Mahay’s Jet Boats Blast Upriver for a Look Inside Alaska

The Susitna, Talkeetna, and Chulitna rivers beckon visitors on a Mahay's Jet Boat tour

The Susitna, Talkeetna, and Chulitna rivers beckon visitors on a Mahay's Jet Boat tour

It’s an opportunity to see Alaska from her heart. Rivers and waterways are vital to the people of the 49th state; for food, transportation, and industry. Without them we are paralyzed. Wintertime provides access to areas remote, summer provides a subsistence bounty unmatched anywhere else. Back in the 1800’s, rivers in interior Alaska and the Yukon were one of the few modes of transportation; riverboats slowly moved upstream and down, ferrying goods and people to settlements far from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Being upon an Alaskan river is like sitting in the middle of a living, breathing thing. Everything must pass through.

When presented with an opportunity to take a jetboat tour courtesy of Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures out of Talkeetna, AK Fam jumped into the experience with both feet.  The Mahay family has been a fixture along the riverbanks of the area for years, beginning with Mahay’s construction of a trapping cabin along the banks of the Susitna. As an excursion operator popular with cruise lines, the Mahay company has made it their business to provide “excitement and adventure” to visitors since 1975.

Hop on a jetboat and you’ll rethink the old outboard motor concept. Designed for maneuverability along the sometimes 2ft depths of interior rivers, jeboats skim the water at high rates of speed and have an incredible turning radius, much to the delight of passengers who thrill to the twisting and turning of the watercraft to avoid riffles and rocks, stumps and branches. 40 mph up the Susitna, Talkeetna, and Chulitna we went, learning a bit about the area along the way.

A naturalist accompanies each tour (choose from 2 hrs, 3.5 hrs, or a Devil’s Canyon 5 hr trip) and provides a bit of insight into the history and culture of those who choose to call the greater Talkeetna area home. The views are stunning; a beautiful weekend was our luck and Denali was filling the camera viewfinder at every turn, providing a vast backdrop to the pebbly riverbed in front. Each tour stops at the company’s Adventure Site, where the naturalist walks visitors through the old Mahay homestead, complete with cache, furs, and a Dena’ina Native fish camp. Accurate and interesting, the little loop tour was a nice break from the long boat rides, and offered visitors a glimpse into the life of subsistence existences.

One benefit of the 3.5 hour tour was that upon our charge up the Chulitna river, those of us staying at McKinley Princess Lodges were dropped off at the bottom of the lodge’s access road, thus saving an hour-long bus ride from Talkeetna. Nice touch, and Lodge staff can arrange this and other tours right from the hotel’s Tour Desk.

Was 3.5 hours too long for five-year-old AK Kid? Perhaps a bit, but the weather was good, we spotted a few eagles and tons of beaver sign, and we came prepared with snacks (the 3.5 hr tour also provided us with deliciously large cookies and soda or juice). I probably wouldn’t take a child under 5 on the longer tour; there’s just too much lag time and the boat moves pretty fast and furious for a toddler to manage a wander up and down the aisles of metal and plastic seats. 2 hours is perfect for kids if families have their own transportation or don’t mind a trip back on a motorcoach (worth it, I think, to save kids’ sanity). Yes, both boat and motorcoach have restrooms, and again, the mid-point stop at the Adventure site is a nice break to stretch legs.

Who would like this tour best? Hard to say, but a close race between all boys between 1-100, and most of the rest of us. The noise, the speed, and the interesting landscape can’t be beat.

Prices range from $65 adults/$32.50 kids (12-under)for the 2 hour tour, $110 adults/$55 kids for 3.5 hour tour, and $155 adults/$77.50 kids for the 5-hour Devil’s Canyon tour.  Call 907-733-2223 or 800-736-2210 or visit the company’s website here.

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