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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.