ON THE MAP: Talkeetna

[by Michelle Theall]


Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the town of Talkeetna offers some of the best views of the Alaska Range, starring Denali—front and center across the confluence of three rivers and soaring to a staggering 20,310 feet. Groups of mountaineers with dreams of ascending “ The Great One” give the town its distinctive, laid-back-granola vibe, and it’s rumored that the 1990s hit show, Northern Exposure, was based on this quirky, character-infused hamlet. Access the town by private vehicle or via the Alaska Railroad for Talkeetna’s 25 miles of hiking trails, 14 miles of paved biking paths, and unparalleled fishing in rivers containing all five species of salmon, trout, and Dolly Varden. Or relax with hoppy beers, Denali flightseeing, and a meet-and-greet with the town’s honorary mayor—an old cat named Stubbs that lives in Nagley’s Store. Small-town Alaska, just as you pictured it.

  • Live at Five! Concert Series – Fridays in Talkeetna mean music. Bands from all over Alaska and the Lower 48 entertain guests for free in Talkeetna Village Park through Labor Day weekend. Unwind from 5 to 7 p.m. stretched out on a blanket to tunes cranked out beneath the midnight sun.
  • Denali Brewing Company and Twister Creek Restaurant – Craft beer after fishing, hiking, biking, or all of the above caps off the day local style. Sourcing many of their ingredients for beer and food from the Susitna Valley and surrounding areas, Denali Brewing Company and its adjacent Twister Creek Restaurant serve up creative fare to replenish calories, along with a generous signature and seasonal beer list to quench your thirst. Try the Twister Creek IPA or Denali Schwarzbier with the Twister Creek Fish ‘n’ Chips to reward the day’s adventures. denalibrewingcompany.com
  • Talkeetna Spinach Bread – Located on Main Street next to the Dancing Leaf Gallery, a silver vintage Airstream trailer welcomes walk-up diners for cheap eats as unique as the town itself. Spinach bread is their namesake offering, but other specialties include a blueberry rhubarb crisp, assorted curry dishes, and a chipotle spice sipping chocolate.
  • Talkeetna Air Taxi – Beyond flying mountaineers to begin their climbs on the highest peak in North America, Talkeetna Air Taxi gives mere mortals the chance to land on a glacier in Denali National Park, flight see the Alaska Range and heli-hike into a lush tundra-laden backcountry. Options exist for various activities and levels of ability from a company boasting more glacier landings than any other company in the world. talkeetnaair.com
  • Sun Dog Kennel – Mushing without snow might seem impossible, but world-class mushers have to keep their dog teams in shape year-round, which means tourists can ride along to help. At Sun Dog Kennel, owner and top-20 Iditarod finisher Jerry Sousa regales visitors with race stories and a demonstration of sled harnessing and mushing preparation inside of a structure with a map of the Iditarod course painted on the fl oor and sleds and medals hanging from the rafters. A sled dog ride (on wheels) wends through scenic forested trails and ends with the chance to hold newborn puppies at the kennel. sundogkennel.com
  • Denali Zipline Tours – Experience the northern boreal forest of the Susitna Valley from treetop heights offering unparalleled views, including Denali. This three-hour tour includes nine zips, three suspension bridges, and a rappel over rivers, ravines, and mountain ridges, culminating with the final zip over the postcard-perfect Reflection Pond. denaliziplinetours.com

NAGLEY’S GENERAL STORE

Nagley’s General Store in downtown Talkeetna serves as the only grocery store in the town, as well as a purveyor of coffees and hand-dipped ice cream cones. Though the historic, pre–gold rush era trading post has undergone various incarnations, some might say it hasn’t changed one bit. The building, with its barn red façade and steeply pitched roof, remains the focal point of the town—literally and figuratively. A few items of interest appear below:

  • The store was originally named Nagley’s Trading Post after Horace Nagley, who built the Susitna Station log cabin in 1917 at the confluence of the Susitna and Yentna rivers so that goods and supplies could be brought in from Anchorage by boat.
  • The original construction of the building was a 1½-story, 25-by-35-foot log structure with squared corners.
  • In 1921, when railways usurped water travel as the primary mode of transportation, Nagley moved the store to the corner of Main and B Streets in Talkeetna, where it became an outpost for miners, trappers, and railmen.
  • The third move to its present location at the entrance of Main Street came in 1945, precipitated by a massive flood. A tractor pulled Nagley’s down the street over the course of several days, while the store continued to do business as usual.
  • After the move, Nagley added a 14-by-35-foot woodframe shed to the store’s western side, which later became a liquor store and pub. The West Rib Deli & Pub was named after the most difficult routes on Denali and serves as a thirst-quenching social hub for climbers and pilots.
  • In 1947, a new owner changed the name to B&K, but in 1994, a subsequent owner changed it back to Nagley’s to honor Horace Nagley’s contributions to Talkeetna.
  • On New Year’s Day in 1997, Nagley’s burned to the ground. Talkeetna residents helped rebuild the heart of their community in less than four months.
  • Many cats live at Nagley’s, but the most famous has been its honorary mayor, Stubbs.
  • Benches out front encourage visitors to take a load off and stay awhile.

Michelle Theall is a contributing editor for Alaska magazine and a professional nature and wildlife photographer.