Talkeetna means “river of plenty,” and each year, many visitors
miss this staging area for some of Alaska’s greatest day tours.
The Alaska Railroad makes regular stops at Talkeetna, and is
perhaps the best way to reach this blink-and-miss Alaska town. Once
there, forget traffic jams or bustling train terminals. Quiet and
unassuming, it has the appearance of holiday rum cake: Nothing
spectacular to look at on the surface, but take a few bites and
expect a one-two knockout punch of Alaska adventure.
Mahay’s Riverboat Tours
Talkeetna exudes Alaskana in its tours and the people who live
and work there year-round, such as Steve Mahay of Mahay’s Riverboat
There isn’t a finer captain running Alaska’s rivers than Mahay,
who began his Alaska lifestyle as a river rat and trapper. In the
30 years I’ve known him, I have watched him grow from a single-boat
operator to one of the most successful riverboat operators in
Alaska. He knows Alaska’s rivers better than most, and is one of
the giants in the Alaska tourism business. He is as close to a
perfect tour operator as you will find, and his river adventures
are a major attraction among Princess and Holland America landtour
guests. Have your clients talk to him. Get to know him. He is one
of Alaska’s living legends.
Mahay’s Devil’s Canyon Tour is my favorite. The riverboat rides
the roily Susitna River as smooth as if driving a paved highway.
Spacious seats and aisles allow room to move around and see the
sights. The sound system is excellent, with no problem hearing the
onboard naturalist describe the area’s highlights.
Along the river, a stop at their “safari site” offers an
authentic trapper’s cabin with its original furnishings and
examples of how trappers lived in “Bush” Alaska at the turn of the
century. Naturalists show the edible plants local natives used for
cooking and medicines. We observed black bear and moose roaming the
shoreline, and schools of salmon holding in the clearwater current.
The most exciting part of the trip is the entrance of Devil’s
Canyon, with its Class VI whitewater, it is an adventure in
The tour offers great value for the dollar. For $135 for adults,
and $67.50 for children, enjoy a seven-hour, 130-mile river tour
that includes a box lunch and beverage. A lavatory is onboard if
K-2 Aviation is a leader in flying mountain climbers to Denali
as well as some of the most spectacular flightseeing tours of Mt.
McKinley and Denali National Park. Talkeetna is about 65 air miles
from Denali and a flightseeing tour based from there offers your
clients more bang for the buck. Your clients fly around the
mountains and glaciers longer, instead of spending valuable airtime
traveling the flatland distances from Anchorage or Fairbanks.
K-2’s ski-equipped Bush planes allow glacier and base-camp
landings. The flightseeing tour begins with a gradual transition
from the rich Talkeetna River Valley and the foothills of Denali
before the plane is dwarfed by the gargantuan peaks, monoliths and
glaciers of Denali and the Alaska Range West. The tour is one where
eyes become like sponges, soaking up the rugged danger of mountains
and glacial crevasses that are in-your-face close. Only the
climbers were barely perceptible; as small as fleas on a
Your clients walk away from a K-2 flight as I did, having seen
the many faces of Denali that no land-based tourists see. The final
word here is a K-2 flightseeing trip from Talkeetna, with a glacier
landing, is worth the money, which is about half the cost of a
Denali bus tour, with its crowds and limited view of the mountain.
If the weather is clear, strongly recommend a flightseeing
Spending the Night
Talkeetna Alaska Lodge offers five-star comforts and elegance
that delights anyone overnighting in the area. Spacious grounds,
close proximity to Talkeetna attractions, good views, food and
entertainment make this my favorite choice in Talkeetna-area
lodging. Located on 35 of 640 private acres of remote Talkeetna
bottomland, this is the epitome of an Alaska hotel: Expect huge
viewing windows and outdoor pavilions to Denali and the Alaska
Range with spectacular sunsets and ample wildlife. The panorama is
so inspiring that the lodge books many weddings each year.
“We encourage travel agents to book reservations with us
online,” says lodge tour manager Dee Dee Kay. “We offer 10 percent
to start, and increases with volume. Our tour desk can help with
accommodations and local bookings.”
Ask for a free upgrade, if available, to a view room. Executive
suites and mountain-view rooms are plush with complete amenities,
with an elite price of $345 to $500 per night. Non-view rooms start
at $145. The hotel is open from May through September.
A geocaching course is on the lodge grounds, along with various
“There is a lot of soft, cushy chairs throughout the lodge or in
front of the fireplace,” Kay points out as we walk the grounds. “No
matter what time of day, people are enjoying themselves here.”
True to her word, a guest was asleep on the main lobby
An overview of the staff reveals that most of the chefs and
managers have worked over six years on average for the hotel. Staff
stability ensures quality and people skills for handling the
often-fickle requests of tired tourists. The various dining rooms
offer excellent food traditional fare as well as Alaska salmon and
seafood are not to be ignored.
Talkeetna is indeed a land of plenty, which will translate to
plenty of thanks from your clients for suggesting that they make
this subtle but impressive stopover on their Alaska tour.
Mahay’s Riverboat Service
Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge