Destination Guides

The 13 Best Things to Do in Talkeetna (According to an Alaskan!)

My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
If you click, book, or buy from one of these links, I may earn a commission. Read more in my Privacy Policy.

If you’re a prospective Alaska visitor of a certain age, it’s likely you feel like you already know Talkeetna. After all, this tiny Alaskan town served as the inspiration for Cicely, the town in Northern Exposure. (For those younger readers, this was a popular dramedy show that ran from 1990-1996.)

However, the real Talkeetna is completely different – you can’t believe what you see on TV, after all. As you might guess, Talkeetna is a town with tons of character. It’s a bit off the beaten tourist track thanks to being at the end of a dead-end highway, but well worth the detour.

Things to Do in Talkeetna Hero

Growing up in Alaska, I had the chance to visit Talkeetna a few times, but a return trip in Summer 2021 showed me how much has changed… which is to say, very little! Talkeetna is in some ways a time capsule, reliably quirky and very Alaskan in character.

If you’re planning an Alaska trip and on the fence about whether or not Talkeetna is worth a visit, prepare to be amazed. There’s a ton to do in this small, historic town ranging from outdoor adventures to history, culture, and food. Whatever you choose, these are the best things to do in Talkeetna, so you really can’t go wrong.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Dena’ina Ełnena peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in December 2021, and was updated most recently in May 2024.

1. Explore Historic Talkeetna

Part of what inspired the writers of Northern Exposure is the area of “downtown” Talkeetna – and I use the term “downtown” loosely, because it’s only a few blocks, and you won’t find a single high-rise anything in town! (In fact, there’s a city ordinance about it and a current debate ongoing regarding a cool new balloon attraction…)

Starting at the beginning, the area of Talkeetna was originally inhabited by the Dena’ina Ełnena people; European-descended settlers came to the region in the early 20th Century after gold was discovered in nearby Cache Creek. Talkeetna grew again when it was selected as the district headquarters during the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Mining remained the primary industry through the 1970s, though tourists occasionally boomed the town population (such as in 1963 when a total solar eclipse was visible!)

Since the 1970s and the completion of the Parks Highway, tourism has been a primary driver in Talkeetna, but the town has fought to retain its off-beat charm. Many downtown buildings are historic and embrace their part in Alaska’s history, such as Nagley’s General Store and the Talkeetna Schoolhouse.

2. Take a Speedboat Ride

12 Days in Alaska - Mahay's Jet Boat Adventures
Photo courtesy of Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures

If you wanna talk about operators that have been around forever in Alaska, Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures has to make the list. They’ve been running boats on the Nenana River since 1975; today their riverboat tours are one of the top things to do in Talkeetna.

There are two tour options I recommend:

  • The three-hour Wilderness Excursion is great if you only have a half-day in Talkeetna (say you arrive in the afternoon for a one-night stay before heading north to Denali or south to Seward/Anchorage). This tour covers history and culture in the area and gives sweeping views of the scenery in this remote part of the state.
  • The five-hour Devil’s Canyon Adventure is great if you have a full day in Talkeetna (as part of a two-night stay). This tour traverses some 130 miles of river and includes a short walk to educate you about Native Alaskan culture and settler history and the stunning views in every direction.

As you can tell, my suggestion on which to do depends on how much time you have. Like Denali bus tours and Kenai Fjords cruises, the longest tour you can fit in your Alaska itinerary is what I suggest booking.

3. Visit the Talkeetna Museum

In addition to walking around Talkeetna’s core area – which is definitely walkable – you could also visit the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum to learn even more about what you’re seeing and experiencing.

Located in the old Talkeetna Schoolhouse (two birds with one stone!), the Talkeetna Museum houses collections and artifacts that document life in Alaska, and specifically in this tiny town. Here you’ll learn the stories of Native Alaskans, aviators, gold seekers, and trappers – many of whom now rest in the Talkeetna Cemetery, which is worth a visit if you have the time too.

There’s also a really cool Mountain Exhibit, which houses a scale model of the Alaskan Range and Denali. Think of it as the equivalent of the Hogwarts Model Room at the Harry Potter studio tour.

4. Go Flightseeing to Denali

I typically recommend people book their Denali flightseeing with Fly Denali, based out of Healy; my #2 suggestion is based in Talkeetna.

K2 Aviation has been operating in Alaska for decades and offers an incredible flightseeing tour – including the option to add a glacier landing to any of their tours based on availability and weather. This makes the experience similar in part to the Fly Denali tour I love.

No matter which route you choose, you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping views of Denali and the rest of the Alaska Range. Since Talkeetna is actually closer to Denali than the Nenana Canyon area where the Park Visitor Center is located, the flight is a bit shorter – but no less impressive considering you won’t see any roads leading into this part of the park during your flight.

5. Go River Rafting

Things to Do in Talkeetna - Denali View Rafting
Photo courtesy of Denali View Raft Adventures

If you’d rather not have any noisy motors or jets involved with your exploration of the Alaskan wilderness outside Talkeetna, river rafting is a great option.

There are a few operators, including Willow Creek Tours, Denali View Raft Adventures, and Talkeetna River Guides. They all offer a variety of rafting adventures ranging from easy two-hour floats on the Talkeetna River to 4-5 hour rides with a bit more scenery and bumps on the water.

Like rafting in Denali, the variety means you can find something that appeals to your travel style – whether that’s for those desiring no thrills or adrenaline junkies.

6. Book a Fishing Charter

People ask me all the time about fishing in Alaska; while I grew up fishing with my dad, I don’t remember everywhere we went and am not totally up on the best places to go fishing nowadays.

I do know that Talkeetna is a good spot though, and there are a number of fishing charters available:

In all cases, you’ll be primarily fishing for salmon and other river fish (trout, etc.). Most offer both fly-fishing and sport-fishing charters, so be sure to research/call each one to find the experience you’re looking for.

7. Head Out on a Hike

Talkeetna might not strike most people as a hiking destination, but like, well, all of Alaska, there are trails if you know where to find them – and plenty of backcountry if you don’t.

Adjacent to Denali State Park (not Denali National Park), there are a number of good trails in the Talkeetna area.

For an easy hike near town, loop around Otter Lake (1.9 miles, flat and easy) or Talkeetna Lake (3.7 miles, also flat and easy), or hike four miles out and back on the Talkeetna River Trail/Chase Trail. Assuming you have a car, there are a number of other trails in the area, especially off AK-3 (the Parks Highway) between Talkeetna and Denali.

Kesugi Ridge is the go-to if you want a challenging multi-day trail. This is a 29.2-mile point-to-point trail that many consider to be one of the most beautiful trails in Alaska – if not the whole U.S. On a clear day, you’ll have insanely good views of Denali and the Alaska range.

8. Take a Sled Dog Kennel Tour

There are loads of great sled dog kennel tours across Alaska – I’ve mentioned them pretty much everywhere, including Fairbanks, Seward, and Denali. They’re also offered as cruise excursions in a number of Alaska cruise ports.

Don’t let that deter you from considering this as one of the things to do in Talkeetna; it’s a great option if you have kids or haven’t prioritized this experience elsewhere in the state. Six-time Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey runs AK Sled Dog out of Talkeetna, with both summer and winter tour options; Sun Dog Kennel is another great option with a fellow Iditarod musher, Jerry Sousa.

Unlike other parts of the state, you should expect to try “dryland” mushing in Talkeetna, if you visit during the summer months. There are no glaciers/year-round snowpacks near Talkeetna that you could take a helicopter ride to, as in other destinations (like Seward and Juneau). I just want to manage your expectations on that – it’s still a great experience, especially if they have husky puppies you can meet during your tour.

9. Ride the Hurricane Turn Train

Alaska - Railroad Engine

If you love trains and are up for a really unique experience, there’s nothing quite like the Hurricane Turn Train service on the Alaska Railroad.

This unusual service gives you a peek at life off the highway system in Alaska: the train makes whistlestop service at a number of communities along the train line (including Curry, which I really want to visit!) before turning around at Hurricane to return back to Talkeetna. It takes all afternoon/evening to do this ride even if you don’t disembark, but is a truly different way to ride the Alaska Railroad (which most people ride straight from Anchorage/Talkeetna to Denali/Fairbanks or vice versa).

Riding the Hurricane Turn Train is definitely on my next-visit list!

10. Go Ziplining

While I thought that Denali was the only place for ziplining in this part of Alaska, a little bit of research showed me that you adrenaline junkies have another option: Denali Zipline Tours is based in Talkeetna, and offers the same kind of thrill as the zipline tour you can do in Denali.

DZT offers a number of zipline tours, but the most popular is their Canopy Adventure Tour. This three-hour experience includes a handful of zip lines, as well as suspension bridges, a rappel, and a spiral staircase. You’ll also get to enjoy epic views including the Alaska Range and Denali.

11. Taste Birch Syrup

When it comes to local flavor, you’ve probably gotten the sense that Talkeetna has a lot to offer. The town is also home to one of the more unique flavors in Alaska, literally.

Operating from a facility 13 miles outside of town, Alaska Birch Syrup & Wild Harvest does exactly what its name says: they make birch syrup from Alaskan birch trees, as well as other sweets and treats. You can stop in to their facility/gift shop to take a tour, try samples, and buy delicious souvenirs. Some of my favorites include the Birch Water (a byproduct of syrup-making but not TSA-friendly if you plan to bring it home), the birch syrup cream caramels, and the salmonberry jam that’s made from berries picked on Kodiak Island. They also have delicious fireweed ice cream!

If you’re curious about some of these treats, you can find them in the Alaska Box, a quarterly subscription box I offer to bring the flavors of Alaska into your home (and other Alaskan-made goods too!).

12. Visit Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station

I know what you’re thinking. But this isn’t just any ranger station; it’s a crucial outpost for mountaineers aspiring to conquer Denali, the giant of the Alaska Range. 

The station was named in honor of Walter Harper, the first person to reach the summit of Denali. It doubles as a fascinating museum. Inside, you’ll find exhibits filled with climbing artifacts, detailed maps, and photographs that tell the rich history of mountaineering in the area. It’s an inspiring spot that connects you deeply with the adventurers who’ve scaled Denali and the natural beauty that called them to do so.

13. Go Gold Panning

Why not try your hand at gold panning? Talkeetna offers a fun and authentic gold panning experience where you can sift through the sands of time: Denali Gold Tours. There, you’ll find local experts who guide you through the process, teaching you the techniques used by the original Alaskan prospectors! 

While this is a hands-on activity, it isn’t just about searching for shiny specks. It’s about stepping back into Alaska’s gold rush era. You get to experience the rush of discovery and enjoy the thrill of maybe— just maybe —striking it rich. Whether you find gold or not, you’ll definitely get a taste of the Alaskan spirit. 

Where to Dine & Drink Locally

Last but certainly not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of Talkeetna’s drinking and dining establishments. There are plenty of good options in town, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Denali Brewpub is a wildly popular spot for dinner and drinks; during the staffing shortages of 2021, the wait was really long and I couldn’t get a table – so this place is still on my must-try list.
  • Mountain High Pizza Pie is next door and offers incredible, creative pizza options as well as Alaskan craft beer to go with it. Best of all, you can do half-and-half pizzas to make the whole fam happy (or just try a few delicious topping combos).
  • The Denali Fairview Inn is a local institution and a popular watering hole for summer employees working in the Talkeetna area. They also live music under normal circumstances.
  • I also didn’t have dinner at the Foraker Dining Room at Talkeetna Alaska Lodge (where I was staying), but my fellow John Hall’s Alaska guests said it was awesome – if you’re looking for an upscale option, this is it.
  • Incredibly important: Talkeetna Alaska Lodge also has a great coffee stand (Mount Hunter Coffee Co.), or you can fuel up at Conscious Coffee on Main Street or grab breakfast at Flying Squirrel Bakery.

That said, this is just a sampling. I saw a number of other delicious-looking spots for a meal – way more than you can try during the 1-2 night stay in the area that most people do.

Where to Stay in Talkeetna

There are a lot of funky, off-beat accommodation options in Talkeetna, but here are two I like:

  • The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is the best option in town, with sweeping views of Denali on a clear day – but it’s way out of town, cutting you off from the local flavor (book on the hotel website or
  • Rocky’s Cabin is a historic cabin in the heart of town. You can’t book online; call 907-229-6053 to inquire about availability and prices.

As I said, there are plenty of others – especially smaller, family-run options, but these are the two I recommend to start with.

Have any questions about things to do in Talkeetna and how to spend your time there? Let me know in the comments!

Continue Planning Your Talkeetna Trip!

The Complete Talkeetna City Guide gives you all the info you need to plan your time in Talkeetna, in one convenient place.

Get this ebook for just $7.99!
(Or buy a bundle of city guides and save!)

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Joseph Kaveloski

    I lived in Kenai for 4 years , with the Army. Thourghly enjoyed it, 5 days work, 3days off…know the “Kenai” like the back of my hand from Lands End to Palmer. My tour was in the 50’s and my wife and I returned in 1990. Amazed at the rebuilding, inproves, addittions, loved it all the more. Being “young” , buddies took the local young ladies to the post theatre often , became acquainted with the local native residents. Bought a pickup and started going to Anchorage bringing back items the businesses needed, airfreight was expensive…..It was a hard decision to rotate back with the offer of 40 acres near the now Nisiske, where oil was found later,,,I gotta stop,,,once I get started,,I loved KENAI ……….Thanks for your post , mesmerizing,,,,,Joe …….

  • Luise

    Is there a parking lot where we could park our truck with travel trailer to visit Talkeetna for a few hours enroute south from Denali NP to Anchorage? We are 60 ft long in total. We dont mind walking a little to get into downtown if needed. We just do not want to get into downtown and get stuck with no where to turn around to get back out. thanks.

    • Valerie

      Sorry, I’m not sure about that but I definitely wouldn’t drive into downtown Talkeetna. It does not have space for that kind of vehicle.

      • Connie

        It will be our son’s 40th birthday and my husband woud like to take him to Alaska next August. It will be grandpa, son, 15 year old and 8 year old. We had thought Coooper Landing for fishing at first, but then read about Talkeetna. Do you think they would enjoy 4 or 5 days here? Thank you

        • Valerie

          Hi, Connie! I wouldn’t spend that much time in either place – I usually recommend no more than 2 days in any one area so you can enjoy more of what Alaska has to offer.

  • Jennie

    Hi Valerie-
    I am headed to Talkeetna Sept 20th with my sister. We are planing to stay the night and do Flightseeing with K2 the next day. We are deciding where to stay (it’s a bit last minute). The cabin you recommended will be closed for the season. And the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge does not have availability.

    I am deciding between the Talkeetna Roadhouse, Little Cabin in the back or Chinook Wind Cabins. Do you know anything about these options?

    I just love your site…it’s so well written and informative. I;m using a lot of your suggestions for my upcoming trips…September AND June (with my whole family)!

    Thank you so much for your help!

    • Valerie

      Sorry, I don’t have a specific recommendation between those three. Be prepared for a rustic option, and you’ll be fine no matter what you choose 🙂

      • Karen Buelow

        Hi Valerie, We will be visiting in May in June and wonder how far in advance we need to book some of these excursions such as the flightseeing, River rafting, discovery riverboat tour in Fairbanks, etc. Can these be booked a day or two in advance or do we need to book them now? Thanks very much for all your helpful information. We appreciate you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *