Talkeetna was one of my favorite stops during my recent trip to Alaska. It’s a fairly small place – so small that I did wonder what people do there in the long winter months. But comes summer, Talkeetna comes to life and there certainly are quite a few cool things to do in Talkeetna.
This charming village is nestled in the heart of Alaska. It oozes in frontier history and rustic allure. Many travelers in Alaska use it as a base to explore Denali National Park (one of the most famous National Parks in the United States), but there is enough in this small community to keep you busy for a day or two without necessarily having to head out to the national park itself.
Curious to find out more? Continue reading as I share my selection of unmissable things to do in Talkeetna.
The Best Things To Do In Talkeetna
Explore the historic village
The area where Talkeetna is today was once the land of the Dena’ina Ełnena people. Once word got round that gold had been found in the Cache Creek, settlers of European descent came in flocks in the early 20th century, and Talkeetna became the district headquarters when the Alaska Railroad was being built.
It was only from the 1970s onwards that Talkeetna became a tourist destination, even more so after the series Northern Exposure was released in the 1990s (based in a fictional town that very much resembles Talkeetna).
Downtown Talkeetna is only a couple of blocks, really, and it won’t take you long to check it out. It won’t take you much to feel completely transported to the early 20th century thanks to the lovely, rustic buildings that are a clear testament of Alaska’s rugged past. Notable buildings include the Talkeetna Schoolhouse and Nagley’s General Store.
Pay a visit to Talkeetna’s Mayor
Speaking of Nagley’s General Store, this is where you will find Aurora, Talkeetna’s current mayor. Well, she’s not really the mayor, but she may as well be since she is by-and-large Talkeetna’s most notable figure.
Aurora followed in the footsteps of Stubbs, a charismatic cat that was beloved by locals and tourists alike and who was also a resident of Nagley’s General Store, and who served as mayor of Talkeetna until 2017, and Denali, Aurora’s brother, who sadly passed away more recently.
You will have to try your luck at finding Aurora. As any proper mayor, she does what she pleases – she goes in and out of the store, but worry not: she wears a GPS and is brought back to the warmth and safety of the store every night as soon as it gets dark. Give it a try, as this is one of the unmissable things to do in Talkeetna!
Visit Talkeetna Historical Society Museum
Located on the grounds of the Talkeetna Schoolhouse, Talkeetna Historical Society Museum is a great place to learn more about the history and culture of the area. It’s easy to find it as it is located a block away from Nagley’s General Store, in the center of Talkeetna.
Here you will find an interesting exhibit of artifacts, photographs, and documents that chronicle the region’s evolution, from its indigenous roots to its gold rush era and aviation history.
It’s an interesting place to visit to learn more about the challenges faced by the first settlers as well as by the local indigenous communities, as well as the aviators that made it to the region (and who are mostly buried in Talkeetna Cemetery), and how Talkeetna became the small town we know today.
Don’t miss the Mountain Exhibit, where you can see a scale model of the Alaskan Range and Denali.
Take a flight over Denali
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Talkeetna, so if your budget allows you should not miss the chance of checking out Mount Denali from the sky. Scenic flight tours to North America’s tallest peak depart from Talkeetna every day – provided that the weather conditions are good (flights don’t depart if it is raining heavily or if it is too windy).
During your 1.5 to 2 hours flight, you will get to admire the rugged terrain of Alaska, the glaciers and the summit of Denali too. It’s a unique opportunity to snap an iconic photo of Denali from up close. You can also add a glacier landing for an even more thrilling experience.
The most reputable company for Denali scenic flights from Talkeetna is K2 Aviation.
There’s also Talkeetna Air Taxi which is another very popular option that leaves passengers enthusiastic.
Enjoy a night out at Fairview Inn
For a fun night out, this is one of the coolest things to do in Talkeetna – provided you happen to be there at the right time.
The Fairview Inn can qualify as your regular pub, complete with rustic decor, cozy ambience, pub fare and drinks. What makes it particularly attractive is the live music that is played here almost regularly on summer nights, and that attracts both locals and tourists.
We were not so lucky to find live music when we visited (it was the very end of the summer season), but we still enjoyed looking around the pub, checking out at all the photos hanging on the wall. Many seemed to be family portraits; others were of the various singers who performed at the Fairview Inn – among them there is also John Denver!
Take a speed boat tour
As I have said before, Talkeetna sits at the convergence of the Susitna, Chulitna, and Talkeetna rivers, so it goes without saying that one of the best things to do there is a boat tour. There are many to pick from and several reliable local operators. Different tours have different duration, so I recommend picking one depending on how much time you are overall spending in Talkeetna.
We were actually short on time so opted for the Wilderness Excursion by Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures, which lasts 2 hours. Throughout the tour we got stunning views of the surroundings and we got to learn more about the history and culture of the Talkeetna region.
If you have more time, they also have a longer tour – the Devil’s Canyon Adventure – that lasts 5 full hours and includes a nature walk and the chance of learning more about the Dena’ina Indigenous Communities as well as the life of the settlers.
Fishing is by far one of the most popular summer activities in Alaska, and you should definitely try your luck at catching some salmon (or trout) while in Talkeetna! If you’d rather go with an expert guide (and fisherman) you will have many operators to choose from, such as Talkeetna Fishing Guides and Talkeetna Wilderness River Fishing Guides.
Keep in mind they offer different experiences – in some cases you will be fishing from a boat, in other cases directly from the shore, so just enquire and make sure you book the experience that is right for you.
Experience river rafting in Talkeetna
Talkeetna is renowned for its prime location near the convergence of three major rivers—the Susitna, Chulitna, and Talkeetna. It goes without saying that one of the top things to do in Talkeetna if you want to experience nature at its best and take a chance of admiring local wildlife is rifer rafting.
There are all levels of rafting tours – some are simply scenic and you just enjoy the ride, others are a bit more adventurous and there will be some rapids too. Duration varies too, with some tours only lasting a couple of hours, others lasting up to 5.
There are a bunch of local operators you can enquire with. The most reputable ones are Talkeetna River Guides, Willow Creek Tours and Denali View Raft Adventures.
Go on a summer Sled Dog Kennel tour
Sled dog tours are a popular activity in Alaska. However, there are no snowpacks or glacier in or near Talkeetna (not even one you can reach by plane), so, especially if you are visiting in the summer months, a sled dog tour here means mushing on dryland. It’s actually a lot of fun!
If this is something you are keen on doing, you may want to consider AK Sled Dog, managed by Iditarod (sled dog race) winner Dallas Seavey.
There’s also Sun Dog Kennel and Susitna Dog Kennel, which is a great option if all you want to do is actually just seeing the kennel and play with the puppies.
Go zip lining
If you are a fan of zip lining as much as I am, then this will be one of the things to do in Talkeetna for you. Reputable local operator Denali Zip Line Tours runs an incredible tour where you get to literally fly through the forest. The longest zip line is an exciting flight of 183 meters (600 feet) above the Reflection Pond.
But that’s not all! You also get to walk on suspension bridges, rappel and even go up and down a spiral staircase in the magnificent forested ridges of the Susitna River Valley.
The tour lasts three hours, during which you will have plenty of time to take in the incredible views of the surroundings – on a clear day you can even see Mount Denali. It’s a great, fun way of learning more about the local environment as well as the history of the area.
You can book your zip line experience with Denali Zip Line Tours directly online – the tour even includes transportation from and back to your hotel in Talkeetna.
Go on a hike near Talkeetna
If you are looking for more things to do in Talkeetna, you may want to consider a nice walk or a hike. Truth be told, you won’t find many trails in the immediate surroundings of Talkeetna but if you don’t mind a little drive, I really recommend the Hatcher Pass area. It’s little over 1.5 hours drive from Talkeetna (70 miles, or 112.6 km)
We hiked the Lane Basin Trail in Chickaloon and the views were spectacular throughout. The trail is very well marked and the hike is fairly easy. The entire loop is around 6.2 km (which is about 3.85 miles) with moderate elevation gain.
If you keep a good pace, you can complete the hike in about 2.5 hours. The main difficulty here may be the terrain – it’s quite wet and boggy, and you will often find yourself crossing small and not-so-small creeks, so good hiking gear is essential: you will need boots that are waterproof and have ankle support, and protective rain gear from head to toe.
If you don’t feel like driving, near Talkeetna you will also find several nice walking trails. There’s the Otter Lake loop, which is a 3 km (1.9 miles) loop trail close to town, and there is the Talkeetna Lake trail, which again is a very easy walk of about 6 km (3.7 miles).
For more hikes, make sure not to miss my post The Best Hikes In Alaska.
Where To Eat In Talkeetna
Although it is fairly small, there are quite a few good places to dine in Talkeetna. These are the ones I tried and enjoyed.
On our first night in Talkeetna, my friend and I really did not know where to go for dinner. We walked around for a bit looking for something to tickle our tastebuds until the rain forced us to walk inside the first place we could find, and that happened to be the Kahiltna Bistro. We could not have made a better (accidental) choice!
We found the vibe to be incredibly friendly – it’s perfect even if you are traveling with children. The menu has a strong focus on local fish and seafood, but there are a few options for those who don’t prefer fish.
There is a fair selection of wines and local beers on tap, and excellent fish and seafood. We had the Alaskan crab and it was absolutely delicious.
This is one of the most popular dining spots in Talkeetna. It serves the typical pub fare in an easygoing atmosphere. Service is pretty quick so you even if you show up without reservations you won’t have troubles finding a table. You can dine inside or outside – don’t worry, they have heaters so you won’t get cold!
Mountain High Pizza Pie
Right next to Denali Brewpub, this is one of the most popular places to eat in Talkeetna. You may want to steer away from their signature Mountain High Pizza Pie which calls for some 30 ingredients (the menu suggests “everything but the mosquitoes”) as it’s frankly too much, but if you go for the classic you won’t be disappointed.
Where To Sleep In Talkeetna
The choice of places to stay in Talkeetna is actually quite limited. There are only a few good places to stay in the village, and they get booked up soon – which means you have to book well in advance for a chance to find a spot.
You can also opt to stay out of town in the the surroundings but that means you would have to drive any time you want to eat out.
We actually stayed at the Swiss Alaska Inn and I honestly can’t recommend it. While it certainly is budget friendly compared to most places in the area, the rooms are also very small and old, not exactly spotless, and the staff can be a bit moody and unwelcoming.
The one good thing there is breakfast (which is not included in the price, so you can walk in even if you are not a guest) but service is excruciatingly slow (we waited for 1.5 hours!).
With this in mind, I have selected a couple of better options for you.
Denali Fireside Cabin & Suites
At Denali Fireside Cabin & Suites you can opt to have a room or a full cottage. All rooms are equipped with a kitchenette in case you prefer self catering. Rooms are spacious, the beds comfortable, wifi is available for all guests and there is ample parking on the premises.
There are only four rooms at Talkeetna Villas, but all of them are nice and spacious, cozy and equipped with a kitchenette so you don’t have to leave your room to enjoy your morning coffee. A laundry room is available for all guests to use.
Susitna River Lodging
Nice rooms with a rustic feeling just outside the center of Talkeetna. It’s definitely one of the coziest places to stay in town! All rooms have a small kitchenette in case you prefer self-catering.
For more guidance in planning your trip to Alaska, make sure to read these posts: