Campsites in Palmer and Talkeetna, Alaska

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Our Palmer, AK camp on the Matanuska River.

Our Palmer, AK camp on the Matanuska River.

Judy and I have left Alaska, driven through Canada and our back in the Lower 48 (I’m writing this from the Grand Teton NP in Wyoming). There will be just a few more Alaska posts to finish up with our Alaska trip and then we can move on to more normal type posting, not just constant travelogues. I’m still going to be doing quite a bit of travel so I will post on that as it occurs, but we will spend more time in one spot so it won’t be constant like it has been for the last 3 months.
Because I lived in Alaska all my life this wasn’t a typical tourist trip, I’ve seen nearly all of Alaska so I just limited myself to a few things I had missed out on. I had four top priorities: 1) visit with my son who still lives in Anchorage 2) do the Fly-in Bear Viewing and 3) go flight-seeing around Mt. McKinley (commonly and mistakenly called Denali). As you know, I was able to do the bear viewing trip and I was able to get together quite a few times with my son so that only left the flight-seeing trip around McKinley.
This is down-town Palmer looking east to the mountains. Our camp was at the base of that mountain.

This is down-town Palmer looking east to the mountains. Our camp was at the base of that mountain.

The problem was that the weather on the whole trip had not been very good, but around Denali National Park it had been terrible! It was so bad one of the Lodges in the Park had to be evacuated because of flooding. To make matters worse, Mt. McKinley creates its own weather so even on days when there isn’t a clouds in the skies over Alaska, Mt. McKinley can still be in clouds. I wanted to take the most expensive trip that flew all around Mt. McKinley and then over the top looking down, so I had to have a good clear day or it was just a waste. The weather forecast was for Denali NP was poor all along but for about a week it had been calling for clear skies on the 4th of July. So after my bear viewing trip in Homer we decided to go back to Anchorage and wait for a good day to fly around Mt. McKinley. That way we could be visiting with my son while we waited.
Our camp looking back toward the mountains.

Our camp looking back toward the mountains. Because of all the rain we had this was the highest I can remember the river. In fact on our last day here it had rained so much that the river overflowed it’s banks and we had to move up to a higher spot for the night or we couldn’t have gotten out.

Both Judy and I hate city camping so we wanted to avoid staying in Anchorage. I knew of a good campsite in the little town of Palmer which is 50 miles north of Anchorage (and on the way to Mt McKinley) so we ended up staying there for about 5 nights, I’ll give you a review of that campsite today. Most flights to Mt. McKinley fly out of the little town of Talkeetna, Alaska and that’s where we needed to be. We spent three nights there waiting for good weather so I’ll also give you a review of that campsite.
Looking across the River from our camp.

Looking across the River from our camp.

Palmer Campsite

Palmer is a very pleasant little town about 50 miles north of Anchorage. Oddly enough, it’s a farming town! I know you don’t associate Alaska with farming but with it’s very long days and plenty of rain it actually has a thriving farm community. Back in the 1930s the Federal government gave farmers some land and paid to get them up here to establish the industry. And it prospered! The State fair is held here in Palmer every September and I can remember coming here many times as a boy and then later with my kids and seeing the 76 pound cabbages, 20 pound carrots, 60 pound zucchini and other truly giant vegetables. With 19 hours of sun very day, things grow big! Palmer is a very pretty little town. It has a 4g internet, a Safeway and Fred Meyer grocery stores and there is a Walmart and Target just 10 miles away in the larger town of Wasilla, Alaska.

Palmer is about 50 miles north of Anchorage.

Palmer is about 50 miles north of Anchorage.

palmer-camp
Our campsite was literally on the edge of the Matanuska River which is truly a wild and beautiful river and was surrounded by tall mountains. We got a decent internet signal. If you are in Alaska, it’s a great place to camp. To get there from Palmer turn south on the Old Glenn Highway and you’ll very soon cross the Matanuska River on a bridge. On the south side of the bridge you’ll see a parking area on the river and that’s the camp site. If it’s not to you’re liking, keep going a few miles on the Old Glenn till you come to the bridge over the Kink River. There is a large gravel bar on the eastern banks of the river that is also open to boondocking. There were probably 50 RVs down on it when we were there.
It doesn't look like it, but Talkeetna is a major center of transportation in Alaska. 1) Three major rivers meet here and in a state with almost no roads they are a huge source of transport. 2) The railroad stops here. In fact it is one of the few "Flagstop" railroads in America. Stand by the track and the train will stop and pick you up. 3) The airport can get supplies out to the bush but mainly it takes climbers and flight-seers to Mt. McKinley.

It doesn’t look like it, but Talkeetna is a major center of transportation in Alaska. 1) Three major rivers meet here and in a state with almost no roads they are a huge source of transport to the bush for trappers and homesteaders. 2) The railroad stops here. In fact it is one of the few “Flagstop” railroads in America. Stand by the track and the train will stop and pick you up. 3) The airport can get supplies out to the bush but mainly it takes climbers and flight-seers to Mt. McKinley.

Talkeetna Campsite

Talkeetna was founded at the turn of the century by gold miners who were searching for gold in Alaska. Later, when the Federal government created the Alaska Railroad that ran from Seward to Anchorage and then on to Fairbanks it became an important stop on it. When climbing Mt. McKinley became popular, it became the airport that all the climbers few from because it was the closest one to both the mountain and to Anchorage. They could fly into Anchorage, take a taxi to the Railroad depot then take the railroad to Talkeetna, jump on a bush plane and go directly to the mountain. All the climbers who try to summit Mt. McKinley pass through Talkeetna because it has a National Park Ranger Station that is the only one that can issue permits to do the climb. (An interesting fact about that is they issue the climbers a human waste container and they have to bring it back full of the good stuff at the end of the climb!). It’s one of the very few Ranger Stations that is open 7 days a week so they can accommodate the climbers.

This is the main street in Talkeetna. Notice people are out on the street.

This is the main street in Talkeetna. Notice people are out on the street.

Because of that Talkeetna is a wonderful little town full of gifts shops and restaurants, but at the same time you will see some of the top climbers from around the world and all their gear. So it’s both a tourist trap and a genuine Alaska experience. The airport there is THE gateway to Mt. McKinley and so it was where I needed to be to take my flight-seeing trip. The weather report made it seem like a possibility of clear skies so we drove up there and found a campsite 11 miles from town on the Montana River. We drove into town daily and waited to see how the weather went because it is so volatile that even on a bad day it can open up and be gorgeous for a few hours. Because I was flying alone, they could almost always fit me on a flight. More about the trip in my next post.
This is very typical of the town "center" and old building that dates back to the early 1900s that wasn't built  for the buy little tourist town Talkeetna has become. Since the buildings are so small, everything moves outside.

This is very typical of the town “center” and old building that dates back to the early 1900s that wasn’t built for the buy little tourist town Talkeetna has become. Since the buildings are so small, everything moves outside.

If you’re going to Alaska, Talkeetna is a must-see! So I’m going to give you a map to my campsite if you want one, it’s at the bottom of the post. We loved this campsite but the mosquitoes were really bad and we had no internet. We got WIFI at a hotel in town after we bought a drink at the bar.
palm-old
It has kind of a Marti-Gras  feeling because people are out wondering or eating outside.

It has kind of a Marti-Gras feeling because people are out wandering or eating outside.

This old log cabin was built by an early trapper in 1902.

This old log cabin was built by an early trapper in 1902.

It even has it's own award-winning brew-pub, with a large outside beer garden of course. Both my sons loved Talkeetna. We spread my one sons ashes here.

It even has it’s own award-winning brew-pub, with a large outside beer garden of course. Both my sons loved Talkeetna. We spread my one sons ashes here.

palmer-talk-map-001
 

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30 Comments

  1. openspaceman

    Bob_
    I’d like to photoshop my van over Judy’s…with me in it so I could experience that view in the first pic. Thanks again for sharing your trip/experience with us.
    What do most of those people do for income…who live there year round ? Extract whatever they can from the summer tourist and then sit around and play guitar and eat moose jerky all winter…if so then count me in.

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, I assume you’re asking about Talkeetna; very few people live there year around. Some work for the Railroad, the state, or a few pilots. Most are retired. I bought a sculpture from a guy who lives there year around and in the winter he carves and in the summer he sells. Lots of trappers in the area, but they don’t live in town, they live in the bush. Lots of people live off subsistence in Alaska. That means they work in the summer and hunt and fish and then they hunker down in the winter and live off unemployment or SS. The mostly eat hunted meat and fish.
      Really, it’s not a whole lot different than boondockers except they have a house.
      Bob

  2. Opa

    Bob.
    Why McKinley and not Denali

    • Bob

      Opa, Denali is the native name for McKinley so many people think it’s name is Denali, but it is not. The tallest mountain in North America is McKinley. As far as I know there is no mountain named Denali.
      It’s a common mistake.
      Bob

  3. Dan

    Bob: Alaska is a very beautiful and rugged land. Thanks for the pictures. The pictures are very good, but I’ll bet the experience was much better than the pictures can possibly reveal. regards, Dan.

    • Bob

      Dan, you’ve got that right!
      Bob

  4. Calvin R

    While all the scenery in the Alaska pictures is beautiful, I think I would mainly stay out of Talkeetna, spending the nights in the bush nearby if necessary to avoid the tourists and mosquitoes.

    • judy

      Hate to say it but the mosquitos were EVERYwhere! except maybe Anchorage.

      • Calvin R

        The tourists are worse than the skeeters, and I can find repellent for the skeeters.

        • Bob

          Calvin, they are both very thick in Alaska!
          Bob

    • Bob

      Calvin, I agree, it’s worth a visit but not where you want to spend a lot of time.
      Bob

  5. Peggy

    A very informative post with plenty of great pictures to back it up, Bob. Talkeetna looks like a charming place to visit. I’ve really been enjoying reading about your adventures!

    • Bob

      Thanks Peggy!
      Bob

    • Bob

      Charming is a good word for it Peggy!
      Bob

  6. John

    Great pictures and commentary as usual Bob, thanks for sharing! Really good stuff…

    • Bob

      Thanks John!
      Bob

  7. Sameer

    All the photos and commentary have been fantastic. It has been a wonderful adventure to read about. I’ll bet that Judy will be happy to leave ‘bear country’. Thank you for sharing this ‘Great Adventure’.

    • Bob

      Sameer, you’re right about that! Judy wasn’t fond of bear country!! Now we’ve been in the Tetons for a week and there are signs everywhere warning that this is bear country! But we are leaving here soon so we’re okay. Be seeing you in a few months.
      Bob

  8. swade

    I’m taking notes: pictures, maps and info with a personal touch. Fantastic.
    Judy, thanks for mosquito info. Did the repellent on you and your clothing work well?

    • Bob

      Swade, we tended to just stay inside when they were really bad. It rained a lot so half the time we were inside to get out of the rain and when they were terrible we just stayed inside as well.
      Bob

  9. Linda Barton

    I hate to see your Alaska adventure come to an end. I really look forward to the post and pictures. I have enjoyed the whole trip.

    • Bob

      Linda, I don’t know, some people are getting tied of the constant barrage of Alaska. It seems like a good balance, plenty of Alaska but now it’s time to bring it to an end. But I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed it!
      Bob

  10. Douglas

    It’s nice to see pictures of alaska that you don’t see on tv or general pictures or greeting cards. The only reason I recognize the names of small towns in alaska is from a tv show about a family that owns one of the airlines in alaska.

    • Bob

      Douglas, g;ad top be of some help showing you another side of Alaska!
      Bob

  11. Myddy

    Bob, are those rivers and lakes pretty cold? Or could someone used to somewhat cold water take a nice dip on a warmer day? We have mountain creeks here that average some very low temperatures, but I actually go swimming in them anyway and am not bothered by the cold. I suppose I am used to it. Curious if I would be okay in some of the colder regions.

    • judy

      Myddy, There is a lot of silt in the river water. Maybe 1/4 inch of silt will collect in a gal of river water left standing overnight. Also the rivers we camped beside were Very fast flowing w/ misc logs/branches floating by as well. I wasn’t tempted to dip my toes into them!

    • Bob

      Yes, it is very cold! The Matanuska River flows from the Matanuska Glacier which is about 50 miles away. When it comes off the glacier, it is 32.5 degrees, just warm enough to shift from ice to water. It warms up by the time it gets here, but not much.
      It is also extremely silty. Over the thousands of years of the glaciers life it grinds along and rips the mountains around it to pieces. The rocks it tears off get ground up by the tremendous weight of the glacier and then as it melts the silt it’s carrying is carried into the river with it. You would not want to get that water in your eyes!!!!
      Bob

  12. Jan Cook

    Beautiful pictures and wonderful posts on your Alaska trip. I know you and Judy will have many wonderful memories. Thank you for taking us along for the ride.

    • Bob

      Thank you Jan!
      Bob

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