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August 18th 2015
Published: November 7th 2016
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Of the many tiny towns with great personality in Alaska, Talkeetna stands out as the artsy, bohemian mountaineering gateway to Denali. Recommended to us by our nephew Shannon, this busy flight center for those aspiring to conquer The Great One lies at the end of an 11 mile access road.

To reach there from Valdez, we took the Glenn Highway across the southern belt of the interior through Palmer, Wasilla, the heart of the Matanuska Valley and started north on the George Parks Highway toward Denali. As we drove up the Talkeetna Spur road, the sky lit up with a spectacular sunset, with brilliant shafts of sunlight shooting through dramatic clouds. We hurried to a turnoff that our 1998 Milepost guide said offered an unstoppable view of Denali. When we arrived, tall trees had grown in the intervening 18 years, blocking all visibility, so we raced like mad to the town itself to catch the last of the light. When we arrived downtown, we joined a current of people walking out to the Chulitna river bank and caught the day’s end with a throng of others appreciating the beautiful show.

Returning to town, we secured one of the last spots in the townsite campground. Our camp host, a friendly laid-back woman, checked us in. She lived in a funky old aluminum RV trailer surrounded by flowers and played Grateful Dead music right up until curfew.

After setting up our tent, we meandered down the few blocks of town in the dark, pausing outside the jammed Fairview Inn to take in the live music before heading back to our crowded little campsite for the night. We had learned not to expect peace and quiet in a townsite but the trade-off for the experience of hanging out one night in Talkeetna was well worth it.

In the morning, I had one of the best breakfasts of the entire summer at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, famed for its authentic sourdough hotcakes. We explored the main drag in daylight which quickly filled up from busloads of tourists. It doesn't take long to cover both sides of the two or so blocks, including the newer Princess Cruise extension, but it’s fun browsing among the cute stores and take corny photos kissing a moose or posing in an old fashioned sled. Another recommended visit is to the historical museum and the ranger station to learn more about mountaineering and climbing Denali.

The access road also showed signs of development as we enjoyed a really topnotch Alaska Birch Syrup shop on the way out. The products reminded us a lot of Vermont maple syrup with lots of yummy samples.

We’d also recommend checking out their local library on the spur road. As mentioned before, every town in Alaska seems to have an absolute gorgeous library. Maybe it’s the long winters but their libraries are each unique and thoughtfully designed, celebrating the local art and history.

Talkeetna was a lovely prelude to our last big and highly memorable adventure in Alaska before heading back to the lower 48.

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