Visited July 2017
Talkeetna is a tiny town with huge tourist appeal. It’s the hub for hundreds of folks daring to climb Mt. Denali each year; it’s a bus and train excursion destination for folks coming to Alaska via cruise ships; and it’s a fun destination for travelers like us on the road between Denali and Anchorage.
They say that Talkeetna was the inspiration for the popular TV show from the early 90s, Northern Exposure, about a big city doctor sent to ultra-smalltown Alaska full of colorful, quirky characters and moose wandering through main street. Yep, that sounds like Talkeetna. The town sits at the end of a 14-mile spur road off the main highway. Three rivers converge there. The Walter Harper Ranger Station has a great film about Denali mountain-climbing and the Talkeetna Historical Society museum is full of local history and exhibits dedicated to Denali-climbing, including a room-sized topographical model of the mountains, very cool.
Main Street is full of unique shops, small galleries, and restaurants that are packed on cruise excursion days. Most of the restaurants have outside decks and patios, perfect for enjoying the beautiful summer days and people-watching! We had fresh halibut dinners at Wildflower Café, fantastic caribou burgers at West Rib Pub & Grill, and famous blueberry rhubarb crisp with real whipped cream at Talkeetna Spinach Bread Airstream (but they’re even more famous for their pizza-ish spinach bread which we saw folks savoring). We timed it right to be in town for the farmers’ market where I bought a bunch of rhubarb which I used to make a strawberry-rhubarb crisp that turned out sooo good! Rhubarb grows widely and wildly in these parts.
On our way out of town, we stopped at Flying Squirrel Bakery and had blueberry-rhubarb scones that were delicious and so huge that we should have shared one, but didn’t. 🙂 Next stop was the Kahiltna Birchworks for the mini-tour and taste testing of different grades of syrup and sampling the various sweet and savory products they make with them. They have over 16,000 trees and use tapping processes that range from simple (tap stuck into tree with bucket attached) to complex (miles of tubing connected to taps and machines). The ratio of sap to syrup produced is 100 gals sap to 1 gal syrup, which is way higher than for maple syrup which is 40 to 1. We were amazed to learn that a peak staff of only 11 people handles all that tapping!
We stopped overnight in Palmer on our way in and out of Anchorage. Palmer is known for producing enormous vegetables and hosting the Alaska State Fair, but we missed seeing both so we’ll add that to our list for next trip! On our first visit to Palmer, we camped at a great municipal park, Matanuska River Park, but on our second visit we camped at an even better, serendipitous spot! We got to driveway surf with new friends in Alaska who we met through a text introduction by old friends at our church in Tallahassee! Did you get all that? 😉 Cody and Heather are from Palmer but they were in Tallahassee while we were beginning our travels in Alaska. They returned home in time for us to be introduced via text and then meet them in person on the Kenai Peninsula where they were dip-netting for salmon, a “luxury” afforded only to Alaska residents. This “luxury” is hard, hard work but allows residents to fill their freezers for the long winters. We had a great visit in our rig and learned they had caught their quota (35 salmon) in one day! They invited us to spend time with them again at their folks’ home in Palmer, with the added incentive of a salmon dinner! Plus, it turned out that their driveway was perfect for surfing and they welcomed us to stay.
We had the best time with their family, enjoying wonderful fellowship and the most amazing honey-lime salmon dinner! It’s a quasi-secret recipe but they were gracious to induct us into their honey-lime salmon club, a major highlight of our Alaska adventure!