OFF-BEAT FAMILY fun and Alaska history are alive and well in the small community of Talkeetna, an easy 120 miles from Anchorage and a popular year-round destination for southcentral residents.
It’s not a fancy place. In fact, Talkeetna prides itself on a decidedly simple format for attracting visitors. One store, a single museum and a roadhouse that serves only “Breakfast” or “Not Breakfast” on the menu. Oh, and did I mention that a cat is their mayor?
Yeah yeah, I'm the mayor. Can I finish my nap now?
Talkeetna residents thrive in this mountainside mecca and visiting guests will almost certainly be affected by its contagious energy. From would-be mountain climbers intent on testing their mettle upon the flanks of Mt. McKinley to scores of tourists from nearby corporate cruise-tour companies like Princess and CIRI Alaska Tourism, the town maintains a widely appealing authenticity not often found in popular destination communities. To truly experience Talkeetna, however, one must detach from the usual jet-boating, flightseeing, ziplining adventures and slow down a bit.
Grab an ice cream & chill out at Wildwoods Playground
Bike the Talkeetna Spur Road which starts at Mile 98.7 of the Parks Highway. A paved, mostly-level bike path winds from the highway into Talkeetna, passing homesteads and absorbing fantastic views of the Talkeetna, Susitna, and Chulitna rivers, with the Alaska Range in the distance. Bring bikes, plenty of water and bug spray, and plan to spend a day exploring. Talkeetna Bike Rentals also rents cruiser bikes and trikes for a very reasonable $20/three-hour tour. Most kids age seven and up can manage this two-wheeled trip to town and back, albeit with several breaks. Refuel at Mountain High Pizza with a slice of heavenly pie, or the historic Talkeetna Roadhouse and a lovely “Non-Breakfast” pasty or hunk of macaroni and cheese.
Ride to the water’s edge and view the braided streams of the Talkeetna River. Here, jet boats turn and burn on their way upriver and the Alaska Railroad chugs farther north after disgorging passengers at the tiny Talkeetna train station. On a clear day, Mt. McKinley towers over the scene, and eagles frequent treetop perches. Take a break here, or ride back toward the train station and Wildwoods Playground Park, built by the town and offering a fabulous selection of age-appropriate play equipment and activities.
For a glimpse into rural Alaska life, stop by the Talkeetna Historical Society’s museum, located at 22248 South D Street downtown. Housed in a little red schoolhouse with a few outbuildings scattered on the property, this museum offers a wonderful, real-life opportunity to learn about Talkeetna, its history and the town’s success due to mining, aviation, climbing and the railroad. Admission is $3 for adults, with kids 12 and younger admitted free. Want more information about Mt. McKinley and nearby Denali National Park? Stop by the Talkeetna Ranger Station, where all climbers must register and where maps, trail information and ranger-led interpretive programs are available. Find the station on B Street in downtown Talkeetna.
Fuel up before riding back to the car with a stop at Nagley’s General Store, where cool ice cream awaits and Mayor Stubbs rules with an iron fist, er, paw. Nagley’s store has provided visitors with many cats, in fact, and Mayor Stubbs has recently garnered the attention of national media and welcomes pats on the head from young visitors.
Some cats are trying to sleep here.