Should you rent a car in AnchorageUSA>Anchorage

Of the car rental destinations researched for Carornocar, Anchorage is one of the most interesting. This is because the natural assumption for any first-time visitor might well be that because Alaska has so much big open country, the obvious choice here would be to head straight for the  rental car desk. Surely everyone needs a car in Anchorage – or do they?

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For many, that is still going to be the primary choice – there’s no question about it, the vast state of Alaska offers some amazing driving opportunities. However, simply because of this great size, most of the state’s interior is completely untouched, and this in turn means that there are actually very few paved roads. In many cases, it is much easier to get around to remote locations by private air taxi!

So any road trip from Anchorage is actually going to be restricted to only a small number of route options. However, with a car you are still going to have the flexibility to stop where and when you want – something that’s not so easy by bus or train, when very limited schedules apply – nothing in Alaska works on a “hop on, hop off” basis!

So what about other ideas for exploring Alaska?

This is where things start to get really interesting. Once you plant the seed of the idea that hiring a car in Anchorage isn’t completely necessary, then a whole range of amazing non-car options starts to unravel itself.

These include some of the most scenic railway journeys that you can take anywhere in the world, together with the various different ways of taking to the waters. These include regular transport ferries as well as cruise offerings. On top of this you will find a plethora of hiking and biking options which don’t necessarily require you to use your own set of wheels to get to the start of the route.

In fact, if you are visiting a location like Denali National Park, then an Anchorage rental car is only going to get you to the park entrance. You will have to take a shuttle bus once inside the park anyway.

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  • Open roads – simply because Alaska means big open country and wide open roads with very little traffic.
  • Toll-free: There are no toll roads of any kind in the state of Alaska.
  • Rail services are spectacular, but heavily limited in terms of both routes and service frequency. Expect a daily tourist train during the busy season. Expect little else outside this.
  • Regular urban buses can only be found within the city limits of Anchorage. They are of little use to tourists.
  • Inter-city coaches cover much of the Alaskan interior. However, you won’t be able to stop mid-route. Typical frequencies are only once per day at best.
  • Limited ferries – You can explore the Alaskan coast by ferry, but you still need to get to and from the port. It’s much easier to take a car with you.

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Cost issues

  • Expect to pay more per day in Alaska than anywhere else – you are more likely to be in a bulky vehicle, with the heating on, and you are probably going to drive further.
  • Alaska car rental costs considerably more than any equivalent elsewhere in the USA, or in Canada. Only Hawaii is comparable on price.
  • You will need comprehensive breakdown cover, given the potential distances you may drive from Anchorage, and the limited number of service stations.
  • Fuel in Alaska is not cheap – you may be close to the refinery, but you are still paying a premium for being here. Expect to pay a little bit less than California, but more than other states in the “Continental 48”.
  • The nature of the weather and terrain makes a 4×4 vehicle very useful, and this in turn pushes up the cost of both the rental itself and fuel.

Other issues

  • There are only a limited number of public roads to drive on.
  • The railroad trips you can take here are amongst the best you will find anywhere in the world – by taking a single track rail line away from any highway, you really can get much closer to nature.
  • Many people prefer to see Alaska by taking a cruise. If this is your plan, and you want to add on a few more days in and around Anchorage, then you will find more than enough options without needing to get a rental car.
  • You really don’t need a car in Anchorage to see the most interesting places .  Using a combination of inter-city buses, train excursions, ferry and national park buses, you can see most of the key places of interest.
  • It may be worth hiring a car in Anchorage for a day or two, depending on your plans. This will be a great deal better value than renting a car for your whole trip. This will still be so, even after you have forked out for train trips and so on.
  • In the summer at least, there are several options for regular cycling and mountain bike riding around Anchorage. Cycling options include rail trails around the resort of Alyeska. You can get to the start using local buses. It’s also easy enough to rent bikes for the day.

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Should you rent a car in Anchorage? In order for us to say “you really don’t need a car in Anchorage”, we’d need to put forward at least a couple of options which show that you can see most of the main places of interest without one. Anchorage offers this and more. Not only is it really not worth hiring a car in Alaska for any more time than you absolutely need to, but you also have a huge choice of other options from hiking and biking to train and ferry trips. Buses also provide some vital links in between.

We have no doubt that the locals will tell you that a car is a must here. After all, that’s what they will use, but a car is also what they will already have. What we have to look at is whether or not it’s worth getting a rental car in Anchorage. That really isn’t so clear cut, since the cost is so high! Just because the locals will all use cars, the chances are they aren’t using the tourist trains or taking the ferries on a daily basis either. However, as a visitor, these services will make a huge amount of sense.

Ultimately, if you still think that you should hire a car in Anchorage, then we’d really suggest going for a shorter rental period. This will wortk out better value than having a car for the whole length of your stay. After all, it’s very easy to pick up or drop of a car downtown in the middle of the stay. Even if you need to go out to the airport, that’s not a problem either as Anchorage is a compact city.

Whatever your own choice may be, Anchorage is one place where it’s absolutely worth thinking again before heading straight to the car rental lot on auto-pilot.

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Author: Carometer

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