Talkeetna has its own special flavor. A bit quirky (where else can you buy Moose-dropping earrings or a “lollipoop”—moose dropping on a stick?), very scenic, and what most of us think of when we conjure up thoughts of an “Alaskan” town. For the full effect, try to schedule your visit during the Moose Dropping Festival the second weekend in July …and if you’re “Mother” enough, you can enter the Mountain Mother contest while you’re in Talkeetna.
It’s thought that Talkeetna was the inspiration for the television series, “Northern Exposure.” Locals say they can identify most the TV characters with Talkeetna characters.
Location: Situated near the confluence of the Susitna, Talkeetna, and Chulitna rivers, north of Anchorage off of the Parks Highway, 14 miles up the Talkeetna Spur Road, it’s a side trip on the way to, or from, Denali National Park.
Population: 360, more or less.
Description: “Welcome to beautiful downtown Talkeetna” is hand-painted on a sign planted in an old wheelbarrow along with a collection of wildflowers on the main street into Talkeetna. Straight ahead is the famous Fairview Inn. When trying to make reservations, the owner will warn you that “they have a live band downstairs and rooms upstairs. If you want a quiet room, you might want to try down the street.” (Unfortunately, the Fairview is tied up in a lawsuit and not open at the moment.)
Tourists and international mountain climbers, fishermen and artists, bush pilots and river raft guides make up Talkeetna in the summertime. Many of the year ’round residents paint, sculpt, sing, play the guitar at the local hangouts, weave, and write.
Talkeetna has a Chamber of Commerce, a post office, a couple of laundry facilities, a general store, several coffee houses, and a collection of shops, art galleries, and tour offices. The Talkeetna Ranger Station provides information on Denali National Park and climbing within the Alaska Range. Talkeetna is the starting point for many of the climbs to the Mt. Mkinley summit in Denali National Park & Preserve.
History: Prospectors on their way to the goldfields of Alaska traveled up the Susitna River in 1896. Talkeetna came into being as a supply center for miners and eventually a riverboat station in 1901. The population boomed in 1910 with the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Talkeetna was chosen as the headquarters for the Alaska Engineering Commission in charge of railroad construction north to the Tanana River at Nenana.
At the completion of the railroad, from Seward to Nenana, President Warren Harding arrived to drive in the “golden spike” in celebration of the new railway. He visited Talkeetna on his way back south, dropping in the Fairview Inn for a drink. A few days later he died—Talkeetna residents like to think that perhaps he was poisoned at the Fairview Inn…
The population peaked at about 1000, then mining and World War I took its toll. Talkeetna residents began to dwindle until 1064 when the George Parks Highway spur was built. Hunters, climbers, and those who enjoy outdoor recreation now had access to Talkeetna.
How to get there: The Alaska Railroad express train runs daily with stops in Talkeetna from late May until mid-September, between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Drive the Parks highway to mile 98.7 to the Talkeetna Spur Road. The Spur road is another 14.5 miles into Talkeetna.
What to do: First things first. Walk down Main Street to the Road House Bakery and buy a couple of ginger cookies–they are the best!
Seeing Mt. McKinley from the air is quite an experience. If the sky is clear, take advantage of the weather immediately—don’t wait until “tomorrow.” Chances are the clouds will close in again for several days. Flight-seeing and glacier landing tours can be booked in town as well as at the airport with little or no waiting. Some tours require oxygen and there is an age restriction.
Shopping is fun in Talkeetna—it is a tourist destination afterall. Coffee shops, souvenier shops, and art galleries pepper the main street.
The Talkeetna Historical Society Museum is a nice stop. The old schoolhouse features an exhibit of Don Sheldon, the bush pilot who pioneered the landing of climbers on Mt. McKinley’s glaciers for their quest to reach the top. (He is also the father of Kate Sheldon, the villain, Nadira, on the TV series the “Power Rangers)
The Talkeetna Ranger Station on corner of 1st & B streets, serves as a visitors’ center.
A reference library and mountaineering orientation program is also available to climbers. Ranger programs are offered during the summer season.
Float trips down a glacier-fed river and fishing are always a popular choice. Often they can be combined to explore Talkeetna Canyon, Devils Canyon, Chulitna River and the Tokositna River. Take in views of nesting bald eagles, beaver activity, moose and black bear on a jetboat safari. Get a bit closer to the forest with trail rides on horseback, horse-drawn wagon rides, or a pack-trip.
Facilities: If your looking for quaint and original accommodations check out the numerous B&B’s, the famous Roadhouse, hostel, cabin rentals, and the campgrounds in Talkeetna. For more modern accommodations just up the spur is the Talkeetna Lodge.
There are a couple of campgrounds around town. There is a fee for camping.
Eating in Talkeetna is a pleasant, often entertaining, experience. The Roadhouse specializes in BIG breakfasts of reindeer sausage, pancakes, huge cinnamon rolls, juice, and good coffee. It’s not uncommon to sit at the table with international climbers as many of them room at the Roadhouse before and after their climb.
Behind Nagley’s Store on Main Street is the West Rib Pub & Grill. It’s a great place for lunch, and on a sunny day, sit outside and enjoy an Alaskan Amber.
For dinner and a “show,” try Mountain High Pizza Pie. This the nightly gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Live music, great pizza, and a good time will be had by all.
RV: There are a couple of RV parks in town. Nice facilities with clean showers, and walking distance into downtown Talkeetna.