Everyone should have access to America's natural beauty. Here are 9 of the best wheelchair accessible national parks and why they’re worth the trip.
Europe, Asia and the Middle East all have man-made structures still standing after hundreds and thousands of years.
The United States doesn’t have many human monuments to visit. But we do have nature preserved in our national parks appreciated by tourists the world over.
By founding the national parks as public, the intention was to make them accessible to all. However, the often difficult terrain has proven a challenge to visitors with disabilities.
So in 2012, an Accessibility Task Force was created to improve the experience for those in need of mobility devices.
9 of the Best Wheelchair Accessible National Parks
ADA compliance for all national parks is still very much work-in-progress. However, some parks are more compliant than the rest and provide a fantastic experience for wheelchair-using guests.
Here are 9 of the best wheelchair accessible national parks that offer more beauty than frustration. These aren't listed in any particular order.
The immensely popular Grand Canyon is known for its challenging trails, even for the most adventurous among us. But that doesn’t mean those in wheelchairs can’t experience a lot of the same things.
Buses with lifts provide tours showcasing the stunning views. Off the bus, the South Rim provides barrier-free lookouts and trails.
The paved Trail of Time in particular is a must. It’s 1.3 miles long with a Geology Museum and some of the best views of the canyon.
There’s room for further exploration outside the South Rim. Mule rides and motorized boats with ADA-compliant ramps can be booked.
As an added bonus, visitors can request an Accessibility Permit. This gives exclusive access to driveable areas the public can’t use.
And if you’re traveling by RV, it also helps to plan ahead to make sure you budget your visit.
The General Sherman Tree Trail is worth the trip alone. The short path is paved and accessible. It ends at the largest tree on this planet, General Sherman.
This Great Sequoia tree stands at 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter at the base. It’s truly something to behold and gets well over a million visitors a year for good reason.
As for the rest of the park, free shuttles are provided during the summer and holiday periods.
Wheelchair loans are available on a first-come first-served basis, as are horseback guided tours.
As the lone national park in New England, Acadia in northern Maine delivers on accessibility.
Trails such as Jesup Path and Thunder Hole have boardwalks for ease of wheelchair use. Jesup Path in particular is a highlight with its white birch forest.
Echo Lake has a built path directly to the water and beach. It also has accessible parking spots and restrooms.
Picnic areas, visitor centers and museums are also wheelchair friendly. Shuttles are available to transport you between all these attractions.
The Everglades features seven trails, all under ¾ of a mile long. Each is either paved or feature a boardwalk for wheelchair accessibility.
For example, the Pahayokee Overlook provides sweeping vistas of the “river of grass.”
Five different visitor centers are equipped with ramps. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in particular is recommended to begin the visit. It can help you orient to all the park has to offer.
There are also ranger-led programs and boat and tram tours. As for camping enthusiasts, there are frontcountry and backcountry camping available for wheelchair users.
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Don’t worry, I wouldn’t be recommending this option if a wheelchair user couldn’t traverse some dunes.
You can actually rent specially designed sand wheelchairs at the visitor center. They come equipped with large inflatable tires. All you have to do is leave an ID and return it 30 minutes before the center closes.
Other accessible features at this park include picnic areas, campgrounds, and ranger-led programs.
Like others on this list, this vast park features a gigantic boardwalk system. This makes seeing mainstays like Old Faithful easy in a wheelchair.
For those who enjoy fishing, there are accessible spots along the Madison River.
Wheelchair access doesn’t mean being confined to just the outdoors and visitor centers. You can also go explore some caverns!
Carlsbad features the largest accessible cave chamber in North America. This is due to an elevator descending more than 750 feet underground.
Once you arrive in only one minute’s time, you’ll be treated to the “Big Room,” a chamber with more than a mile of paved trails. Feast your eyes on the limestone formations all around you.
Keep in mind that the trails can get narrow and steep, so a guide to accompany you is advised.
Moving on from canyons, geysers, and caverns, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s forest. 95% of this park is forest.
There are wheelchair accessible trails to explore, such as the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. It’s flat, fully paved, and at a half mile long boasts amazing river views.
There are also many drivable trails, such as Cades Cove and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Cades has a ton to see in its 11 mile loop. And keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as bears, turkeys and deer.
Shenandoah has only one purely accessible trail, but it’s lovely. Limberlost Trail is a 1.3 mile loop paved with crushed greenstone.
The main reason to visit Shenandoah is the overlooks. Public road Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and takes about 3 hours to drive all the way through. Be sure to watch for wildlife!
Of the 69 scenic overlooks along Skyline Drive, 25% have wheelchair-accessible parking spots. Don’t miss getting out of the car to take in the spectacular Shenandoah Valley.
Be sure to check out our article about the best time to visit for a lot of the parks on this list.
Still, there are many more top spots accessible for wheelchair users. Do you have any recommendations for favorites? Let us know in the comments!
What Wheelchair Accessible National Parks and Destinations Do You Recommend?
We'd be grateful to anyone who leaves their experiences and recommendations in the comments below. Jennifer and I want everyone to be able to experience the RV Lifestyle, regardless of abilities. Your comments can help others!
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