Small in size Talkeetna is barely more than a main strip of quirky bars, great restaurants and humble lodgings. But Talkeetna explodes during summer months as the gateway to the beautiful Alaskan wilderness and the highest peak in North America, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley).
Denali’s prominence, and the absence of large surrounding peaks, makes it a postcard-perfect mountain.
Mount McKinley’s prominence (the vertical height from its lowest contour to its summit) is perhaps its most remarkable feature: it ranks third in the world, after Mount Everest in Nepal and Aconcagua in South America.
Denali is a mountain with fairly gentle, snow-covered slopes. It has five glaciers running from it—the Peters, Muldrow, Traleika, Ruth and Kahiltna glaciers—of which the 44-mile Kahiltna is the longest.
Denali was previously named Mount McKinley by the gold prospector William Dickey, after President William McKinley (1897 until his assassination in 1901).
President Barak Obama announced that Denali would revert to its previous name—meaning ‘the tall one’ and given to it by the indigenous Koyukon people—in a September 2015 visit to Alaska.
The mountaineering season is short, spanning from May to July, and during this time Talkeetna is crammed with wizened climbers and their considerable kit.
Denali is a difficult peak that should only be attempted by experienced climbers. The mountain can be bitterly cold (up to minus 40 degrees Celsius), is often battered by ferocious winds, and feels higher than it really is (on account of low barometric pressure caused by the northerly location of the mountain).
These factors mean that the overall success rate of climbers attempting the summit is in the region of 50%.
Whilst an important objective in its own right, and a significant step towards those attempting the 'Seven Summits' (the highest peaks on each continent), Denali is also often used as a training peak for those heading to the Himalaya, and particularly those thinking of attempting to climb Mount Everest.
Expeditions to climb Denali by the easiest West Buttress route typically take about 17 days. Teams will fly into the region by bush plane, usually landing on the south-west corner of the Kahliltna glacier. They will then establish up to seven camps, at between 7,200 feet (base camp) and 17,200 feet, as they gradually acclimatize to the altitude.
Though the climb is not technically demanding, with snow slopes up to 45 degrees, a number of crevasses add to the danger of the climb.
There is a whole host of things to do around Denali from a plane journey around the summit to
Its artifacts and old photographs document the history of Talkeetna from the gold miners that flocked in the early 1900s to the climbers who have tackled Denali’s peak.
The Talkeetna Museum's highlights include a large model of the entire Alaska mountain range and there is a talk from a local ranger about climbing Denali.
You can also pick up a walking tour brochure which will guide you around the small but quirky town of Talkeetna.
when? Winter: weekends only 10am to 6pm; Summer (mid-May to mid-Sept): every day 10am to 6pm.
£$€¥ US$3 per person (children under 7 go free).
In summer months, tourists can take advantage of the railroad on the day turnaround service from Talkeetna to Hurricane (passing through Curry, Sherman, Gold Creek, Twin Bridges and Chulitna en route). This trip leaves early afternoon and returns in the evening and passengers can get a marvelous view of the Alaska mountain range along the way.
The trip is a voyage into the great outdoors, with stupendous views of forests, lakes and mountains, and a route that crosses numerous impressive bridges (such as the 914-foot bridge close to Hurricane Gulch).
Note: there is no dining car on this service, so pick up a packed lunch from one of Talkeetna’s stores.
The editor says:
The railroad is a real Alaskan highlight and well worth a ride if you are in town. Unlike most train services it is possible to stop and get off anywhere along the line (the ‘flagstop’ service). Just make sure you are there when the train returns or you may get stuck in the woods! You will also regularly catch a glimpse of the hardy folk who live off grid in the Alaskan woods as they come out to flag down the train for a ride into town.
directions? Talkeetna Railway Station.
when? mid-May to mid-September; Thurs to Mon; October to May: 1st Thursday of the month.
£$€¥ Adults: $100; children $50.
During the summer when the Susintna River thaws Talkeetna is a good place to exploit these excellent fishing conditions as the trout and salmon are teem upstream to spawn.
Depending on your time of visit these are the different types of salmon you can hope to catch:
|May to June||Red Salmon|
|June to July||King Salmon|
|July to August||Pink Salmon|
|July to August||Dog Salmon (so-called as they are not good enough for human consumption!)|
|August to Sept||Silver Salmon|
Tours can be easily arranged during summer months from multiple offices on the main strip of town.
It’s not often you can buy a hot coffee or pick up a pack of chewing gum whilst visiting the mayor’s office. This, however, is a curious possibility in Talkeetna.
The mayor 'Mr Stubbs' comes in feline form and resides at the town’s general store, Nagleys. Although critics claim that as Talkeetna is a district not a town there is no official mayor, Stubbs’ title is an honorary one and more of a fun fable the locals are happy to continue.
There has been an impressive three-hour zip lining course set up in Talkeetna and if you are in town and have a spare afternoon it is a great chance to get up close and personal with the pristine Alaskan forest.
The longest zip at the end of the tour is 600 feet and there are great views along the way of Denali and the Susitna river. The price is $149 for adults and $119 for youths.