Should you rent a car in EdmontonCanada>Edmonton

First impressions of Edmonton might be of a city that sits at the edge of a wide prairie and at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s also the location of the West Edmonton Mall. This vast mega complex that was the largest in the world before various different cities in Asia started playing shopping mall top trumps with each other. If you fancy a virtual visit to this giant shopping metropolis before visiting Edmonton in person, then just watch the “so bad it’s good” comedy “Christmas in Wonderland”.

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Any decision on whether or not to rent a car in Edmonton is nothing like as straightforward as it might initially look.

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Within the city

  • Edmonton is a large and generally sprawling city. It is built for the car.
  • There are no commuter trains serving Edmonton.
  • The only through train is the east-west VIA rail service which runs between Toronto and Vancouver (see below).

Rockies & beyond

  • For all of the usual reasons of flexibility, a hire car is probably still going to be useful, especially for venturing deep into the Rockies.
  • The balance in both Edmonton and nearby Calgary is always going to swing towards spending more time in the mountains, and less in the cities.
  • Public transport options are limited in rural areas (but what might be lacking in quantity certainly manages to pack in the quality!).
  • It’s also relatively easy to travel between Edmonton and Calgary – it’s going to be a 3 to 4 hour drive in a car, around 50 buses per day are available, and you can also fly.
  • For visiting Jasper and beyond, if you rent a car in Edmonton, you will have far more flexibility. There is only one scheduled bus (Greyhound) per day between Edmonton and Jasper, and other shuttle services (eg Sundog) are limited in frequency.
  • Jasper Skytram – this is a great way to get outstanding views of the Rockies from a vantage point high above the town of Jasper. If you are used to mountain cable cars in places like Switzerland, then you may asl obe used to a wide range of trains and buses getting you to the base station. There is a local shuttle servicing hotels in Jasper, but it’s much easier to get to Jasper in the first place in a rental car.
  • The Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff is one of the world’s great road trips – and it’s difficult to do by bus.

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So all this background points to an auto-dominated city where a rental car is a natural choice, but as we’ve also said with nearby Calgary, there are two strong reasons why this might not always be the case.

  • Firstly, when it comes to recreational cycling, Edmonton is actually a pretty good place for biking, with a vast network of paths and linked parks, many running along the banks of the Saskatchewan River, which runs diagonally roughly north-east to south-west through the city. There are also plenty of other great places to go road cycling or mountain biking around Edmonton, primarily towards the Rocky Mountains in the west. However, as with any location in Western Canada or in the western parts of the USA, you might still want to get a hire car to drive your (potentially also hired) bikes into the more scenic areas.
  • Secondly, Edmonton is also the start of a great train trip into the Rocky Mountains, running via the Jasper National Park. It is also possible to reach this area by organised bus trip.

As as former host of the Winter Olympics, Edmonton sits within easy range of a wide number of skiing and other winter sports activities, and for this sort of holiday there’s often little point in getting a rental car if resort shuttle bus services will do.

  • On the whole, we’d score Edmonton very high for the spectacular scenery which can be reached by car, but equally by train or by way of hiking or cycling excursions. Yet although the options in terms of non-car exploring are not anything like as versatile as they might be in European mountain regions such as The Alps, there are still enough options available with each mode.
  • The train trip through the Rockies has to be rated as one of those truly great rail trips, and for us, this puts it over above any equivalent road trip, largely because the train is able to get that little bit closer to the scenery. However, with services only operating 2-3 times per week, a trip on “The Canadian” is something to be savoured, by planned carefully! Note that VIA rail do not own the track in this part of Canada, so they warn passengers that services can be held up due to freight movements. Always allow plenty of time for any rail journey in western Canada!
  • You can arrange tours of the Canadian Rockies by train and bus, with enough gaps in your planning. If you base yourself in towns like Jasper and Banff for a few days, then you won’t be complaining about things to do, but allowing more time when compared to driving in a rental car might make your trip more expensive than it needs to be!
  • Icefields Parkway by bus – a tour service with limited stops is offered by Brewsters.

If you prefer to drive and then have the freedom to stop, then an Edmonton rental car is obviously still going to be the best bet, but it’s worth finding time to do some hiking away from the roadways to really see everything properly, even if you only do short stretches.

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However, we are here to answer the question “should we get a hire car in Edmonton”, and given that a wide range of cycling options are available, together with the possibility of a truly unforgettable train trip, then the answer that question isn’t an automatic yes. If you are planning on hiring a car in Edmonton on auto pilot, then it’s best to keep doing so, but if you are even briefly pausing to think about it, then no might well be the better option.

Do you need car in Edmonton? Edmonton car hire advice verdict – no!

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Author: Carometer

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