Top 10 Wheelchair-Friendly Trails in the U.S.
Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares her top ten list of the most beautiful, accessible trails in the U.S.
While this may or may not seem obvious, enjoying the beauty of the outdoors is not accessible to everyone. Hiking trails are often narrow, bumpy, and only made for those who can navigate it on two feet (or four for our doggo friends). Unfortunately, this leaves out a large group of the human population—especially those who use wheelchairs to move around. In 1990, the American Disability Act, or the ADA, was signed into law and made discrimination against disability unlawful. Since then, outdoor spaces and national parks have put in some effort to make these natural sights accessible to a larger population. Here are some of the most beautiful and wheelchair-friendly trails across the United States.
Upper Geyser Basin Trail, Yellowstone National Park: Wyoming
This is a 2.8-mile out and back trail with a paved road and wooden boardwalks that will take you to watch the geysers erupt. Stay at the Old Faithful Inn and check out Castle, Daisy, and of course, Old Faithful geysers.
McKinley Station Trail, Denali National Park: Alaska
This is a three-mile loop trail that will show you the true beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. Learn about fur trappers, gold prospectors, and hunters at the Visitor Center and make sure you don’t miss the spruce and quaking aspen forest.
Malpais Nature Trail, Valley of Fires Recreation Area: New Mexico
The entire trail is paved and will take you through the old lava flow that happened over 5,000 years ago. This lava flow is four to six miles wide, over 150 feet thick, and covers almost 130 square miles. Despite this, there is a variety of plants and wildlife that calls this area home. Keep your eyes out for bats, quail, lizards, owls, gnatcatchers, golden eagles, roadrunners, and more.
Shark Valley, Everglades National Park: Florida
This is a 15-mile loop trail that is extremely wheelchair-friendly. It is a wide and paved road that leaves plenty of space for those in wheelchairs, using crutches, or those who need some extra space. Without disturbing their natural habitat, you will see alligator after alligator but no sharks, despite it being called Shark Valley. There aren’t many wheelchair-accessible places where you can see wildlife so close while being safe. There is also a tram that you can book in advance that can hold two wheelchairs that will take you through the valley.
General Sherman Tree Trail: Sequoia National Park: California
This short but feisty trail will take you to a mighty tree, the heart of Sequoia National Park, the General Sherman Tree. At 275 feet tall, this tree will leave you in awe. This quarter-mile paved trail is wheelchair-accessible with accessible parking and restrooms extremely close by.
Pa’rus Trail, Zion National Park: Utah
Utah has great national parks with a total of five in the state, whereas many states only have one. Zion National Park, known for its great hiking, climbing, and beautiful rock formations, has a few accessible trails. Pa’rus Trail is 1.5 miles long, eight feet wide, and smoothly paved. From this trail you will see colorful rock formations that will blow your socks off.
South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon National Park: Arizona
The Grand Canyon is arguably one of the wildest sights in America and easily the most accessible. There are multiple points around the South Rim that are wheelchair-friendly. This is a popular destination because of the majestic sights you can see while being seated and because of the nearby lodging that offers adaptable rooms and a visitor center with accessibility in mind!
Bear Lake Loop, Rocky Mountain National Park: Colorado
This 0.6-mile loop at 9,475 feet above sea-level has a hard-packed dirt surface, making it wheelchair possible, although it is not quite as friendly as a paved surface. It winds through lush forests and has a total of 95-foot elevation gain that takes you around the base of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain.
Great Sand Dunes National Park: Colorado
While there isn’t one trail here specifically, you can borrow a sand-friendly wheelchair from the visitor center (free with admission; reserve ahead of time in the summer) with inflatable tires. Have fun flying down those dunes, rolling in the sand, and enjoying the desert landscape.
Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, Glacier National Park: Montana
This 1.5-mile out and back trail is packed gravel that is wheelchair-accessible. The second half of the trail becomes a little bumpy, so assistance may be needed. Check out some epic views of Allen Mountain, the lake, and Grinnell Point. Traverse the forest on the lake and check out the subalpine fir.
While those trails are great for individuals navigating and moving around in a wheelchair, Zack Nelson wanted wheelchairs to do more. He created what he calls the Rig, a “not a wheelchair” designed to off road and allow more people to enjoy the outdoor spaces that were previously not accessible to them. You can learn more about it on his website here.
The Rig is completely customizable from color, to terrain you want to take it on, to the additional accessories and parts. It is five feet long, 32 inches wide, and 41 inches tall. This device was made with safety, comfort, and durability in mind. Made with aluminum, a detachable bumper, and thick road bike tires, this Rig will take you places!
It is made mostly with bicycle parts for easy maintenance and repair, and has a range of up to 35 miles with two batteries. It can be used on snow, dirt roads, and so much more. The handles fold back to make the side entrance easier. However, make sure not to drive it in the rain—the interior and electronics need to stay completely dry to avoid damage.
Technology like this is helping to make the outdoors far more accessible; however, there is more work to be done. Know of any other invention that is helping or know trails that are wheelchair-friendly? Hit me up through my profile and let’s chat all things outdoors!