This post is a continuation of the story of my first, and so far only, long-distance travel in the last 18 months. In May 2021 my son and I spent a few days in Talkeetna, AK. It was the second in the last 20 years that we visited this tiny village in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.
I wouldn’t blame those who may be wondering why anyone would travel thousands of miles to this tiny, remote outpost once, much less twice. Hopefully, this post will provide some basis to show that is not as strange as it sounds.
Other posts from our Alaska trip in May 2021.
The primary reason for traveling to the middle of nowhere was the simple act of traveling again. A cheap airfare and the flight distance involved, 9,753 statute miles (15,695 km) round trip from our home in Charlotte, NC (CLT), while avoiding the pandemic hassles of crossing international borders was too good to pass up. The opportunity to revisit some of the sites of a very enjoyable trip when we were much younger was the icing on the cake.
Even without those factors, I believe you will find Talkeetna to be a great place to include on one of your future adventures.
Talkeetna is situated at the confluence of the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna Rivers in southcentral Alaska. The town got its start in 1916 as a district headquarters for the construction of the Alaska Railroad. The railroad connects Anchorage, the state capital and largest city, and Fairbanks, AK, the state’s second largest city. In 2018, the estimated number of residents was 965. In spite of its small size, there’s a ton of things to do.
Getting to Talkeetna
Many tourists reach Talkeetna via the Alaska Railroad. May to October service is daily from Anchorage and Fairbanks, Cruise ships that make port calls in Anchorage or Seward often offer multi-day rail tours to Denali National Park that allow stops in Talkeetna.
Talkeetna is located just off the George Parks Highway about halfway between Anchorage and the entrance to Denali National Park. After our flight to Anchorage from Utqiaġvik, we rented a car at the airport and drove to Talkeetna. It took about 2.5 hours for the scenic 115-mile drive.
Tip: when renting a car in Alaska, all other things equal, use your credit card that has the best insurance coverage especially one that covers damage from rocks and other road hazards. Actually, that applies to renting a car anytime you might be driving on backcountry or unpaved roads. Fortunately, our rental car suffered no damage on this trip.
So, here are some of the neat and sometimes unique things that Talkeetna offers.
Soak Up The History And Ambiance
After arriving in Talkeetna, I’d suggest wandering around town on foot to get a feel for the place. Talkeetna is a great example of a frontier Alaskan town. The downtown area is listed on the register of National Historic Places. Many buildings date back to the early 1900s including Nagley’s Store, Fairview Inn and the Talkeetna Roadhouse.
Talkeetna is reputed to be the model for the town of Cicely in the television series Northern Exposure that ran for several seasons in the ’90s. Currently, Talkeetna appears regularly in Railroad Alaska, a show on the Discovery Channel that has been running since 2013.
There are many lodging options to choose from including hotels, road houses, bed & breakfasts, Airbnbs, and camping and RV grounds.
We stayed at the Talkeetna Inn, a small hotel on the banks of the Susitna River.
There are about 20 hotel rooms located in a one-story building across from the A-frame lounge and check-in facilities. The accommodations are basic and typical for Talkeetna.
The historic Fairview Inn occupies a prime location in the center of town. We dropped in for a beer on our walk around town.
The Denali Brew Pub was our favorite but there are plenty of other options in town as well.
Mountain High Pizza Pie is located adjacent to Denali Brew Pub.
This restaurant sometimes offers live music at its outdoor pavilion. Check the website for dates, times and performers.
Our second favorite restaurant was a little establishment run by ladies of Chinese descent that had only been open for two weeks. D.Y. Kitchen is centrally located at the intersection of Main Street and the Talkeetna Spur Road. The menu features Asian and Indian dishes that add variety to the standard American and pub food served in most of the other restaurants.
There are many other dinning options on Main Street including the Fairview Inn and Talkeetna Road House. Other restaurants are located on the Talkeetna Spur Road that connects to the Parks Highway.
Take A Brewery Tour
Denali Brewing Co. operates a brewery that supplies the brew pub with locally brewed beer, ale and cider. It is located on the Parks Highway just before the Talkeetna Spur Road turnoff. It offers tours in non-Covid times which is when most would have a chance to visit.
Enjoy Views Of The Alaska Range
Talkeetna is known as the gateway to Denali, North America’s highest mountain. Denali and the snow-covered peaks of the Alaska Range, some 60 miles (97 km) distant, are easily visible from town.
Explore The Alaska Range By Air
Flightseeing is my favorite Talkeetna activity. The town is known as the gateway to Denali. Several companies operate tours from Talkeetna Airport for up-close views of Denali and other peaks and some include landing on a glacier.
On this trip, I took two flights into the Alaska Range that will be covered in detail in an upcoming post.
The rivers and lakes around Talkeetna present excellent opportunities for expert and novice anglers alike. Salmon, rainbow trout, grayling and dolly varden are some of the species populating the local waters.
The confluence of Montana Creek and the Susitna River is our favorite spot.
We had a blast fishing on our previous visit but passed this time due to time constraints.
Several places in and around town sell and rent gear. Catching a few is pretty much guaranteed. It is possible to freeze and ship or take the home.
Climb Denali Or Other Alaska Range Peaks
Flightseeing is not the only business for the air taxi operators at the airport. Talkeetna is the jumping of point for expeditions to Denali and other peaks in the Alaska Range. Flights depart daily to ferry climbers and supplies to and from base camps in the Alaska Range.
Climbers wishing to attempt Denali or other peaks in the Alaska Range must first stop at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station to receive an orientation and obtain the necessary permits.
The ranger station is most definitely worth a visit for everyone. It is situated just off Main Street near the Talkeetna Inn where we stayed. The station offers visitors fascinating information on mountaineering and Denali history. A titillating video about climbing runs throughout the day. The rustic building also hosts a permanent collection of stunning photos of the Alaska Range.
This is a good map of Talkeetna. The star pinpoints the location of the ranger station.
Those who like hiking will find plenty of opportunities in and around Talkeetna. Check with the ranger station. Denali State Park is on the Parks Highway about an hour’s drive from Talkeetna. This park has well marked trails through spectacular scenery.
Boating And Rafting
Companies offer several kinds of rafting and jet boat adventures from Talkeetna. One of these trips should be on everyone’s list. We’ve never taken one of these adventures I’m sorry to say as our time was filled with other activities. The excursion that looks most interesting is a jet boat tour to Devils’ Canyon in Denali State Park. The tour includes a short nature walk to Dena’ina Indian Encampment and authentic trapper’s cabin.
Hurricane Turn Flag-Stop Train
As mentioned, the Alaska Railroad runs through Talkeetna. The Hurricane Turn Train follows a 55-mile route through the wilderness from Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch.
In addition to tourists, the train serves Alaskans who use it to reach cabins or homes that are otherwise inaccessible. It is said that these individuals are very open to sharing their experiences, and will give tourists the real story of life in backcountry Alaska.
The Hurricane Turn Train is one of the last operating flag-stop trains in the U.S.. Passengers can hop on and off as they please. To disembark, they notify the conductor of the milepost where they wish to stop. To get back on, passengers wait at a milepost and wave a flag and the train will stop.
The highlight of the trip is the slightly terrifying (at least it would be for me) Hurricane Gulch Trestle. The train crosses 296 ft. (90 m) above a creek. It is the longest trestle on the Alaska Railroad.
This list is long, but barely scratches the surface of activities that are available in and around Talkeetna. However, one of Talkeetna’s best attributes is it is perfectly acceptable to just do nothing. Another appealing aspect of life in Talkeetna, and Alaska in general, is the laid-back atmosphere. People don’t “put on airs” there. The town exudes an “Old West frontier town” feeling.
If your travels take you to Alaska, I highly recommend spending a few days in Talkeetna. What activities would interest you most, or is relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere the best option?