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Said to be the inspiration for the wacky hamlet of Cecily on the popular TV series Northern Exposure, the tiny town of Talkeetna is a quirky destination with an artsy and outdoorsy community. Sitting on the confluence of 3 rivers in the shadow of Denali, the city offers much in the way of recreational activity, from camping and hunting to climbing the continent’s highest peak. A gold-mining town at the turn of the 20th century, Talkeetna has maintained much of its early Alaskan personality. Log cabins and cottages line its quiet dirt roads, while Downtown boasts roadhouses, souvenir stores, and a selection of rustic eateries. Whether you want to hike Denali, go rafting on the river, or peruse the shops for traditional crafts, there’s something for everyone in the unique Alaskan city.
Downtown — Centered along Main Street—one of the few fully paved roads in the area—the city greets visitors with a hand-painted sign reading, “Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna.” Along this and nearby streets, find unpretentious restaurants, funky gift shops, nostalgic lodges, and locally run brewpubs. On D Street, the Talkeetna Historical Society gives visitors a look into the rich heritage of the region, while 1st Street’s Susitna Salmon Center is a great place to learn about the area’s most important natural resource. On the east side of town are a handful of companies offering tours that range from jet boat adventures to sightseeing flights. In the warm weather months, the west side is where locals and visitors alike go to soak up the sun and relax on the river. If you really want to experience the town’s quirky character, you can’t miss a stop by Nagley’s General Store. Until recently, it was here where visitors could meet the city’s mayor of 20 years—an orange cat named Stubbs. His duties have since been taken over by feline successors Aurora and Denali.
Denali National Park — Spanning 6 million acres (2.4 million ha) to the north of Talkeetna, Denali National Park is a haven of nature and home to the highest mountain in North America. For the truly daring, you can put your wilderness skills to the test by scaling the peak to a height of over 20,000 feet (6,190 m). However, for those not interested in climbing, the park offers other recreational activities as well. Hike a range of trails for various skill levels, bike the Park Road that bisects the land, or wander the forest in search of wildlife such as bears, caribou, and sheep. In the summer, the Denali Visitor Center offers dogsled demonstrations, ranger-led walks, and amphitheater programs, while the winter is the ideal time to visit if you want to snowmobile or snowshoe.
Scope out the most majestic views of Denali National Park on a sightseeing flight over its mountainous landscape. From Downtown Talkeetna, board an 8-seater plane and grab a spot near the window as your pilot gets ready for takeoff. Once in the air, marvel at the sights as you fly over the winding rivers of the Susitna Valley and into the craggy elevations of the Alaska Range. With your pilot providing commentary on the region’s stunning natural features, gaze down upon ancient glaciers, granite gorges, frozen waterfalls, and snow-blanketed slopes. Admire breathtaking views of Denali’s sister peaks—Mount Hunter and Mount Foraker—and then fly further into the alpine tundra on the north side of the park. Bask in bird’s-eye views of the cliffs and couloirs of the Wickersham Wall before looping back to Talkeetna.
There’s no end to the outdoor adventure to be found in Talkeetna and beyond. Within the city, you can board a jet boat for a ride on the river, soar high above the forest on a thrilling zipline course, or go swimming in Christiansen Lake to the east of Downtown. Further south, Talkeetna Lakes Park offers an easy 3.5-mile (5.6-km) walking trail, along with docks where you can board a canoe for fishing on the lake.
Of course, no visit to Talkeetna is complete without a visit to Denali National Park. Located less than an hour north of the city, the south side of the park is known for its abundant wildlife, verdant forest, and spectacular views of its namesake peak. Take a stroll around crystal-clear Byers Lake or hike one of the 4 trails ascending K’esugi Ridge for panoramic views of the mountain.
Back in town, refuel with a meal at a casual eatery on Main Street, or treat yourself to a gourmet dinner at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. If you’re looking for entertainment, live music can be heard throughout the week at the historic Fairview Inn, a favorite of the locals for nearly 100 years. Throughout the year, the city also hosts festivals and events that bring out visitors from Anchorage, Fairbanks, and beyond. Come in late winter for the annual fat tire bike race, visit in early August for the ever-popular Bluegrass Festival, or show up any weekend of December’s Winterfest for its parades, contests, variety shows, and bazaars.