After a quick overnight in Seattle, my mom and I jetted off to Alaska for a mother-daughter adventure. A gift from my mom for my 30th birthday (yes, I know I’m blessed to have an amazing, generous mom who also LOVES to travel,) we knew we were in for an unforgettable experience!
We didn’t have much interest in Anchorage so after arriving we drove straight to Talkeetna, about 2.5 hours north of Anchorage. (I’m sure Anchorage has a lot to offer, but with just five days in Alaska there were places we were more excited to see.)
Talkeetna is an funky little town – “little” being a literal term, as its population is just 876. It reminded me of awesome Vermont towns – beautiful vistas, super laid back vibe, friendly and outdoorsy residents and restaurant menus that boasted plenty of locally sourced items.
Nagley’s General Store is a classic general store that, in addition to offering everything a visitor could possible need, also plays home to the town’s mayor, a cat named Stubbs. Yes, you read that correctly, Talkeetna’s mayor is a cat!
A hidden gem in one of Talkeetna’s shops is this display, “The Spirit of Talkeetna.” I’d love to have chatted about it with the store’s owner, as I’m sure it includes many local traditions and “inside jokes!”
Flightseeing with Talkeetna Air Taxi was definitely a highlight of our trip. Seeing Mt. McKinley and its neighbors from above was an unforgettable experience – and landing on a glacier was completely out-of-this-world. I was even able to play co-pilot, so I had an especially unforgettable view! (I’ll do a post dedicated to our flightseeing outing in the coming weeks.)
The best meal of our entire trip was enjoyed in Talkeetna, at West Rib Pub & Grill. Mom and I shared two dishes – Alaskan King Crab (’tis the season!) and Halibut Olympia, an Alaskan specialty in which halibut is layered with a creamy dill sauce and crumbled crackers and then baked – both were delicious!
The food was made even better thanks to our wonderful waitress, Autumn, a New Hampshire local with whom we chatted about New England. Plus, the folks across from us happened to be from Tampa, Florida. After saying “I went to USF!” (the University of South Florida, which is in Tampa,) we chit-chatted for a while and traded stories about our travels. (That’s the USF Bulls sign they’re doing in the photo.) The were nearing the end of their trip, whereas we were just beginning, so they had some great tips for us. West Rib is a must-visit if travels take you to Talkeetna!
In Talkeetna we stayed at The Majestic Loft, which my mom booked via Airbnb. The Majestic’s owner, Francine Cohen, couldn’t have been more hospitable. We certainly recommend it!
Upon departing Talkeetna, we set out for Denali National Park. A 3(ish) hour drive, the route is so scenic that the miles flew by.
After checking in to Denali Crow’s Nest Cabins, which provided the perfect “home” for us for the night, we headed to the park. Not ones to shy away from a challenge, we decided to embark on what was referred to as a “strenuous” hike – Savage Alpine Trail. (Descriptions of all trails may be viewed here.) 13.5 miles into the park, Savage Alpine Trail started as far in as visitors can drive, as only park busses are allowed past that point.
The next day, we set out for a hike around Horseshoe Lake – a much less strenuous hike but a hike that was still super picturesque. What I loved about Denali National Park was that it offered a hike for everyone.
After departing Denali, we made our way to Girdwood, a ski town about an hour south of Anchorage. During the drive, we witnessed the aftermath of the Sockeye Fire, a terrible forest fire that devastated the Willow area in mid-June. The air no longer smelled of smoke, but the fire’s wrath was evident in the charred birch trees. The Sockeye Fire burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 26 homes – so sad. Although the drive from Denali to Girdwood is about 5 hours, we broke it up with a stop in Eklutna, a small village of Alaska Natives, Athabaskans, that was first settled over 800 years ago. One of Eklutna’s most unique features is the Eklutna Cemetery. In use since 1650 and now an historic park, the cemetery features over 100 spirit houses, wooden structures that cover graves and provide a place for spirits to rest before making their final journey. We found learning about the culture of Athabaskans very interesting!
We still enjoyed exploring, though, and when we had exhausted the exploration possibilities we headed to The Hotel Alyeska, Girdwood’s “fancy” resort, for massages. Both my mom’s and my massages were wonderful – a welcome indulgence after a few days of hiking!
As wonderful as they were, we were happy we didn’t stay at the resort, as the hotel was in desperate need of a renovation. The Airbnb we stayed in in Girdwood offered MUCH better accommodations than the resort – for a much lower price.
I was sad to see the end of our Alaskan adventure. It was an unbelievable trip for so many reasons. Best of all, I was able to able to enjoy so many new experiences with my mom. We went on endless adventures – something I’m incredibly grateful for. This sure was a trip for the record books – although I know my mom and I have many more epic trips in our future!