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"Talkeetna is a unique blend of old-time Alaska small town and modern tourist destination.  
It is an aviation and supply base for Mount McKinley (Denali) climbing expeditions. 
Talkeetna has restaurants, lodging, shops, excellent museums, sled dog kennel 
tours, fishing, horseback riding, and flight-seeing and river tours."
~ from The Milepost book, 2011 edition, p. 406
Considering my total fascination with Denali, visiting Talkeetna was high on my list of things to do in Alaska. Climbers are required to begin their orientation and obtain their permits here.

Although I'll never climb North America's highest peak, I just had to learn more about the history of climbing Denali. Fortunately, Talkeetna is located only 14 miles off the Parks Highway on a good paved road and was an easy side trip today on our way to Denali State Park:

Talkeetna Spur Hwy. and bike path both run 14 miles from the Parks Hwy. to town.

Here's the map section from The Milepost website that I used in the last entry to show the proximity of Talkeetna, Denali State Park, and Denali National Park & Preserve:

That's just the southeast part of the huge national park.

Note the location of Mt. McKinley, which I prefer to call Denali, its Native Alaskan name. By air it is about 60 miles from Talkeetna to the summit of the mountain. Not that you can land there, though . . .


It would have been more fun to tour this funky little town if it hadnít been raining and chilly but we made the best of it.

Not only is Talkeetna perfectly situated for spectacular views of Denali (on a clear day), the town is also popular because of its artsy residents, imaginative businesses, and the mystique of the mountain-climbing community that spends time here every spring and summer.

One of the more colorful businesses in town, Mountain High Pizza Pie

Above and below:  rustic home of one of the residents (Grizzly Gold, maybe??)


Equally rustic shop located near the Talkeetna Ranger Station

Originally I thought weíd leave the camper along the Parks Hwy. and just drive the truck 14 miles up to Talkeetna since it is a small town and weíd heard there isnít much parking for large RVs.

Since it was raining we decided to just drive on into town with the Cameo.

That worked out OK this time. We found a spot to park along the street across from the Denali National Park Ranger Station/Visitor Center. That was pure luck because there wasnít room anywhere else in town today that we could see for a large rig.

The main street has room for passenger vehicles or small RVs
but not big rigs, even on a rainy weekday in the summer.

Keep that in mind if you're driving an RV to Talkeetna. You may well have problems finding a place to park it on a sunny day or weekend when there are even more people visiting the town than there were today.

We spent about two hours in Talkeetna from approximately 1-3 PM.

We could easily have spent a lot more time than that if we weren't focused on getting a campsite up the road before suppertime.


We went into the ranger station first, which was a good thing.

After we briefly walked around the inviting lodge-type room with all the climbers' banners and flags we went over to talk to the ranger on duty:

Inside the Talkeetna Ranger Station



The ranger told us to walk right away about 200 yards to another building in the historical societyís complex to hear a ranger talk about climbing Denali. We didn't realize it, but this summer the talks are given at 10:30 AM and 1 PM. We're lucky we got there when we did.

We passed an old faded red building that used to be a school (built in 1936) and is now the historical society museum:

The Denali speech is done only twice a day in the mustard-colored Railroad Section House behind the old school:

It features a 12x12-foot model of Denali and surrounding mountains. The main climbing routes are marked on it. There are also lots of historical pictures of the climbs, old and new climbing equipment, and other exhibits.

We got there just after the 1 PM talk began and I waited until after the ranger was done speaking to take pictures. The room was pretty crowded during his talk, with folks standing all around the large model in the middle of the main room.

The ranger stuck around after his talk to answer guests' questions.

We could hear and see the ranger clearly, though. He talked about the procedures all the climbers have to go through before they are permitted to climb the mountain, mentioned some of the rules (no oxygen, carry out your poop and trash, etc.), showed us photos of the various camps along the way, and gave all sorts of other interesting information.

He stressed safety procedures and emphasized how important it is to respect the mountain on various levels (environment, weather, etc.).

About 1,200 people attempt to summit Denali each year between the end of April and the beginning of July. The average summit rate is 50%. This year it was only 40%:

No mention of the six climbers who died up there this year . . .

Bad weather is one of the main reasons people fail to summit. Inadequate training, injuries, and altitude sickness are others.

Rangers are located at two levels on the mountain to deal with illness, injuries, and rescues (about 11,000 feet and the camp at 17,400 feet). They stay for a month so they are well-acclimated.

Climbers are encouraged to spend several days at each of four or five levels so they can acclimate adequately. It takes two to three weeks for most folks to safely get to the summit and only a couple days to descend.

Most of the accidents and deaths occur on the descent when people are tired and more careless.

Or, as the ranger dryly observed, in too big a hurry to get down and post their comments on Facebook!

Visitors can walk on all four sides of the large scale model of Denali and surrounding peaks.
I loved all the colorful flags and banners representing countries climbers have come from.

This year six climbers died from injuries sustained on the mountain. Five died in 2011.

I don't often rely on articles from Huff Post (or Wikipedia) for my information but this article is pretty interesting about the historic death count on Denali (reportedly 120 people since 1932) and the number of bodies that are still up there (reportedly 44, including four Japanese climbers who disappeared during an avalanche in mid-June).

[Addendum for 2013: according to this web article by Anchorage Daily News dated July 19, 2013 a record number of climbers reached Denali's summit, a total of 787 people. The number of registered climbers was fairly low -- only 1,151 people. That resulted in a successful summit percentage of 68%, the highest in 36 years. There was only one death in 2013.]

The various climbing routes up Denali are marked on the model.
The West Buttress route is the most frequently used.

This feature is cool:  if you stand at each corner of the model and look across the room,
there is a large B&W photo of Denali on the opposite wall from the same angle as the model.

As we listened to the ranger Jim and I were both independently thinking how we would have wanted to climb Denali if we were younger. Ten or fifteen years ago we maybe could have done it. Now we canít in our 60s because of our bum knees and decreased level of fitness.

Itís not the first time this summer that Iíve regretted not coming to Alaska much earlier in my life.

After the talk we returned to the ranger station to see a companion film about climbing Denali. We highly recommend watching that, too.


Then we walked around town for about 30 minutes. Talkeetna has some interesting old buildings and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are all kinds of interesting houses, gift shops, art exhibits, eating establishments, adventure companies (rafting, flight-seeing, horseback rides, etc.), historic Nagley's General Store, the old Talkeetna Roadhouse dating back to gold rush days, a visitor center, museums, lodges, etc.

Here are photos of a few of them:

The historic Talkeetna Roadhouse, built in 1917, still offers rooms and meals to travelers.

Old Fairview Inn

One of several gift shops featuring Alaskan-made items

Above and below:  interior of the Dancing Leaf Art Gallery

We didnít go into the historical society museum (old red schoolhouse) but should have. We simply forgot about it when we were ready to leave. The Railroad Section House where we listened to the ranger speak about climbing Denali is part of the group of buildings in this museum.

The schoolhouse has a variety of historical exhibits. This photo of the original white schoolhouse built in 1936 was on an interpretive panel outside the building:

The schoolhouse was painted red in the late 1950s and looks almost pink now from getting so faded.

A third building, the Ole Dahl Cabin, is an early trapper/miner's cabin that is furnished with period pieces:


Talkeetna looks like a fun place on a sunny day. There were lots of people walking around even on a rainy Thursday.

Because of the rain no flights went out today from Talkeetna to view Denali or the glaciers in the national park, per a young lady at K2 Aviation, a company several people have recommended to us for a flight tour. We're still researching the various air companies and haven't purchased our tickets yet.

K2 Aviation's sales office in Talkeetna

Talkeetna Air Taxi also has an art gallery inside its office.

On the way back to the camper I walked over to the fast-flowing Talkeetna River with Cody.

The town of Talkeetna was built at the confluence of three large rivers Ė Talkeetna, Susitna, and Chulitna. This is supposed to be one of the Denali viewpoints but there was no seeing The High One or the rest of the Alaska Range through all those clouds today:

According to The Milepost book (2011, p. 408), "Talkeetna began as a trading post in 1896 and grew as a riverboat supply base following the Susitna River gold rush in 1910. The population boomed during construction of the Alaska Railroad . . ."

There is a lot to do in Talkeetna. I've barely scratched the surface here.

If you aren't staying in the little town overnight it's well worth a day trip if you're lodged at Denali National Park or down toward Anchorage. I'd like to go back on this trip or our next one to Alaska and spend more time browsing the shops and eating at one of the restaurants -- on a day when it isn't raining!

Next entrycamping at Byers Lake in Denali State Park

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil