Although many US national parks offer scenic drives with great windshield views, it’s also nice to hit the trail and get up-close-and-personal with Mother Nature. Granted, at first glance the terrain in some national parks doesn’t appear to be wheelchair friendly, but upon closer examination, you’ll find a good number of barrier-free trails on these federal lands. So grab your water bottle and slather on the sunscreen, and get ready to explore these six scenic wheelchair-accessible national park trails.
Zion National Park – Pa’rus Trail
One of the most accessible trails in Zion National Park, this 1.8-mile multiuse route follows the Virgin River, from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to Canyon Junction. Both trailheads are shuttle stops, but some manual wheelchair-users may require assistance on the Canyon Junction end because of the trail entrance grade. To mitigate that problem, you can begin the trail on the Canyon Junction end, as it’s easier to roll down this short stretch than it is to climb up it. Alternatively you can start at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, do the 3.6-mile round trip, and bypass the Canyon Junction entrance stretch altogether. Either way, you’ll be treated to some breathtaking views of the colorful canyon framed by the peaceful Virgin River along the trail.
Sequoia National Park – Big Trees Trail
The aptly named Big Trees Trail is the highlight of any Sequoia National Park Visit. This 2/3-mile loop through the giant Sequoias begins in Round Meadow, just north of the Giant Forest Museum. There’s accessible parking near the trailhead, and accessible vault toilets near the Ed by Ned double trees. The trail begins as a wide paved path, and then transitions to an accessible boardwalk over the wetlands areas. Interpretive plaques are located along the way, and it’s not unusual to see bear and deer in the meadow. The shady path is pleasant stroll for wheelchair-users, slow walkers and even moms with strollers.
Grand Canyon – North Rim Cape Royal Trail
Located on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, the Cape Royal Trail, is one of the most often overlooked wheelchair-accessible national park trails. It’s located at the end of the Cape Royal Scenic Drive, which is about a 45-minute drive – without stops — from Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim. There’s accessible parking at the trailhead, with curb-cut access up to the trail; and although there are accessible vault toilets on the other side of the gravel parking lot, there’s a four-inch step up to them due to erosion. The .9-mile round trip paved trail is wide and fairly level, and features a number of interpretive plaques that detail the local flora and fauna. The views along the route are to-die-for, with a teaser glimpse of Angels Window just a short walk from the parking lot. The canyon views continue, and near the .4-mile mark Angels Window offers a panoramic canyon view with the Colorado River in the distance. And once you reach the end of the line at the Cape Royal Overlook, you’ll be treated to an equally impressive eye-popping canyon view.
Shenandoah National Park – Limberlost Trail
Located in Northwestern Virginia, Shenandoah National Park encompasses nearly 200,000 acres of protected lands, including 79,000 acres of wilderness, and a slice of the Appalachian Trail. And although the wilderness areas are not wheelchair-accessible, the Limberlost Trail, which is located near Skyland Lodge, is a good choice for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. There’s accessible parking near the trailhead with level access over to the hard packed dirt-trail covered with decomposed granite. The 1.3-mile trail begins with a walk through a wooded area filled with oaks, ferns and mountain laurels, before it transitions to a wetlands boardwalk, and finally crosses the river and loops back to the trailhead. It’s especially beautiful in June, when the mountain laurels are in bloom, but it also a pleasant hike in the spring and fall.
Yellowstone National Park – Midway Geyser Basin
Although Yellowstone National Park has a number of accessible boardwalks around geysers, mud pots and hot springs, the trail at Midway Geyser Basin offers the most variety. Located two miles south of the entrance to Firehole Lake Drive, there’s accessible parking near the trailhead, and accessible vault toilets at the far end of the parking lot. The mile-long boardwalk features a gradual slope, with level spots to stop and rest along the way. There are also a number of benches and wide viewing areas along the route that circles Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool and Grand Prismatic Spring – the largest hot spring in the park. If you only have time for one boardwalk trail, put this one at the top of the list. Be sure to stop by early in the day though, as the parking lot fills up quickly, especially on weekends; and it’s not unusual to see cars backed up on the main road waiting for parking spots later in the day.
North Cascades National Park – River Loop
Nicknamed the “American Alps”, North Cascades National Park is one of the most rugged and remote national parks in the US. That said, it still has several wheelchair-accessible trails, including a substantial section of the River Loop Trail. Technically the trail begins in back of the visitor center, but unfortunately a steep section near the beginning ruins the accessibility. Best bet is to pick up the trail between campsites 37 and 38 in Loop B of the Newhalem Creek Campground. From there, this hard-packed dirt trail loops 1.4 miles through the forest, along the Skagit River and through the walk-in campground. Accessible restrooms are located in Loop B of the campground, and next to campsite 130 in Loop A. Don’t let the steep section of this trail near the visitor center trail deter you – take the alternate “more accessible” route through the woods.