When you think of the national parks, you typically envision hiking through the woods, laughing around a campfire, swimming in a lake, and other iconic activities. But for those who are disabled, there’s much more to think about. Can Visitor Centers and other places of interest be reached by wheelchair ramps? Is lodging handicap-accessible? Are tours available to the disabled?
But having a disability is nothing to hold you back from enjoying the national parks. Many parks offer things like camping for the disabled, special programs, and are fully equipped with wheelchair ramps and other amenities. Before you plan your trip, check out these helpful tips and check out which parks offer the best places to stay and activities for your needs.
Getting Into the Parks
If you are permanently disabled, you have access to a free annual parks pass. The America The Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass is a free, lifetime pass available for those who are permanently disabled. Here’s what you need to know:
If you are “partially-disabled”, you may not qualify. To qualify for the Pass, the disability must be permanent and limit one or more major life activities.
You will be asked to prove the disability and may use the following for proof: Statement by a licensed physician; document issued by Federal agency, like the Veteran's Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income; or a document issued by a State agency, like a vocational rehabilitation agency.
An Access Pass must be obtained in person from a participating Federal recreation site or office. Examples include the following:
- Bureau of Land Management
- Bureau of Reclamation
- Fish & Wildlife Service
- USDA Forest Service
- National Park Service
It is also important to note that the Annual Pass is available for children who are disabled as well. Once obtained, it gives free entrance to the child, as well as the accompanying guardian.
Before You Go
Before any trip, make sure you’ve done your research. Here are a few helpful tips to remember before traveling:
Contact the park you wish to visit directly and speak to a Ranger. They will be able to answer all of your questions and give you a better idea of what is available.
Have a back-up plan. Typically, you cannot always make a reservation to camp or stay at some sites so be sure to bring along information for nearby hotels, recreational lands, etc.
Don’t try to do much. All visitors have a tendency to try and squeeze too many activities in a short amount of time. Be honest with how much time you have and how much extra time you may need.
There are 120 areas in the National Park System that offer camping opportunities. Check out some of the best parks with accessible campgrounds, organized by geographic location.
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
- Colorado National Monument, Colorado
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
- Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Enjoying a picnic at a park is a fun activity for all. Check out the next page for a list of picnic areas that are accessible to visitors with disabilities, organized by geographic location.