Page 19 - RV Alaska
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Photo: NPS/Kent Miller Photo: Sarah Kunze
Gateway to Denali
The tiny town of Talkeetna is the gateway to Denali National Park, the six million-acre wilderness that’s home to North America’s tallest peak (Denali, formerly Mt. McKinley). Like many of the towns populating Alaska’s interior,
it was founded on dreams of gold. In 1905, the precious metal was found at Cache Creek, just west of Talkeetna, and the discovery led to hordes of prospectors descending on this remote location. Ten years later the area was selected
as the headquarters for the Alaska Railroad’s engineering commission, which brought a very different crowd, surveyors and laborers working to connect Fairbanks to the
Port of Seward on the Gulf of Alaska.
Nowadays, Talkeetna is a hotbed of outdoor recreation, serving as a basecamp for hikers and for the intrepid
Photo: Jenni Conrad
Talkeetna’s most famous resident is almost certainly its former mayor, Stubbs the cat. Some locals will tell you that Stubbs overcame his electoral challengers through a very successful write-in campaign, but in reality, Talkeetna doesn’t have a mayoral election since it’s not legally a town, but rather a historic district.
Stubbs lived an adventurous life
in Talkeetna. Residents cite a crosstown tour on the back of a garbage truck and an accident with a non-operational deep
fryer as some of his most colorful stories, though nothing tops his 2009 altercation with a dog, after which he underwent medical treatment in Wasilla, 70 miles away. After a harrowing nine-day hospital stay, the mayor returned to his city for a short period of rest and recuperation before carrying on with his mayoral duties. Sadly, Mayor Stubbs passed away July 21, 2017 at the age of 20 and three months.
climbers summiting the park’s namesake peak. However, climbing Denali is a serious endeavor that requires years of experience and training,
so most tourists satisfy themselves with views of
the mountain from below. For those wanting a closer look, the famed peak can be seen from the comfort of an airplane on the several flight- seeing tours that leave from Talkeetna.
Various outfitters also offer tours through the park, and having a guide is particularly useful since Denali doesn’t have the well-worn trails you’d find at parks in the Lower 48. Actually, once you get beyond the visitors center, there are no maintained trails at all.
For visitors who want to enjoy spectacular scenery without the cost of flight-seeing (or the
effort of a hike), the Hurricane Turn train offers one of the only true flag stop experiences in the U.S. Passengers can
hop on and off whenever
they like between Talkeetna and Hurricane Gulch a couple hours away, just by notifying the conductor. Riders can access remote hiking trails
and fishing holes, as well as backcountry cabins that would be otherwise impossible to reach without a bush plane.
As Talkeetna lies on the eastern banks of the Susnita River, there’s no shortage of water sports available. Jet boat
tours, white-water rafting excursions, and guided fishing trips all leave from Talkeetna and provide fun-filled days on this wild, scenic river and its tributaries.
The town’s proximity to Denali and resulting level of tourism
means it has a more interesting dining scene than would normally be expected for a town of less than a thousand residents. The cuisine ranges from home-style American to Thai and Indian, and a couple food trucks even operate during the summer.
For families visiting Talkeetna, children will love the playground at Wild Woods Park. It features a variety of swings, mazes, cabins, and slides, all constructed from rough-hewn timbers from the nearby forest.
To get to Talkeetna from Anchorage or Fairbanks, turn at the bear statute in front of the Talkeetna Visitors’ Center (milepost 98). The town is located along the Susitna River at the end of the Talkeetna Spur Road, 14 miles from the George Parks Highway.
The Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station is the beginning point for all mountaineering expeditions. The center also offers general park information, climbing information for
the Alaska Range, summer interpretive programs, and a bookstore. It is named in honor of Walter Harper, the first person to summit the Mountain.

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