Accessible trails grant access to nature to people who use a wheelchair or scooter. People with fatigue and weakness will also find accessible trails more “user-friendly” than trails with steep grades and rough walking surfaces.
The most famous national parks—including the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Yosemite—have accessible trails. So do many other national preserves, recreation areas, lake shores, scenic trails and forests. Visit the National Park Service for details.
The National Parks pass
A lifetime “Access Pass” in the “America the Beautiful–National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass” series is available to people who are permanently disabled and their families.
The pass gives you:
- Free admission to all federally operated parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas and national wildlife refuges.
- A 50% discount on most federal use fees charged for special facilities and services, such as camping, boat launching and parking.
You must apply in person at any federal recreation area. Bring some proof of eligibility, such as a Social Security notice of coverage, a veteran’s card or a letter from a federal agency.
Nearly all state parks have some accessible trails. Call your state park and recreation service or enter your state’s name and the words “wheelchair accessible trail” into any search engine to find those nearest you.
Here is a small nationwide sampling:
- El's Wampmissick Trail, part of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, is a 0.75-mile accessible trail through the Pine Barrens of Long Island, N.Y. Call first for hours: 631-360-0753 or 631-852-3449.
- The Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway in Texas is an accessible 20-mile trail that connects the cities of Mineral Wells and Weatherford with the park along an abandoned rail line. All four trailheads have accessible restrooms and many campsites are also ADA compliant.
- Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville, Ala., has one of the first accessible nature trails in the United States. It has won numerous awards and is used as a model for other trails. Signs include Braille. At the top of the mountain sits the 19th-century Burritt Mansion, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was retrofitted with wheelchair ramps.
- The Oregon Redwood Barrier Free Trail in Brookings, Ore., is one of the most spectacular natural sites anywhere, home to plenty of wilderness with wild rivers and wildlife. The crushed aggregate surface leads through a grove of majestic redwood trees, the only coastal redwoods found in the Pacific Northwest.
- The Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District in California’s Bay Area offers several wheelchair-accessible trails, including accessible restrooms at some points.
- Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources offers a list of the more accessible facilities in its large park system. Among them is Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, with wheelchair-accessible nature trails to Ash Cave and along the rim overlooking Old Man’s Cave. Visitors see towering sandstone cliffs, yawning sandstone caves, waterfalls and cascading streams in deep gorges. There is one outdoor wheelchair-accessible swimming pool.
- And there is a Handicapped Travel Club with over 250 members who share information on campsites and adaptive equipment for recreational vehicles. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 317-849-8019.
Follow these health and safety tips:
- Bring along a companion if possible.
- Apply sunscreen and insect repellent before setting out.
- Wear a hat and bring along plenty of drinking water and a spray bottle of water to squirt yourself with.
- If you are going on a long trail, sign the register or tell a ranger when you expect to return. Carry a map, tools to repair your wheelchair, and a cell phone (if there is coverage where you are).
- Do not feed or try to pet wild animals.
- Be alert to signs of heat exhaustion: weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, cold and clammy skin. If you have any of the signs, immediately go to a cool place, loosen your clothing and get emergency assistance.
- But most of all, get out and enjoy what nature has to offer!