About this Itinerary
Though the Chase Trail is only 14 miles, a cycle along this flat railroad corridor is like dipping your toe into a true remote wilderness adventure without diving in full-body. Between the rough-hewn charms of Talkeetna, the skirt hem of Denali National Park, and the glacier-scarred landscape of south Alaska, you’re certain to experience nothing like this rail-trail anywhere else in America. After all, where else will you find a rail-trail through brown bear, moose, and wolf country? But don’t let a chance encounter with charismatic megafauna frighten you away. Ask the locals for advice on how to behave if you see one of these magnificent animals—and keep your camera handy!
Fly into Anchorage and drive 120 miles (about 2.5 hours) north along AK Highway 1 and AK Highway 3 to the village of Talkeetna. Alternatively, you can get a puddle-jumper flight from Anchorage or take the train. The Alaska Railroad has daily runs between Anchorage and Talkeetna. Check the website for information for times by season.
Situated at the confluence of the rivers Susitna, Chulitna, and Talkeetna, and in the shadow of Denali—the tallest peak in North America—Talkeetna was conceived in 1916 as the district headquarters for the Alaska Railroad. Today, what began as nothing more than a trading post, sawmill, and a few shops is now a National Historic Site.
Despite that Talkeetna’s population hovers around 1,500, it offers more places to stay than most towns its size. Talkeetna Denali Fireside Cabins & Suites has comfortable accommodations just a short walk from Main Street. If you’re looking for a bed and breakfast, try A B&B on C—the C stands for C Street—which has only two rooms available for a more private stay.
Talkeetna Bike Rentals is your place for wheels if you didn’t bring your own. If you arrive by train, the bike shop is next to the depot. They have men’s and women’s comfort cruisers, as well as tag-alongs and three-wheelers.
If you fancy a decadent delight to start your morning, Flying Squirrel Bakery Café has just what the doctor ordered you to avoid: sweet breakfast treats and organic coffee. Choose from rugelach, nutmeg donut muffins, scones, coffee cakes, and more. They even have a few gluten-free goodies on hand. Order a sandwich to go or buy a loaf of their fresh bread and pick up sandwich fixings at the local grocers to take with you on your bike ride.
Another breakfast spot is the Talkeetna Roadhouse, one of the town’s buildings listed as a historic landmark. Try their homemade breads, a sourdough pancake, or giant cinnamon bun. They also have accommodations.
The Chase Trail begins on the north side of town just before crossing over the handsome railroad bridge that spans the Talkeetna River. Built in 1923, the bridge is used by locals on 4-wheelers to access private property that borders the trail. For the latter reason, respect landowners by sticking to the trail.
For the first 5 miles, you’ll be near the tracks of the Alaska Railroad, which began construction in 1902. The line runs 470 miles from Seward (on the south coast) north to Fairbanks (in the state’s interior) and survived financial problems for years before the federal government bought it out more than 10 years later. In 1923, President Harding drove the final spike at Nenana.
Be sure to use caution when crossing the tracks at railroad mile 231.7. The flat, gravel trail corridor veers away from the rail line near a spot that hugs the river bank, continuing amid the thick spruce–birch forest. In spring, colorful wildflowers adorn the verges. The main trail ends abruptly at Clear Creek, although a dirt path continues about another 6 miles to the ruins of an old luxury hotel—the Curry. There isn’t much left of it, and unless you’re super adventurous, it may not be worth your while to continue on bike. Ask in town before attempting it.
Back in Talkeetna, stop by Nagley’s Store, another of the establishments that form the town’s historic designation on the National Register. Boasted as the longest continually operated general store in the valley, it opened its doors in 1921. Grab a specialty coffee or some ice cream.
Places to eat include Denali Brewing Company & Twister Creek Restaurant, serving local microbrews as well as soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, and specialty dishes. Check their website for events. Wildflower Café is located below Main Street Suites (another combo food–accommodations venue). Taste their stuffed halibut or grilled sesame salmon. The outdoor seating is nice, too. The funky and colorful Mountain High Pizza Pie offers unique dishes, such as Sicilian sourdough cheese bread with a slice of steak pie. But don’t let the name fool you, in addition to their breakfast pizzas, they serve a selection of Mexican, Greek, and Italian fare. You can also listen to live music certain nights of the week. And finally, keep your eye out for the Spinach Bread truck on Main Street, serving its eponymous bread with garlic and cheese. They offer a special of the day as well as a sweet treat and their famous Brazilian limeade.
Talkeetna has other short trails worth exploring; for maps and more information visit Talkeetna Trails & Parks online. If you’ve come all this way to cycle rail-trails, be sure to check out the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, as well as several others, in Anchorage.
For obvious reasons, outdoor recreation is pretty much the staple of Talkeetna’s economy. While you’re in the area, take advantage of the many adventures that await. To get a better handle on the region’s history, drop by the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum, where you can pick up a brochure for a walking tour. They also offer guided tours for an additional fee. If fishing and/or boating is your thing, Talkeetna River Guides and Dave Fish Alaska won’t disappoint. Alaska Nature Guides will take you hiking in and around Talkeetna, including Denali, and on nature walks, backpacking trips, heli-hiking tours, and wilderness explorations. You don’t have to be Jeremiah Johnston to sign on; tours run the gamut from easy to expert, and you can also ask for a custom one to suit your tastes.
A better way to take in the hugeness of Alaska—and reach remote places in a snap—is by air. Contact Talkeetna Air Taxi and Alaska Bush Floatplane Service, if your wallet and sense of adventure can afford it. If you want to get off the ground but don’t fancy a plane excursion, try Denali Zipline Tours. Another great way to see the wilderness is via the Hurricane Turn Train, departing from the town depot and heading north 115 miles along the Susitna River, through the Indian River canyon, to spectacular Hurricane Gulch. Because the train is what is called a flag stop (meaning people along the way can flag it down for a ride), the train may run late. On rare occasions, it doesn’t always make it as far as the gulch.
You absolutely can’t miss a day trip—or two—to Denali National Park & Preserve, pretty much the reason why folks come to this part of Alaska from all over the world. Consider taking the train to the park then hop on a tour bus to explore further. You’re almost guaranteed some wildlife sightings, including brown bears, moose, wolves, and more. What you aren’t guaranteed is a view of Denali, which is often covered clouds. But the valley and lower mountain tops are equally awesome. The Denali Park Road is open to private vehicles to the Savage River Bridge (14.8 miles). To get farther into the park, you’ll have to take a shuttle or tour bus. Bicycles and pedestrians can to travel on any part of the park road, barring temporary wildlife-related closures.