here is flightseeing; Talkeetna is Alaska's flightseeing capital. A half-dozen air-taxi operators with some of the most highly trained glacier pilots in the world can take you so close to the mountains you'll swear you could touch them. And sometimes you really can: planes outfitted with skis can land on the glaciers.
You can also remain earth-bound and have a great time. Roughly translated from the Athabascan, Talkeetna means "the place where three rivers meet," and here you'll find the Talkeetna River, which flows over 80 miles from the Talkeetna Mountains before merging with the Chulitna (which drains the south side of Denali), and the Susitna, one of the six great rivers of Alaska. All this adds up to top-notch fishing, boat tours, and rafting.
Take a scenic boat tour through Talkeetna's gorgeous river valleys, where wildlife sightings-bears, eagles, moose, and more-are practically guaranteed. Take a thrilling jet-boat tour, where you speed down the Talkeetna and Susitna rivers in a covered boat, or go for a flat-water rafting trip where you can just kick back and enjoy the scenery.
You'll find all five species of Pacific salmon (plus good-sized rainbow trout) around Talkeetna, and guides can take you where the fish are biting on the Chulitna, Susitna, and Talkeetna rivers. In town, go fish right off the Talkeetna riverbank near the huge iron railroad bridge. Rent your gear right in town.
For a different perspective on the swift-flowing Talkeetna, walk across the railroad bridge (via the pedestrian walkway). On the far side of the bridge, you can pick up the Chase Trail, which follows the railroad tracks before heading into the woods. Head down to the Talkeetna River for a look at the massive silhouette of McKinley (some 60 miles distant), plus views of Mt. Hunter, Mt. Foraker, and other peaks of the Alaska Range. There may be campfires on the beach; passers-by are often welcome to join.
For a walking tour of in-town highlights, stop by the Denali National Park Talkeetna Ranger Station (907-733-2231; corner of 1st and B), the command center for McKinley expeditions. Hear live radio communications with climbers on the mountain, browse aerial photos of the Alaska Range, and read accounts of earlier expeditions. The park service leads interpretive hikes from the station as well. Explore a 1916 trapper cabin and a re-creation of the old railroad depot at the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum (907-733-2487; west of the Village Airstrip). They have old gold-panning equipment and other artifacts on display, as well as a room-sized, to-scale model of McKinley. Pay a visit to the mountain climbers' memorial in the Talkeetna cemetery (across from the airfield east of the railroad tracks), where the names of those lost on McKinley and neighboring peaks are listed.
While in Talkeetna, don't miss out on a tour of Sun Dog Kennel, home to three-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher Jerry Sousa and his team of dogs. You'll learn how these highly trained (and very friendly) athletes prepare for the annual 1,000-mile race across Alaska, and you can even go for a dog-sled ride yourself.
A highlight of the summer season is the annual Moose Dropping Festival, staged by the Talkeetna Historical Society in July. The celebration starts with the Mountain Mother Contest, where women participants split a quart of wood, then run an obstacle course wearing snowshoes-all with the equivalent weight of a baby strapped on their back. The festival ends with the Moose Drop Contest: don't worry, no moose will be harmed. Contestants actually buy a moose dropping, which is taken up in a helicopter and dropped onto a target. The person who buys the moose dropping that lands closest to the target splits the pot 50/50 with the Historical Society.