Last week, I headed north to Talkeetna for some beautiful views of Denali. But the smoky weather put a damper on any airborne adventures.
Instead, I walked across the street from the Talkeetna airport to the home of North Shore Cyclery. Shawn Thelan opened the shop last year and has bikes of every size and variety. Since I drove a big RV into town, I opted for one of the fat bikes, which rent for $15 an hour or $95 for 24 hours. There also are mountain bikes if you want to take advantage of some of the trails around town. Thelan has several trail maps on his website of off-road trails in the area.
For such a small town, there are lots of fun trips for locals and visitors alike. Although I took the highway north from Anchorage, you also can board the Alaska Railroad every day for the ride up to Talkeetna. The depot is an easy walk to Main Street.
If you drive up to Talkeetna but still want a train ride, take the “Hurricane Turn” trip that goes north from Talkeetna up to Hurricane Gulch. This is the nation’s last “flag stop” railroad, where you can stand out on the track and flag down the train.
There’s no food service on the train, so stop at the Talkeetna Roadhouse and pick up a box lunch to go.
There are a couple of trips available where you can ride the train north, then float in a raft or take a jetboat down the Susitna River back to Talkeetna.
If you want to get up high for a better view, go on the Denali Zipline Tour, with nine ziplines, three suspension bridges and a couple of other thrills. One of the zip stations features a beautiful view of Denali on a sunny day. The final zip takes you across a big lake. The crew provides helmets, harnesses and a robust safety briefing. The cost is $149 for adults and $119 for kids.
If it’s sunny outside, Ashley Kaso of Talkeetna River Guides recommends a float trip on the Chulitna River. “Denali and the whole Alaska Range are visible for most of the float,” she said. “We put in just before the Chulitna River bridge and float back to Talkeetna from there — so rafters get to go through the confluence of the Susitna River and the Talkeetna River as well,” she sa
Captain Israel Mahay has grown up on the rivers around Talkeetna. His dad, Steve Mahay, founded Mahay’s JetBoat Adventures in 1975. “All our trips are great,” he said, “but I really like the Devil’s Canyon tour on the Susitna River. We take a big, stable boat for the 135-mile journey. That way, even though the visuals are exciting as we go through Class IV and Class V whitewater the boat is solid.” All of Mahay’s trips include a stop at a Dena’ina Indian Encampment and a trapper’s cabin on the banks of the Susitna River.
No matter which trip or activity you choose, chances are good you’ll be hungry. Trisha Costello runs the Talkeetna Roadhouse, which offers big breakfasts, including pancakes so big they flop over the edge of the plate. There are two types of menu items at the Roadhouse: “breakfast” and “non-breakfast.” Additionally, you can’t miss the huge display of sweets and treats available at the counter. Nobody goes away hungry at the Roadhouse, which is open year-round.
“The Roadhouse, along with Nagley’s Store and the Fairview Inn, make up the holy trinity of legacy businesses in Talkeetna,” said Costello. Both Nagley’s and the Fairview were built around 1923. Nagley’s is the local store and also has the West Rib Pub and Grill attached to it. The Fairview is best known for its lively bar, which features live music each evening.
Along Main Street in Talkeetna are several other eateries, including Mountain High Pizza Pie (right across from the Talkeetna Roadhouse), Denali BrewPub and the Wildflower. Just past the pizza place is a polished-up Airstream trailer where they serve some delicious spinach bread. I had just finished my pizza, but still could not refuse a few slabs of cheese-and-spinach-covered bread.
Last week while visiting the Denali BrewPub, one of the owners, Sasson Mossanen, mentioned it was the company’s 10th anniversary (July 11). “Making beer is easy,” he said. “But making good, consistent beer is really difficult.”
Mossanen is dedicated to manufacturing his beer, gin, vodka and whiskey in Talkeetna. Denali Brewing quickly outgrew its downtown location and moved the brewery and distillery out of town, closer to the intersection with the Parks Highway.
At the Denali BrewPub, you can opt for a regular-sized glass of craft beer or choose a 5-ounce “tasting glass” to sample some of the best varieties. I recommend the Single Engine Red or the Mother Ale.
Mossanen has teamed up with the North Shore Cyclery to offer a tour of the brewery. Beer lovers meet at the bike shop to get fitted for their electric-assist bikes. Then, there’s an 18-mile ride from the shop to the brewery at Mile 2 of the Talkeetna Spur Road. On arrival, there’s a full tour of the facility. After a fair amount of sipping, touring and tasting, taxis are called to load up the bikes (and riders) for the trip back to Talkeetna.
Since I was driving an RV, I noticed there were several RV parks along the Talkeetna Spur Road. There also is a campground at the end of Main Street, although it tends to fill up pretty quick.
There are several hotels and inns close to town, including the Talkeetna Inn, which is close to the Susitna River, from $139 per room. Susitna River Lodging has both a lodge and a collection of private cabins just before you reach downtown, from $199 per night.
Additionally, you can look online to find an incredible selection of houses, yurts, cabins, renovated buses and campsites at vacation rental sites like Airbnb.
The nicest place in town is the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, which sits on Ski Hill just south of town. On a clear day, there’s an unobstructed view of the mountain. Summertime rooms start at $209 per night and there’s a full bar and restaurant. Of special interest is the collection of memorabilia from the adventures of Brad and Barbara Washburn. Brad Washburn was the first man to map Denali, and many of his maps still are in use today.
Travelers from Anchorage can zip up for the day to take advantage of Talkeetna’s trips and adventures. But if you spend a night or two, you’re well-positioned to do two or three fun trips.