Alaska Driving and Car Hire Info
Driving In Alaska
Although obviously not a country, the fact that Alaska is such a huge US enclave (more than twice the size of Texas, the next largest state) and is bigger than all but 18 countries, warrant it an entry of its own in the ‘countries’ section of DriverAbroad.com. With it chains of Islands and largely uninhabited interior wilderness, it’s no surprise that Alaska actually has few roads, with the state’s road system covering a relatively small area of the state, linking the main population centres and the Alaska Highway – the principal route out of the state through Canada. Even the state capital, Juneau, is only accessible by car ferry!
However, Alaska is a popular self drive location for travellers- either visitors from the US or Canada in their own vehicles or tourists from further afield renting a vehicle. Some driving pointers for Alaska are to keep your headlights on at all times; if five or more cars are trailing you, you MUST pull over (what a great rule that is, which I wish more countries would adopt!). Don’t drive too fast even if the road in front of you appears clear – animals could run out, and they could be big animals such as moose. Also there are frequent hidden dips in roads known as frost heaves which will damage the car if you hit them at speed.
One of Alaska’s most famous roads is the Dalton Highway which stretches around 400 miles North from Fairbanks to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay.(though access to Prudhoe Bay itself is restricted). A number of companies, some mentioned above, rent vehicles to drive the Dalton Highway in the Summer months. The actual drive will take between 12 and 15 hour, so a return trip with a couple of stops at one of the three isolated settlements on the roads length can easily take up around a week of leisurely driving. The Dalton Highway features regularly on the Ice Road Truckers TV series, which is obviously filmed predominantly in Winter, though you can also expect snow in Summer.
If you’re planning to drive to Alaska from Canada, you’ll use the Alaska Highway which begins at the town of Dawsons Creek in British Columbia and ends just South of Fairbanks, after passing through Whitehorse, Yukon- a journey of around 1490 miles and driving time of around 35 hours depending on weather. From Seattle to Dawsons Creek is around 800 miles and will take around 18 hours. One benefit of travelling in Alaska in Summer is the long daylight hours- Fairbanks has 24 hour daylight in June, which makes it easier to cover long distances if there are a few of you sharing the driving. Sections of the Alaska Highway in Canada are still unpaved though are generally in good condition. The road is entirely paved in Alaska, is in very good condition and generally remains open all year.
Many travellers make use of the ferry links between Alaska and British Columbia/USA to do a round trip. From the Alaska Highway its easy to get to Haines and also Skagway in Yukon which both have ferry links to Washington State and British Columbia via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system.(See below). The ferries are very popular in Summer so you’re strongly advised to pre book if travelling then.
Some driving distances and times in and around Alaska-
Anchorage to Fairbanks 580km, 7hrs 30
Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay 750km, 15 hrs
Fairbanks to White Horse ,860km ,14 hrs
Anchorage to Denali NP, 380km, 4hrs 30
Anchorage to Talkeetna, 185km 2hrs 30
Anchorage to Seward, 200km, 2hrs 30
Fairbanks to Denali NP, 200km, 3hrs
Anchorage to Haines/Skagway,1200km, 17 hrs
Anchorage to Homer,360km, 5hrs
This website has some suggestions for some scenic drives in the Anchorage and Greater Alaska area
Alaska Car Rental
Of the big rental companies –
Hertz has two locations in Anchorage,plus offices at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Kenai, Fairbanks, and Juneau.
Alamo has a location at Anchorage airport, two in Fairbanks and two in Juneau including one at the cruise ship docks.
National have outlets in Ancorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.
Avis has two locations in Anchorage and other offices in – Fairbanks, Whittier, Kenai, Skagway, Kodiak, Juneau, Sitka and Petersburg.
Budget has 3 locations in Anchorage and also offices in Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan and Kodiak.
Thrifty has two locations in Anchorage.
This company has outlets in Anchorage and Ketchican (using a local supplier High Country Rental). They state that they don’t allow vehicles to be driven on unpaved roads except the Dalton Highway.
This is a local company operating in Ketchikan but only allow SUV’s or 4X4s to leave Revillagigedo Island and travel to Prince of Wales Island.
This company rents RVs /Motor Homes, and 4X4s
This company in Fairbanks may be able to arrange one way rentals and rental of vehicles to drive on gravel roads, though at the time of checking their website seemed to be under construction.
This company also rent 4x4s to drive the Dalton Highway between May and September.
Alaska Self Drive Rules
Companies may have restrictions on taking cars between Islands and all companies seem to prevent driving non 4WD vehicles being driven on unpaved roads, though some, such as E-Z mentioned above may allow cars to be driven on the Dalton Highway and other operators will insist on you renting a 4×4 to drive on gravel roads.