Arty, outdoorsy Talkeetna lies just outside the vast Denali National Park. Many of the things to do in Talkeetna relate to its status as a base camp for anyone attempting the climb of the 20,320-foot Denali.
But the town is more than a mountaineering hotspot; there’s history here from the heady days of the Gold Rush. As such, Talkeetna has retained much of its historic feel, with clapboard houses and old log cabins lining its streets. You’ll find galleries, traditional pubs, and independent shops in the downtown area.
Out of town, the vast wilderness of Alaska awaits, with everything from river floating to hiking, zip-lining, wildlife-spotting, and dog sledding on hand. And if the clouds part, wherever you are in town, you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the vast, ice-and-granite bulk of North America’s tallest mountain.
Here are 11 things to do in Talkeetna.
Talkeetna is a tiny Alaskan town with a population of less than 1,000, and just a couple of blocks to explore around Main Street.
Here, you’ll find classic Alaskan architecture, with clapboard houses and some interesting historic buildings, some on the National Register of Historic Places.
Check out Nagley’s Store, an institution since 1921, when it used to supply miners and trappers. Nagley’s was also the home of Stubbs, Talkeetna’s honorary mayor from 1998 to his death in 2017. Stubbs was a ginger cat, which tells you something about the gentle eccentricity of this town. The baton has now been passed on to Denali, a descendent of Stubbs.
You’ll also pass the 1923-built Fairview Inn. The claim to fame of this rustic, wooden-floored saloon is that President Warren G. Harding dined here just days before his death. Stop by the Talkeetna Roadhouse, a historic bakery and café famed for its cinnamon rolls, pancakes, reindeer sausages, and bottomless coffee.
There are plenty of Alaskan souvenir and craft shops selling everything from locally harvested birch syrup to local pottery, organic teas, gold nugget jewelry, and products made from local plants, such as Devil’s Club salve.
Stroll Talkeetna Riverfront Park
A good place to extend any exploration of downtown is the pretty Talkeetna Riverfront Park, gazing across the broad, braided Susitna River.
You can stroll the wooded paths around the park. With a bit of good fortune and clear skies, you’ll have magnificent views of the mighty, icy hulk of Denali, towering above the bottle-green forest and the lesser peaks that surround it.
Sometimes, local craft vendors set up stalls around the park, so you can browse their wares as well as admire the views.
Fly Over Denali
Chances are you won’t be climbing Denali, so why not opt for the bird’s-eye view instead? Small aircraft take off from Talkeetna’s airstrip for thrilling flightseeing trips over the 20,320-foot peak.
You’ll soar over seven Alaskan glaciers, with some operators even offering a landing on the ice. Look out for stripes of moraine, dazzling ice falls, and brilliant blue meltwater pools as you fly over vast rivers of ice.
Some tours circle Denali’s pointed peak, so you can see sheer rock faces, ridges, and pinnacles. Others take you over the summit, offering a true Alaskan adventure that requires you to wear an oxygen mask.
You’ll also see Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker, 14,500 feet and 17,402 feet respectively, so still massive mountains in their own right. Whichever tour you choose, this will be the thrill of a lifetime and really is one of the best things to do in Talkeetna.
Float Down the Talkeetna River
If you prefer to admire the scenery from nearer ground level, take a relaxing float or go river rafting along the Talkeetna River.
Some of the waterways around Denali are turbulent and fast-flowing, but the mellow Talkeetna River is perfect for a float in an inflatable craft with a guide, requiring no effort whatsoever.
This leaves you free to gaze at the magnificent views of the Alaska Range and look out for Alaskan wildlife.
There are chances to spot bald eagles and their nests, bears, moose, beavers, foxes, and waterfowl. A section of the tour takes you onto the broader Susitna River, which is where you need the camera ready for the dazzling sight of Denali.
Of course, if floating is a little too tame for you, there are other options. You can take a high-speed jet boat tour along the Susitna River into the wilderness, where you’ll stop to visit a reproduction Dena’ina encampment, to see how the original settlers lived, and an authentic trapper’s cabin dating back more than 100 years.
Sample Local Dishes
Appetites in Talkeetna are robust, thanks to all that outdoor activity, and there are some great places to stop for a bite of authentic Alaskan food and meet the locals.
Mountain High Pizza Pie on Main Street, unmissable due to its bright purple color, does homemade pizzas with a strong emphasis on local and foraged ingredients, from fiddlehead ferns to Alaskan salmon and reindeer. There’s often live music here, too.
The Flying Squirrel Café, three miles out of town, is a fabulously creative bakery, again using local ingredients, from rhubarb and berries to local birch syrup. Stop here for brownies, cakes, and artisan bread on your way to or from Talkeetna Lakes Park, just 10 minutes’ walk away.
For local Alaskan salmon, which has to be tried on any visit to Alaska, head for The Salmon Spot on Main Street, at the Denali Fairview Inn.
This former Juneau favorite has popped up in Talkeetna, offering juicy salmon burgers, creamy homemade chowder (try the version that comes in a sourdough “bowl”), and salmon cakes, all from wild Alaskan salmon.
Taste Local Brews
Locally-owned Denali Brewing Company produces a wide range of craft beers, all using Alaska-grown ingredients where possible. Try them at the Denali Brewpub on East Main Street, a popular local hangout offering burgers, sandwiches, and BBQ dishes.
Alternatively, head to the Brewing Company’s tasting room on Talkeetna Spur Road. Here, there are more than 20 beers on tap and a fine menu of wood-fired pizzas.
There’s also a distillery producing gin and vodka using botanicals for the gin including spruce tips, as well as a cider works and a meadery.
Zip Over the Forest Canopy
Enjoy an eagle’s-eye view of the spruce and hemlock forests on a thrilling zipline tour. The course near Talkeetna has nine ziplines, three suspension bridges, a spiral staircase, and a rappel at the end.
As well as the adrenaline rush of zipping between the wooden platforms, which are built around trees, this is a chance to smell the piney scent of the fresh air, take in the views, and appreciate the calm and beauty of Alaskan nature.
One of the lines even flies you across a tranquil lake. This is a great tour to pick if you’ve got teens in tow.
Learn About Denali
If you’re mesmerized by Denali, which many are, you can learn more about America’s highest mountain while you’re in Talkeetna. The name Denali, given to the mountain by the Native Alaskan Koyukon Athabascans, means the “Great One”.
The Talkeetna Historical Society Museum tells the story of the first climbers who summited Denali, including a relief model of the mountain and a photographic display. Try to attend one of the talks here by the park rangers; they’re fascinating.
If you peek into the wildflower-strewn cemetery near Talkeetna’s airport, you’ll see just how many lives Denali has claimed. There’s a memorial dedicated to climbers who have died in their attempt to summit the mountain and its neighboring peaks.
If you’re more of a vicarious climber, pop into the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station in town, which monitors the various expeditions on the mountain and has an informative video and display that any prospective climbers should watch.
Meet Friendly Huskies
Just because there’s no snow in summer doesn’t mean Talkeetna’s sled dogs are resting. They need to be kept fit year-round. Many of the dogs and their mushers that you’ll meet in local kennels are champions, with a long pedigree in the world-famous Iditarod race.
Summer presents an opportunity to try your hand at dog mushing on a wheeled sled, dashing along forest trails. A visit to a kennel teaches you all about the huskies and their care, the races in which they participate, and the cultural importance of dog sledding in Alaska.
Sled dogs are by nature sociable, energetic, and happy dogs, and you’ll receive a warm, wagging welcome. There’s often a chance to pet the adorable husky puppies, too, in the knowledge that you could be stroking a future Iditarod champion.
Hike in Talkeetna Lakes Park
Commune with nature in the nearby Talkeetna Lakes Park, a network of eight miles of gentle trails winding their way around four Alaskan lakes (interestingly named X, Y, Z, and Tigger), set amid dense, old-growth forest of spruce, birch, and cottonwood.
There’s a real sense of being in the wilderness here, despite the fact that Talkeetna is only three miles away. You can choose your trail, although most are flat and easy.
The three-and-a-quarter trail around X lake is one of the prettiest. You could spot beavers, foxes, or bears, and the birdlife is impressive; listen for the call of loons across the glassy lakes.
Learn to identify local plants; in spring, you’ll spot roses, mauve columbine, and fiddlehead (the tops of ferns, which the locals consider a delicacy), while fall is prime season for picking berries.
If you prefer not to walk, there are rental outfits in town where you can pick up a mountain bike for a relaxing ride through the forest.
Sample Birch Syrup
Maple syrup, perhaps, but birch syrup? You may be surprised to learn that Talkeetna is home to the world’s largest producer of this liquid gold.
Kahiltna Birchworks, now called Alaska Wild Harvest, was founded 32 years ago by Dulce and Michael East, who tap more than 11,000 trees around Talkeetna in a sustainable, true “goods from the woods” business. They also buy berries, sap, and chaga, a local mushroom, from suppliers in the area.
A visit to the production facility is a journey through the production cycle of birch syrup, and a chance to try birch products and berries in the tasting room, from syrups and candies to birch apple butter and almond brittle.
Berry jams, raw honey, and chaga tea, said to be a powerful immunity booster, are also on offer. You can even have a birch syrup-flavored ice cream from Motley Moo Creamery in Anchorage, custom-made for the Easts.
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