When construction first began on San Antonio’s River Walk (www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com) in 1939, wheelchair access wasn’t even a consideration. After all, it was a different time back then — a time when President Roosevelt didn’t want to be photographed in his wheelchair, and a time when access laws were non-existent.
Gladly times have changed, and so has wheelchair access on the River Walk. It all started with the addition of the first wheelchair ramps in 1979. Gradually over the years more ramps and elevators were added, and rough and crumbling sections of the aging pavement were repaired. In 2009, the nicely accessible Museum Reach extension was added, and more sections of the Downtown Reach were renovated. Finally in 2017, a new water taxi operator appeared on the scene, with even more accessible boats than the previous operator. Today — because of all these improvements — wheelchair-users and slow walkers can now enjoy a large section of this San Antonio gem.
The Heart of San Antonio
The Downtown Reach portion of the River Walk meanders through what locals call the heart of San Antonio — a hub for hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops. The tree lined walkways hug both sides of the waterway, and bridges connect both sides. It’s a popular place to stay, and even the locals enjoy the restaurants, taverns and nightlife.
Access has greatly improved on the Downtown Reach over the years, with the replacement of sections that were upended by tree roots and precariously pitched towards the water. Stairways to the River Walk were also supplemented with ramps and elevators to facilitate access for everyone. And a useful access map was created by the San Antonio Disability Access Office (www.sanantonio.gov/dao) so visitors can locate the most accessible routes
Unfortunately, the historic bridges that connect both sides of the River Walk are not wheelchair-accessible. That said there is a new accessible bridge, and there’s signage along the River Walk that depicts the accessible routes. It’s also possible to access the River Walk from both sides at the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel. And sometimes you just have to go to street level and cross the street. That’s where the access map comes in handy!
One of the best ways to access both sides of the River Walk is to take a water taxi. And as of October 1, 2017, the water taxi system is even more accessible than before, thanks to a new operator — Go Rio (www.goriocruises.com).
Go Rio has a new fleet of 43 barges, all of which have boarding ramps. Each barge can accommodate two wheelchairs; and wheelchair-users can choose to remain in their wheelchairs or transfer to seats. Previously, all wheelchair-users had to remain in their wheelchairs at the front of the barge. Go Rio offers a much more inclusive service, as now everyone can sit with their party. Additionally, the seats near the front of the barge are reserved for passengers with mobility issues, so slow walkers will have an easier time boarding too.
The Go Rio water taxi stops are clearly marked along the Downtown Reach and Museum Reach sections of the River Walk; and tickets can be purchased on board or at the Go Rio ticket booth. Go Rio gives wheelchair-users an easy and accessible option to navigate the River Walk.
Get a Little Culture
Opened in 2009 the Museum Reach section of the River Walk, is also worth a visit. The 1.3-mile extension runs from Lexington Avenue to Josephine Street, on both sides of the river, and includes a lock and dam near Brooklyn Avenue.
Since accessibility was factored into this project from the beginning, there’s only one small portion of the Museum Reach that is not accessible — a short section on the west shore between the San Antonio Museum of Art and the pedestrian bridge. Still, you can access the museum from the water taxi dock, or just cross over to the east shore to bypass this short inaccessible section.
It’s easy to spend a full day — or more — on the Museum Reach, as the San Antonio Zoo, the Japanese Tea Gardens and Brackenridge Park are located there. Add in three museums — The Witte, The Doseum and the San Antonio Museum of Art — and you’ll definitely get your culture fix along this section of the River Walk.
Top off your Museum Reach excursion with a stop at the Pearl, located in the water taxi turning basin. This former brewery now houses an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, as well as the Culinary Institute of America. Don’t miss their weekend Farmer’s Market; as it’s a great people watching opportunity, and you’ll surely find something yummy to nosh on there.