Talketeena, Alaska/Denali National Park Guide

Talketeena, Alaska is a cozy town, about 2 hours north of Anchorage, that serves as the ‘Gateway to Denali’.  Most people stop here before continuing onto Denali National Park which is about 2.5 hours north of Talkeetna.  This small hippy-ish town has a Sedona-like vibe (see Sedona, Arizona Quick Guide).  The community here is kind, open and accepting of visitors as well as connected to nature.  We recommend spending 1-2 days in this fun little town with at least 1 full day in Denali National Park.  Here is our guide on visiting Talkeetna, Alaska as well as Denali National Park. 

Denali National Park Savage River Loop on a Rainy Day

FYI: This post was written based on a trip taken in mid August

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What to do in Talkeetna

Day trip or overnight trip to Denali National Park

Horseshoe Lake Trail near the Entrance of Denali National Park

Denali National Park is about 2.5 hours north of Talketeena and houses North America’s tallest peak, Denali (previously named Mount McKinley) as well as a vast amount of Alaskan wildlife.  We took a day trip to Denali National Park from Talkeetna where we visited the sled dog kennels, hiked several trails, got some astounding clear views of the Denali peak and explored the visitor center.  

Sled Dog Kennels at Denali
Some of the sled dogs at Denali National Park

Natalie’s favorite part of our visit to Denali National Park was visiting the sled dogs kennel.  If you are a dog person, you will love this experience, especially if you are missing your own pup from home.  Here, you can meet several sled dogs and learn about the history of their use in Alaska and the park.  

Hiking in Denali
Horseshoe Lake Trail

We hiked the Savage River Loop (2 miles round trip) and the Horseshoe Lake trail (3 miles round trip from Visitor Center).  If we had more time, we would have liked to hike the Triple Lakes Trail (9.5 miles one-way) near the entrance of the park or some of the trails further into the park.  Before researching Denali, we did not realize how few marked hiking trails exist within the park (relative to the park’s large size) and that most of the hiking in Denali is backcountry and unmarked.  

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots

Denali Bus Tours and Driving in the Park
Views Driving in Denali National Park

Other than hiking or backpacking, the best way to see the park is through taking a partial or full day bus tour.  You can only drive the first 15 miles of the road that traverses Denali National Park.  After this point, you have to ride one of the park buses to anywhere else in the park you want to visit.  The road in the park continues to mile 89 but it takes 12 hours to drive to the end of this road and back (road is very narrow and winding, making it so the buses have to drive relatively slowly). 

We only drove the first 15 miles of the park to allow us more flexibility but if you really want to explore more of the park or increase your chance of seeing wildlife, you need to take one of these buses.  Also, be mindful that the parking lot at Savage River (Mile 15) is very small (less than 10 vehicles) and you may not be able to park here.  The parking lot at the entrance is very large and there are free buses to take you the first 15 miles. If you are camping or backpacking, you will need to park at the entrance. 

Why we didn’t do a bus tour

At the point in our trip when we visited Denali National Park, we did not feel the need to see more wildlife. We had already visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (outside of Anchorage, see Anchorage, Alaska Quick Guide post), where we saw all of these animals up-close, and had been charged by a bear while hiking earlier in our trip (see post on What you can Learn from Being Charged by a Bear). 

Consequently, we opted not to do one of these bus tours as it would have involved a long day of riding on a bus (shortest bus tour offered is 4.5 hours and this one is not ideal for wildlife sighting but more for getting park history).  However, had we not already seen all of these animals up close or been charged by the bear, we would have wanted to do one of the half or full day bus tours in order to see some wildlife.  

Seeing the Denali Peak
Views of Mount Denali, south of Denali National Park gate

We were lucky that we were able to see the Denali peak on both our drives to and from the park as the peak is only visible on ⅓ of the days (due to cloud coverage a majority of the days). You can also see this peak from Talketeena on a clear day but you get better views as you approach the park.  

Tip: Make Denali National Park an overnight trip or several day trip if possible. If we would have had a day or two more, we would have camped in the park or stayed right outside of the park.  The park is large and mainly only accessed by bus or backpacking, making it difficult to experience the vastness of the park to with only a day trip.  We hope to go back to the park in the future to do a backpacking trip.  

Plan your visit Denali National Park

Explore downtown Talkeetna shops 

The vibe of this town–fun, eccentric and earthy–is well reflected in the shops.  We enjoyed visiting all the different little shops in town full of local art and unique items.  This was a relaxing way to spend several hours. 

Hike at Talkeetna Lakes Park

Talkeetna Lakes Park

This park is right outside of Talkeetna and has serene trails that make for an easy, relatively flat, hike.  We hiked the lake trail (3.2 mile loop) and had it completely to ourselves, making it very peaceful.

What/Where to Eat in Talkeetna

From Left to Right: Denali Brewing Company, Nagley’s General Store and Payo’s Kitchen

Denali Brewing Company

This restaurant has a stellar menu, full of fresh food options as well as a variety of different beers.  We enjoyed trying a flight of beers here and liked the food so much, we ate here twice.  

Denali Brewing

Payo’s Kitchen

This Thai restaurant was excellent.  The restaurant is run out of a trailer but do not let that fool you. The food is great.  The dining area attached to the trailer is simple but nice.  If you are lucky enough, you will have a chance to talk to the very kind, local owner.  This restaurant is several miles outside of town but was the perfect place to stop for dinner on the way back from Denali.  There are also some simple Cabins on the same property here that you could rent if you want to stay somewhere a little bit outside of Talkeetna (would be less expensive than staying right in-town).  

Payo’s Kitchen

Nagley’s General Store

This cute general store is the best (and most economical) place to get ice cream in-town.  We highly recommend the Caribou Caramel flavor! 

Talkeetna RoadHouse Bakery & Restaurant 

See below Talkeetna Roadhouse information 

Where to Stay in Talkeetna

Talkeetna RoadHouse

Talkeetna Roadhouse Dining Room

This eclectic hotel/hostel has a homey feel and is located right on main street in downtown Talkeetna. We stayed in a private room here but there are options for hostel style rooms all the way up to private cabins.  Breakfast is not included with your stay but there is a cute restaurant and bakery at the front of the roadhouse that you can easily get a very delicious, and filling, homestyle breakfast or pick up some baked goods.  There is also pid laundry on site if needed on your trip. We really enjoyed our stay here and would highly recommend it.

Talkeetna Roadhouse  

We hope this post helps you plan your trip to Talketeena and Denali National Park.  Anything else you’d add to our Talketeena, Alaska and Denali National Park guide?  We’d love to hear your feedback or questions.  Please leave us a comment! For more Alaska information, please see Alaska Road Trip: The Perfect Guide.

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