The eclectic hamlet of Talkeetna has a palpable small-town Alaska feel, but is lent an international flavour by the world's mountaineers, who come here to scale the 20,320ft Mount McKinley, usually referred to in Alaska by its Athabascan name of Denali, "the Great One." Whatever you choose to call it, North America's highest peak rises from 2000ft lowlands, making it the world's tallest from base to peak (Everest et al rise from high terrain). Though central to Denali National Park, the mountain is best seen from the overlook just south of Talkeetna, which reveals the peak's transcendent white glow, in sharp contrast to the warm colours all around.
From mid-April to mid-July, climbers mass in Talkeetna to be flown to the mountain: only half of the 1200 attempting the climb each year succeed, usually due to extreme weather. Air-taxi companies such as K2 Aviation (Tel:1-800/764-2291, Web: www.flyk2.com ) also run flightseeing trips ranging from a spectacular one-hour ($190) flight to the full ninety-minute grand tour ($265) all around the mountain.