A short (by Alaskan standards) 180km north of Anchorage, Talkeetna is paradise on earth for fishermen. Meaning “river of plenty” in Native American, the community is located at the confluence of three rivers – the Talkeetna, Chulitna and Susitna – and was a fishing site for the original inhabitants, the Tanaina people.
A gateway to the spectacular Denali National Park, it is a popular destination for anyone looking for adventure or a hike against a backdrop of breathtakingly beautiful scenery.
I visited Talkeetna in August and enjoyed very mild temperatures, mid to late teens, and only required a warm jacket on one of my days.
Depending on how fast you drive, it takes approximately 2 hours to get to Talkeetna from Anchorage. Although the highway was quite busy leaving the state’s capital, the traffic quietened down very quickly and it is an enjoyable and stress-free drive.
The dense forest is home to a vast number of species of trees, bushes and grasses, and is undergoing a truly impressive regeneration programme. Although the area was recently damaged by a recent wildfire, it is already recovering, and the sight of beautiful flowers in bloom amongst burnt trees is an ode to survival.
If you need a break on the way, you will find many places to stop outside of Anchorage for last-minute supplies and petrol, such as Eagle River and Willow Creek. Talkeetna has petrol stations too so you needn’t worry about an untimely empty tank.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Talkeetna Wilderness Lodge and Cabins Rentals, located on Michele Drive approximately 10 minutes before reaching Talkeetna village off Talkeetna Spur Road.
If you are after tranquillity and seclusion, you couldn’t find any better. The six new cabins offer all comfort you could dream of, including a deck protected with insect screens. If you have read my previous blog Anchorage – Gateway to Denali, you will remember how I learnt the hard way not to venture anywhere without dousing myself with insect-repellent cream, so I came prepared this time. However, there wasn’t a single insect around, much to the locals’ surprise. Never mind, better safe than sorry!
The cabins are within walking distance of Montana Creek which is laden with silver and king salmon at this time of year – a fisherman’s paradise!
I was fortunate enough to meet a very friendly family who owns property on the river edge and was kind enough to educate me on the area and wisely pointed out to me the recent black bear visit to the area.
Reservations and more information about the cabins can be found here.
What to do in and around Talkeetna
Day trip to Denali National Park
It is always difficult to do justice to areas of outstanding natural beauty with words, and Denali National Park is no different.
A 2-hour drive from Talkeetna, Denali Park covers 6 million acres of wild land with low-lying taiga forest set against a background of high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, with, of course, Denali, peaking at 6,190m above sea levels. The park is so remote that wild animals are able to live and roam freely and who knows what you will encounter!
There is only one road crossing the park, but it is best explored on foot anyway, on one of the many hiking trails offering expansive views of the park and river floodplains.
If you don’t have a car, you can also access the park by train or various bus tours. Be prepared, though, and bring food and drinks with you as there are few options in terms of refreshments.
To whet your appetite, visit the park’s website which will also help you plan your trip.
Float plane ride over the Denali National Park
If you are used to large commercial planes, a flight in a small seater will give you a completely different experience, more intimate. Taking off and landing on water is itself thrilling! It will also allow you to see more of Denali National Park than you could on foot or by car, and enjoy sweeping views of pristine lakes and unspoilt landscapes.
I joined an already booked private tour with a couple who had a spare seat, and the flight included landing on a remote lake, Spink Lake, as well as flying amongst towering cliffs and glaciers at the base of Denali (formerly Mount McKinley).
It was an overcast day, but we were incredibly lucky, as the clouds cleared momentarily to reveal the full height and splendour of Denali – a sight I will not soon forget. At 6190 m above sea level, Denali is the third most prominent after Mount Everest and Aconcagua.
The pilot was very informative and happy to answer any questions, which certainly added to the quality of the experience. Find out more about the Alaskan Bush Float Plane Service.
Sample a beer or two
At the end of a hard day enjoying all those beautiful landscapes, a man needs a drink!
Beer brewing is serious business in Alaska: consumer purchases of Alaska’s beers generated US$23 million in tax revenue in 2014. Alaska also ranked 4th in the US in terms of craft breweries per capita.
There are many options for sampling local beers in Talkeetna, including the excellent Denali Brewing Company.
Their Brewpub uses local ingredients whenever possible for an authentic Alaskan taste, be it their beers or the food. The bar and restaurant staff are incredibly friendly and will recommend beers that will go well with the food your order. I had the halibut and of course could not pass on the locally caught fresh salmon which I can’t recommend too warmly.
During the summer months, you can enjoy your meal and beer outside. Good beer, good food in an idyllic setting, what more could you possibly want?
If you have enjoyed your beer a bit too much, remember to observe the alcohol limits if you have to drive yourself home – they are enforced. The blood alcohol limit in Alaska is 0.08% unless, for some reason, you are driving a commercial vehicle, when it then goes down to 0.04%.