Quirky hand-painted wooden sign reads Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna and has flowers and american flags at the base.

As quirky as promised, welcome to beautiful downtown Talkeetna!
Photo by Frank Kovalchek licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Wild places are the heart and soul of Alaska, but a number of small towns merit a visit, especially if you’re looking to see how real folks live. Here are a few of the author’s favorite places.


Number one on the Northern Exposure meter, funky Talkeetna is a haven for climbers en route to Mt. McKinley and flightseeing trips over Denali National Park. The town has several excellent restaurants and good lodging choices.

Travel map of Talkeetna, Alaska



Skagway gets thousands of cruise ship tourists daily in the summer, but this picturesque and walkable town remains an authentic dose of the past. Famed Chilkoot Trail is nearby, and a narrow-gauge railroad climbs over the pass into Yukon.


Accessible only by air or ferry, Cordova, a compact Prince William Sound fishing town, has a spectacular drive-up glacier, not to mention the acclaimed Copper River red salmon.


Steeped in Russian and Native Alaskan history, Sitka has a gem-like setting and all sorts of outdoor options, from whale-watching to mountain hiking.


Homer, at road’s-end on the Kenai Peninsula, has it all: glaciers, fishing, sea kayaking, fine restaurants and lodging, art galleries, a hip populace, and a to-die-for setting.

Travel map of Homer, Alaska



One of the few Southeast towns connected by highway to the mainland, Haines has historic buildings at Fort Seward and a salmon-filled river that attracts hundreds of eagles to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in winter.


Just 190 miles from the Siberian coast, this is the end of the Iditarod Trail and home to active gold mines, unusual wildlife, and wonderful backcountry roads across the tundra.


Primarily a destination for fly-fishers in search of steelhead, the remote Yakutat settlement surprises with amazing beaches, towering glaciers, and big-wave surfing.


At the end of a rough 60-mile dirt road within Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, tiny McCarthy has quaint lodging places and restaurants. Just up the road are the picture-perfect buildings of long-abandoned Kennecott Mine.


There isn’t much to Gustavus itself, but it’s right on the edge of Glacier Bay National Park, with several high-end lodges, great kayaking, whale-watching, and trips up the bay.


OK, Wasilla makes 11 towns. Shop at the same Wal-Mart as Sarah Palin. Enjoy the traffic jams, strip malls, and fast-growing suburbs. But you can’t see Russia from here.

Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Alaska.