The opportunity to breathe and to have your breath completely taken away: this is what the splendor of nature offers.
You belong at the foot of a 167-foot waterfall, experiencing the deafening roar of natural hydro power and soaking in the mist.
You belong at the rim of a mile-deep canyon, catching your breath from the sheer splendor of a red rock masterpiece carved by time.
Natural wonders and wheelchair accessibility don’t always seem to go hand-in-hand, but many National and State Parks have been working to change that.
Grand Canyon National Park
While the main vistas, like Mather Point, are paved and ramped for accessibility, the park also allows you to use your handicap placard as a backstage pass for the private/service roads. These roads come with incredible pull-off views (without having to leave your car) and uncrowded vistas.
While you can’t descend very far into the canyon, in this wheelchair accessible national park you can access most of the views from the top. The old El Tovar Dining Room with the excellent views is wheelchair accessible, and all the hotels, lodges, and campgrounds have accessible options.
Niagara Falls State Park
Waterfalls tend to be hard to get to. When they are wheelchair accessible, you can usually only access the view from the rim or the gorge: rarely both. What a wonder that one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the world has built-in accessibility for both.
Smooth, paved trails line the rim of the falls – enabling accessible views along the river and across the falls. An elevator down to the Cave of the Winds tour brings you down to the base of the American Falls. A wheelchair accessible boat (the Maid of the Mist) can bring you right to the base of Horseshoe Falls. Still looking for a better view? The Observation Tower out over the river is also wheelchair accessible.
Niagara Falls State Park has covered all the details to make sure that the majority of the park is fully wheelchair accessible.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Naturally, the home of the world’s largest tree is a forest – not always an easy place for wheelchair users to navigate. Fortunately, most of the major points at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are wheelchair accessible.
General Sherman has a paved loop leading from handicapped parking. The Giant Forest can be seen mostly from the road as a drive-by. The famous car tunnel can be driven through or rolled through in your chair. Big Trees Trail has a boardwalk path around the meadow. Vehicles with handicap placards are allowed on shuttle roads, but the shuttles are also wheelchair accessible. A handicap placard also gets you parking in areas that would otherwise be a difficult walk. There are wheelchair accessible campground options, picnic areas, restrooms, and restaurants. Wheelchairs are available on loan from Kings Canyon Visitor Center, the Giant Forest Museum, or the Lodgepole Visitor Center.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is full of perspective-changing wonder. Most of which can be seen from your car.
Even better than your car is the open roll-top of a wheelchair accessible Tenaya Lodge Yosemite Tour. In addition to unimpeded views, you can travel with an emergency trained park expert. This is helpful for knowing what is and is not wheelchair accessible while you’re in the park.
There are multiple accessible trails, like the loop to Lower Yosemite Falls. If you’re worried about distance, stops like Mirror Lake and Happy Isles allow you to drive the entrance road with a displayed handicap placard.
In addition to loaner wheelchairs, the park also offers hand-cranked bicycle rentals. Once the park shuttles are running again, those are also wheelchair accessible.
This wheelchair accessible national park has accessible sites at each campground, accessible picnic areas at each picnic grove, and accessible stalls at each restroom. While accessible lodging is limited, there are a few off-site properties with excellent accessibility options. Tenaya Lodge is a good example with fully accessible rooms, pools, dining areas, and other amenities.
Accessible Adventure Awaits
It can’t be denied that wheelchair travel, especially in the great outdoors, looks different. Yes, there are some things that can’t be done in a wheelchair. No, that won’t stop wheelchair users from soaking in the peaceful splendor of nature. While they’re certainly not perfect, National and State parks have come a long way in creating a world that is for everyone. They offer an opportunity to reconnect with nature in a way that would otherwise be impossible with the typical barriers of the outdoors.