4 of the Best Wheelchair-Accessible Trails in U.S. National Parks

The nation's most-visited national park is also one of the best for leaf peeping. The fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains arrive as early as mid-September at higher elevations and work their way down. Take a drive along Clingmans Dome Road or the Blue Ridge Parkway for a good look.
America’s national parks offer visitors inspiring and affordable ways to unplug and reconnect with nature. Although not every state has a national park, the National Park Service also oversees national monuments, national historic sites, and national rivers, among other areas. Some parks are iconic, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, and others are underrated and lightly visited. This list highlights 50 must-see destinations — the best the country has to offer. National parks often charge an entrance fee that grants seven days of access and costs up to $35 a vehicle. An interagency annual pass provides access to all the national parks and other federal fee areas for $80. Seniors 62 or older can buy a lifetime passes for $80 and annual passes for $20. Members of the military are eligible for free annual passes. Fee-free days also are offered occasionally during the year, including Sept. 22 for National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

a canyon with a mountain in the background: Clouds roll across a scenic view in Zion National Park, Utah, home to the wheelchair-accessible Pa'rus Trail.© Photograph by JOHN BURCHAM, National Geographic Creative
Clouds roll across a scenic view in Zion National Park, Utah, home to the wheelchair-accessible Pa’rus Trail.

For wheelchair users, the great outdoors can often be a no-go. With frequent rough terrain and other unexpected barriers courtesy of Mother Nature, people with disabilities sometimes opt for the safer bet of being indoors rather than out exploring. However, at many of the national parks in the U.S.—which promise compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—it is completely possible to have some fun in the sun, no matter your abilities. Here are four of the best accessible trails in U.S. national parks.

Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

You won’t spot any sharks on this trail, but you may see quite a few alligators. Located just 40 minutes west of Miami, this 15-mile loop in Everglades National Park is extremely wheelchair-friendly.

“My favorite thing about Shark Valley is that I can get close to the alligators without disturbing their natural habitat. There aren’t many places I know of where you can do that safely and accessibly,” says Jessika Kattah, a Florida resident and manual wheelchair user.

If you prefer not to wheel yourself on the trail, there’s also an accessible tram that can hold two wheelchairs with advance notice.

The 15-mile Shark Valley trail loops through the Everglades, letting visitors get close to alligators without disturbing their natural habitat.© Photograph by Emily Michot, Miami Herald/Getty Images
The 15-mile Shark Valley trail loops through the Everglades, letting visitors get close to alligators without disturbing their natural habitat.

General Sherman Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park

At only a few hundred feet long, this accessible trail in Sequoia National Park might be short, but the mighty tree at the end of it is anything but. With a height of 275 feet and a diameter of over 36 feet at the base, the General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest by volume.

Candy Harrington, author of Barrier-Free Travel, says that the quarter-mile paved trail “has excellent wheelchair access” with accessible parking and restrooms nearby. She has visited the General Sherman Tree at least 50 times, but still remembers the first time she ever laid eyes upon it. “I was about five years old when I first saw the tree. I was truly in awe and I just stood there and kept staring up until my dad prodded me along,” Harrington says.

South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

Is it possible to mention national parks without talking about the magnificent Grand Canyon? Likely not, and for good reason—the Grand Canyon is one of Earth’s most spectacular sights, and also one of the most accessible.

Many points along the South Rim Trail are suited for wheelchair users. As well as majestic canyon vistas, the South Rim offers accessible parking spaces, several hotels with adapted rooms, and a visitor’s center with an accessible restroom.

Lynn Houston has visited the South Rim Trail multiple times in her manual wheelchair. Her area of choice for admiring the Grand Canyon is near the hotels and lodges. Houston says she loved “being able to see the canyon while seated. There are smooth areas where you can get a great view without being tall or able to stand.”

Pa’rus Trail, Zion National Park

Most states are lucky to have just one national park, but Utah has five. The most visited is Zion National Park in the southwestern part of the state, and with its popularity comes excellent access for those with disabilities. [Take a road trip to Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks.]

There are a couple trails in Zion that you can roll on, but the most wheelchair-accessible one is undoubtedly the 1.5-mile-long, eight-foot-wide Pa’rus Trail. The best part? You won’t get bumped around along the smoothly paved trail.

An accessible restroom is available in the Visitor’s Center at the trailhead, along with accessible parking spaces, meaning Zion National Park’s tremendous natural beauty is open to people of all abilities.

a wooden bench sitting on top of Zion National Park: The Pa'rus Trail provides an accessible path through the striking landscape of Zion National Park.© Photograph by mauritius images GmbH, Alamy Stock Photo
The Pa’rus Trail provides an accessible path through the striking landscape of Zion National Park.

Explore More

These four paths are only a fraction of the many wheelchair-friendly trails across America’s national parks. Whether you aim to admire see-it-to-believe-it sights or get up close and personal with animals (though not too close), the plethora of accessible trails offer overwhelming possibilities to get rolling in the great outdoors.

Cory Lee Woodard is a wheelchair user and travel writer, writing the award-winning blog Curb Free With Cory Lee since 2013.

Source: Read Full Article