Three Roads Rental Car Companies Ban in Alaska (Except Alaska 4×4)

There’s enough to see along Alaska’s well-traveled main highways to fill more than one Alaska vacation. But Alaska’s road system offers even more past where the pavement ends, and only Alaska 4×4 vehicle rentals provide access to those otherwise banned highways. Curious where you can take a backroads-approved rental? Read on.

 

Denali Highway | 135 miles, Paxson to Cantwell

The Denali Highway name can be confusing. It neither reaches Denali, nor does it have highway-like characteristics (like pavement). When it was completed in 1957 it really was the only road to access Denali National Park, and in Alaska words like “highway” are relative. But the beauty of this road certainly isn’t.

The Denali Highway winds gently through high tundra in an arc below the eastern Alaska Range. Well above tree line, unimpeded views make the road a landscape photographer’s delight. At times you can see three of Alaska’s mightiest mountain ranges, glaciers, broad lakes and kettle ponds, creeks, rivers, and hillsides that light up with alpenglow.

With patience and binoculars you can also view plenty of wildlife along the highway. Early Athabaskan tribes frequented Tangle Lakes, which mark the highway’s midpoint, for its abundant animals. Even today the 50,000-strong Nelchina Caribou Herd still makes its annual migration through the area. The Denali Highway is especially beautiful during this fall migration (late August through September) as wild blueberries, dwarf birch, and alders burn bright with autumn color.

Tip: Taking the Denali Highway is a great way to connect from Valdez or Copper Center to Denali National Park in a day.

 

McCarthy Road60 miles, Chitina to McCarthy Footbridge

The McCarthy Road is legendary for its wicked condition. Teeth-rattling washboard, random railroad ties, actual iron spikes, frost heaves, and muddy washouts all but guaranteed a flat tire (at best) or a breakdown (not unlikely) in the road’s early days. But we’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s not that bad now.

The McCarthy Road follows the old Copper River and Northwestern Railway, a 1900s-era route constructed to bring copper ore from the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains to port in Cordova. The copper mines were abruptly abandoned in 1938 and the track turned over for use as a public highway a few years later.

The road today is full of that history, starting with the Million Dollar Bridge crossing the roiling Copper River. Further on the road crosses the single-lane Kuskulana River Canyon Bridge. It was built in the winter of 1910 so that crews could avoid the raging glacial melt water of summer. A similarly impressive engineering fete can be seen through the trees about halfway along the road. Rail crews originally built the 890-foot-long Gilahina River Trestle in just eight days.

The McCarthy Road ends at the Kennicott River. To visit the town of McCarthy and access the road to Kennecott mine, visitors must park here, cross a footbridge, and either walk, bike, or take a shuttle the half mile into town.

Tip: Driving the McCarthy Road makes for a fun day trip from the Copper River Princess Lodge. While you’re on your way, stop at the Wrangell-St. Elias Chitina District office for a map and a chat about the road’s current conditions. Also, there’s no gas in Chitina or McCarthy, so gas up at Kenny Lake on the way in.

 

Dalton Highway | 414 miles, Livengood to Deadhorse

The longest and most isolated of our banned highways, the Dalton Highway is the only road to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. The highway was built in tandem alongside the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1974, and while its frequented by supply trucks (most locals call it the Haul Road), driving it is a truly remote experience.

There are just three outposts along the Dalton: Coldfoot, Wiseman, and Deadhorse. Altogether these towns have a booming permanent population of about 55. The gravel road linking them alternates between long, flat stretches dotted with potholes and steep grades through mountain passes.

Tip: Driving the Dalton is a serious undertaking. Take a shorter day excursion from Fairbanks to see the Yukon River (about 60 miles one way) or continue to the Arctic Circle sign (an additional 60 miles one way).

 

Tips for Driving Alaska’s Gravel Highways

  • Take a Milepost. This is the ultimate resource for making the most of your time on Alaska’s remote roads (and doing it safely).
  • Plan your gas stops in advance and bring cash in case credit cards aren’t accepted.
  • Check that your spare is aired up and locate your jack and tire iron before you hit the road.
  • Load Google maps (or whatever app you use) while you have service. These roads have spotty coverage at best.
  • And finally, take your time! There is so much to take in on these highways, from history to scenery and wildlife. And, if you go in with a “take it slow” attitude, the inevitable delays will become just another part of the adventure.

 

At Alaska Tour & Travel, we specialize in building custom trips for every timeline, personality, and budget. If you’d like to have an Alaskan plan your Alaska trip, give us a call at 800-208-0200.

 

Comments

  1. Clarence Wood
    January 22nd, 2019 | 1:32 pm

    It would be good to see Alaska by car next sept. Can you send me some information. Thank you clarence

  2. January 22nd, 2019 | 1:33 pm

    I will need a rental suv during a stay in late June /July 2019.
    I will like a drive itinerary for a min of 7/9 days travel by my
    own vehicle.
    first timer in ALASKA.I COMING FROM NY/ FAIRBANKS OR ANCHORAGE
    DEPENDING ON YOUR INPUT.
    LOVE TO GO FURTHER SOUTH FROM ANCHORAGE AS WELL.
    APPRECIATE YOUR INPUT
    ALL THE BEST

  3. Michael Floyd
    January 22nd, 2019 | 5:50 pm

    I take people to Alaska. However, I have a problem. I have used my Alaska map so much in showing people the state and getting them excited about traveling there that my map of Alaska is literally falling apart. i really need a new one. Please send one to:

    Michael Floyd
    4023 Windswept Drive
    Fort Wayne, IN 46815

    Thank you!

  4. George Guinn
    January 23rd, 2019 | 2:26 am

    Plan on a road 2019

  5. January 23rd, 2019 | 10:59 am

    When in Fairbanks we plan to go to the Arctic Circle. The Dalton Highway is in the planning. How long will it take? I don’t rush for anything therefore taking our time is the way that we travel. How much for a flight from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle? Thank You for your information. Sincerly, Dennis Messier

  6. January 24th, 2019 | 8:58 am

    Hi Dennis, the Arctic Circle is 199 miles from Fairbanks. Northern Alaska Tours offers a fly – drive adventure for the day that takes you as far north as Coldfoot. It costs $419 – 499 depending on which departure you take. Here’s a link to more information on that tour – https://www.alaskatravel.com/fairbanks/arctic-circle-fly-drive.html.

  7. January 24th, 2019 | 9:01 am

    Michael, sounds like you need a full size map. Here is where you can order one: https://gumroad.com/l/the-alaska-map

  8. January 24th, 2019 | 9:03 am

    Hi Ken, we’d be happy to help and have several different auto rental options for you depending on your interest. Traveling south of Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula is a great idea. We will reach out to you by email today.

  9. January 24th, 2019 | 9:12 am

    Clarence, we’d be happy to. All our packages can be customized to travel by car. We’ll reach out via email to give you some itinerary ideas.

  10. RUTH POWELL
    January 25th, 2019 | 7:33 pm

    My husband and I will be in Aanchorage area in late august/early sept. We are going on a caribou hunt and will be back from that on Sept.7. We want to stay longer to do our own tour but we need transportation to get around.We are interested in self guided driving tours that you might have.

  11. January 26th, 2019 | 9:55 am

    Ruth, we can provide you with a custom travel package and itinerary based on your schedule and interests. We have several different auto rental companies we work with as well. One which offers 4×4 vehicles allowed on dirt roads and highways that may be of special interests to you. We’ll reach out by email today.

  12. Melissa
    February 5th, 2019 | 7:55 pm

    We went to the Arctic Circle on July 4th a few years ago and du to the holiday there weren’t very many trucks. It took all day from Fairbanks to get there and back and make a ew stops. Make sure yo stop on the other side of the Yukon River at the Visitor Center and get your “certificate”. Have a great trip!

  13. sherrie mcelwain
    March 19th, 2019 | 4:42 pm

    3 adults and 2 children ages 8 and 7 will be in Juneau (one will be attending an event) June 18-26. What would be a great itinerary? Would love to go to Denali Park. We are considering a rental car, usually use Enterprise. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  14. TITUS MCELWAIN
    March 19th, 2019 | 4:46 pm

    3 adults and 2 children ages 7 and 8 will be visiting Juneau in June 18-26 (one adult has an event to attend for 3 days). We are considering a rental car and usually use Enterprise Rental. What would be a great itinerary to get the most out of our visit? Would love to visit Denali Park.

  15. April 1st, 2019 | 4:15 pm

    You can’t drive from Juneau to Denali National Park. You could fly from Juneau to Anchorage, then rent a car or take the Alaska Railroad to Denali National Park. Denali NP is about a 5 hour drive from Anchorage.

  16. Jess Cheng
    May 3rd, 2019 | 11:08 pm

    Hi, I’m planning this end off November drive from Fairbank to Arctic Circle is it advisable to drive during winter time? and also planning from Fairbank drive to Anchorage please advice. thanks

  17. Mel vanderBrug
    May 21st, 2019 | 11:49 am

    Is there any public transportation from Seward to Whittier? We are disembarking in Seward on 9-11-19. Avis in Whittier has a good rate for a car we can leave in Fairbanks on 9-19-19. Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

  18. June 3rd, 2019 | 7:32 am

    Hi Mel, no public transportation between Seward and Whittier unfortunately. There are a few charter companies that you could hire to take you between the two cities but it wouldn’t be inexpensive. You should consider pricing a Anchorage to Fairbanks car rentals with AK 4×4 Rentals and take the Park Connection from the Seward dock to the Anchorage airport to pick it up. https://alaskatravel.com/anchorage/4×4-car-rental-suv5.html

  19. June 3rd, 2019 | 7:36 am

    Traveling in November north of Fairbanks, you will definitely be at risk of hitting some very poor weather. Services are very limited. Check with Northern Alaska Tours in Fairbanks to see if they have tour available instead.

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