Talkeetna may rise only a few hundred feet above sea level, but the peaks of the Alaska Range – Foraker (17,400 feet) and, North America's highest, Denali (20,320 feet) – hover like white ghosts over the town's thick fringe of spruce trees. In summer, Talkeetna bustles with international climbers gunning for some of the world's most formidable summits. As the locals put it: The Gore-Tex is in bloom.

"We love it," says Alaska Mountaineering School owner Colby Coombs. "Instead of the usual crowd at the Roadhouse, you might end up sitting at a table next to five guys from Greece." Long hours of daylight mean no one's in too much of a hurry, and night tends to look a lot like day. Live music pours out of places like Mountain High Pizza and Village Park. After hours, whatever that means here, the scene becomes mellow and shifts to the TeePee, which has "the flattest pool table in town."

Talkeetna's immediate surroundings are so wild and full of bears that venturing off into the woods is actually discouraged. But long days allow you to do things the Alaska way: Catch a Talkeetna Air Taxi for a flightseeing tour of the mighty one, Denali, with the option of a glacier landing at base camp, or hop a floatplane into the Talkeetna Mountains wilderness for a guided hike across open tundra – or a day of fishing near a remote lake.

Getting There: Fly to Anchorage; drive two and a half hours north.