Renting A Car in the Last Frontier State: The Ultimate Guide

Alaska is known for its rugged mountains, breathtaking natural beauty, and abundant wildlife. Those alone make it a bucket list destination for travelers around the world. As the largest state in the country, navigating the Last Frontier can be tricky for even the most seasoned adventurers. Renting a car is essential for making the most of your trip to Alaska.

In this comprehensive guide to renting a car in Alaska, we explore everything you need to know before your visit. With over 60 years of experience in Alaskan car rentals, we have heard just about every question imaginable. So today, we’re covering it all.

By the time you finish reading, you will have everything you need to explore Alaska by rental car with confidence. We will discuss tips on how to save money renting a car and the best time to visit Anchorage. So, stay tuned to learn all about renting a car in the Last Frontier State. Now, let’s talk logistics.

How to Get Around Anchorage, AK

If it is your first time exploring the Last Frontier state, we recommend starting with Anchorage. Whether you’re traveling to Alaska with family or living it up on a solo adventure, Anchorage offers plenty to do and see for every type of traveler.

As Alaska’s largest and most populous city, Anchorage combines the otherworldly beauty Alaska is known for with all the comforts of home. With that said, Anchorage is extremely accessible. If you’re traveling to Anchorage by plane, there’s no need to worry about whether you will have transportation options.

From the Anchorage Trolley Tours to the Alaska Railroad to helicopter tours, there are several ways to explore this popular city. However, if you want the freedom to explore Alaska the way you want, traveling by car is the best way to go. Not only are there many must-see destinations that are only accessible by car, but opting for a rental car provides you with the freedom and reliability that other transportation methods do not.

Why Travel Alaska By Car?

Renting a car in Alaska is the easiest and most affordable way to see the full spectrum of beauty that this scenic state holds. The Last Frontier is home to many hidden gems that you can’t access by public transportation, which means your journey would only go as far as the train or People Mover allows.

Rental cars also provide travelers with a level of flexibility that just is not possible with public transit. You will never have to worry about rushing to catch the bus or having to leave a hotspot before you’re ready. With a rental car, you can experience the rugged landscapes at your leisure, with the freedom to linger and soak it all up.

Many of our customers ask us ‘is renting a car in Alaska more expensive than taking the train?’ and every time we are pleased to tell them that no, it is not. Traveling in Alaska by train is not cheap, especially for large groups, and takes significantly longer to reach your destinations. Not only that, but traveling by train also means you would need to find secondary transportation upon arrival—either by taxi, bus, or traveling on foot—making a rental car the easier and more budget-friendly option.

Things To Know About Renting a Car in Anchorage, AK

As you can imagine, driving around Anchorage (or anywhere in Alaska, for that matter), is quite different than driving in the continental United States. To make things easier and prevent a culture shock, here are some tips for exploring Alaska by car:

  • Watch for wildlife. Much of the Alaskan landscape is undeveloped and untouched. Therefore, you will likely be sharing the roads with a variety of wildlife. Bears and moose can be found roaming near Alaskan roadways, so stay vigilant as you take in the beauty of your surroundings.
  • Take the road less traveled. Alaska is teeming with nooks and crannies that are worth checking out. Therefore, we encourage you to take full advantage of the freedom your rental car provides and travel off the beaten path. Spend a day exploring one of the many must-see small towns that are located just a short distance from the highway. During your adventures, keep in mind that most Alaska car rental agencies require that rental cars be driven only on paved surfaces.
  • Take your time. Whenever you’re driving somewhere unfamiliar, it’s important to take your time. The terrain will likely be different from what you’re used to, but highway construction, camping on the sides of the roadway, and fishermen are all commonalities in Alaska.
  • Prepare for a long ride. Alaska is a massive state (think: three times the size of Texas) with sights that are incredibly spread out. So, prepare yourself for longer-than-usual car rides and appreciate the journey. We recommend packing snacks, filling up on gas first, and downloading your favorite road tunes.
  • Pack a map. Most of the tourists that visit Alaska keep a map with them, and for good reason! While cell phone coverage is fairly dependable throughout major towns and cities, it can become spotty in the more remote areas.

How to Save Money on Your Car Rentals in Alaska

As with anywhere, renting a car for an extended period can become costly if you don’t adequately prepare. Whether you’re renting a car for the long haul or simply looking to cut costs for a day or two of your trip to Alaska, here are some ways to save money on your Alaskan car rental:

  • Visit during the off-season. Planning a trip to Alaska in May or September will cost far less than it would in the middle of peak season (summer and/or winter).
  • Reserve in advance. Rental car rates tend to increase as you grow closer to your travel date, especially during peak season. Therefore, booking your rentals in advance is much more affordable than booking the week or day of.
  • Check back frequently. Most Alaska car rental company prices fluctuate throughout the day. Therefore, if something is out of your price range in the morning, check back later that afternoon—the price very well may have dropped. 
  • Don’t rent at the airport. You can often avoid airport surcharge fees by renting directly from the websites of local agencies, so make sure to do your research before the trip.

Best Things To Do in Anchorage, AK

Now that you have learned more about renting a car in Alaska, it’s time to for the exciting part—planning your Anchorage travel itinerary! Need some help? Here are some of the best things to do in Anchorage for families and solo travelers alike:

  1. Visit the glaciers. No trip to Alaska would be complete without seeing these natural wonders for yourself. Portage Glacier, one of Alaska’s most popular attractions, is accessible to all and is located just a short drive away from Anchorage.
  2. See the Northern Lights. If you visit between September and April, you can catch a glimpse of the iconic Northern Lights. Looking for a place to watch from? Eklutna Tailrace, Girdwood, and the Knik River area are all terrific options just outside of Anchorage.
  3. Bask in the midnight sun. From late March to late September, Anchorage has more daylight than anywhere else in the United States. That means plenty of time to hop in the car for an evening hike or bike ride with the kids.
  4. Visit national parks. Alaska is home to some of the most iconic national parks in the country. As the gateway to Alaska adventure, Anchorage is just a short drive away from Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park.
  5. Browse the local art scene. There’s no denying that Anchorage knows how to put on a show. Alaska’s most populated city is full of art galleries, concert venues, and creative displays that are well worth a visit. While the downtown area is fairly walkable, keep in mind it can get quite chilly during the winter months.
  6. Go flightseeing. Anchorage offers tons of flightseeing tours to destinations that will take your breath away. Given that Alaska has the highest aviation rates in the country, it is no surprise there are many commercial flying services ready to fly you to those once-in-a-lifetime places.
  7. Try kayaking or paddleboarding. Eklutna Lake is great for exploring via kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard, and is located just a short drive from downtown Anchorage. For those who want to stay on land, Eklutna Lake also has fantastic options for biking and hiking.
  8. Go dog sledding. Anchorage is the perfect destination for crossing that dog sled adventure off your bucket list. While dog sledding peaks in the winter, summer dog sledding is available for those willing to head north to find snow.
  9. Visit the gardens. Anchorage flourishes in the summertime, and we mean that in the most literal sense. The “City of Lights and Flowers” is home to 80,000 flowers in 460 flower beds. To check out some eye-catching flora and fauna, Town Square Park and the Log Cabin Visitor Information Center are two of the local favorites.

Best Time To Visit Anchorage, AK

While there are perks to visiting Anchorage year-round, the best time to visit Anchorage really depends on your personal preference. To decide when to plan your trip, here’s a glimpse of what to expect during each season in Alaska.

  • Spring: In Alaska, spotting grey whales is often the first sign of spring. So, if you’re interested in embarking on a whale-watching cruise, spring is the perfect time to visit.
  • Summer: Because the sun rarely sets during the summer months, this time of year is ideal for outdoor adventures like fishing, kayaking, hiking, and biking.
  • Autumn: If you hope to see the Northern lights, then plan to visit Anchorage during the fall months. Hiking and biking are still enjoyable, and you can often find deals on accommodations and airfare.
  • Winter: If you’re a ski bum, then winter in Anchorage is your season. Alyeska Resort is Alaska’s premier ski resort and it’s right outside of Anchorage. The Arctic Valley and Hilltop ski areas are also located nearby.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s):

Still have a few unanswered questions about renting a car in Alaska? Here are the answers to some of the most common questions we are asked at Avis Alaska.

Can you Uber in Alaska?

Uber and Lyft recently made their way onto Alaskan roads. However, these rideshare services are not available everywhere. Before embarking on your trip to Alaska, it is always a good idea to research whether rideshares are readily available in the city you plan on traveling to.

Is it difficult to rent a car in Alaska?

Contrary to what some might believe, it is not at all difficult to rent a car in Alaska. Because most tourists arrive by airplane, there are plenty of rental car companies available. All you have to do is choose the one that best suits your travel needs.

Can you rent one-way cars in Alaska?

If you’re planning a one-way road trip in Alaska, you can rent a one-way car from most agencies. Many of the local rental agencies have offices in all major cities. This means you can rent a car in Anchorage and drop it off in Fairbanks (for example). Just keep in mind this is often a more expensive option.

How are the highways in Alaska?

Just like in the lower 48 states, the highways in Alaska are well-maintained and very drivable. However, be mindful that speed limit is typically around 55 miles per hour or less. Similar to other states, highway construction occurs seasonally, but it is manageable as long as you are cautious on the road.

Renting A Car in Anchorage, AK

Anchorage holds a high-ranking spot on the bucket lists of adventurers from all over for many reasons. Whether you’re planning to summit Denali, bask in the midnight sun, or enjoy mouthwatering local cuisine, Anchorage has something for every traveler.

No matter what your trip holds, renting a car is the best way to ensure that it goes smoothly. Experience the icy blue glaciers and arctic plains in all their glory by traveling with a reliable and affordable rental. With all the amazing things to do in Alaska, don’t underestimate having dependable transportation to get you around. For more advice on renting a car in Alaska (including where to go and what to do), contact our team at Avis Alaska. We look forward to welcoming you to the Last Frontier and can’t wait to help make your journey one you will treasure for a lifetime.