Should You Rent A Car On Your Alaskan Trip? (It Depends…)

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There are a lot of things you’ll need to think about if you’re planning on taking a trip up to Alaska.

Will you be taking a cruise or a plane? How long will you be up here? Should you rent a car?

The answers to the first two are up to you; either way is great! We’re happy to have you no matter how you get here or how long you stay.

I can offer advice on the third question, however, having lived up in Southeast Alaska for over 30 years.

Many people are set on one way or the other when it comes to renting a car in Alaska and it ends up making their trip much more difficult. Not only do they find out that it can be quite difficult to find a rental car in Alaska (especially these days) but, unless you have somewhere specific to drive, you might not need or want a car at all.

So, should you rent a car on your Alaska trip? Well, let’s take a look at a few variables first.

Are You Flying or Taking A Cruise?

Do you remember how I said that it didn’t matter just ten seconds ago? I meant it! But those two questions will help provide the answer to the third.

If you’re flying to Alaska, you will almost certainly need a car, unless you enjoy paying for taxis or Uber/Lyft everywhere you want to go – if it’s available.

If you’re going to Anchorage or Fairbanks, I’d almost certainly rent a car. Anchorage has a decent bus system, but service ends rather early, especially on the weekends.

All-in-all, there are many ways to get around in Alaska and you can probably make do without a car in most situations.

What Is Your Destination?

Another consideration is the city or town where you’ll be spending your time. Since many of these places are not on the same road system, you’ll have to choose for each city you plan to visit if it’s more than one.

In Sitka, the airport is two miles or so from the city center across a bridge on another island.

I once made that walk, at night, in the cold and the dark, because I didn’t want my friend or his wife to have to drive me to the airport at 4 AM. It wasn’t fun and they also got mad at me for leaving in the middle of the night.

If you’re heading to Pelican to fish, you won’t need a car. The entire town is served by a one-mile boardwalk, although many residents do own and drive ATVs to get through town.

If you’re taking a small plane or an Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Skagway, it depends on what you’d like to do.

If you just plan on visiting the shops and museums in the city center, you likely won’t need one.

Most of the business district is in a few square blocks, giving you access to almost everything except the Gold Rush Cemetery and the Alaska Railroad Tours, which are a few blocks north.

However, having a car in Skagway opens up other possibilities, like visiting the ghost town of Dyea or driving 30 miles to Haines.

If your car rental company allows it and you have a passport or a passport card, you could also drive through Canada to Anchorage, Fairbanks, or other places on the road system from Skagway.

Not sure where to go? Check out the best cruise ports in Alaska that you won’t want to miss!

How Long Will You Be Here?

For cruise ship passengers, this is probably the biggest consideration you’ll have to take into account.

If you’re only in town for a few hours or a single day, it’s likely not worth it to go through the hassle of renting a car, especially since many ports do not have a car rental company close to the docks.

However, if you’re in a larger city like Juneau, the ship could be in port for up to 14 hours.

Granted, you’ll have to be back a set amount of time before it sets sail again and it will take some time to disembark, but even if we say 11 or 12 hours, it could be worth it, depending on what you want to see.

In Juneau with a car, you could visit the Shrine of St. Therese, located a few miles north of Auke Bay (a little over 20 miles from downtown).

You could also visit the Mendenhall Glacier for as long as you want and not be restricted to the amount of time the tour bus is there before.

There are also quite a few local restaurants out in the valley and Auke Bay, some of which I have mentioned in previous posts!

However, if you have less than six hours or so in port, it may be too much trouble. For most car rental agencies, they’ll have to either pick you up or bring the car down to the docks from the airport.

Can You Say That More Concisely?

Of course! If you’re taking a cruise to a city that isn’t Juneau, you will likely not have the time or the need to rent a car.

If your cruise is in Juneau for eight hours or more, definitely consider renting a car.

If you’re flying or taking an Alaska Marine Highway ferry to any city not named Pelican, I’d definitely consider renting a car.

If you’re going to Skagway, consider the things you want to see and do while you’re there and consider renting a car.

If you’re going to Anchorage or Fairbanks, absolutely rent a car. This will give you the freedom to go wherever you’d like. If the weather and road conditions are good, you can even drive between the two cities.

Whether you rent a car, take public transportation, or just walk everywhere, you’re in for an amazing time in the state of Alaska! We hope to see you soon!