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Top Trails for the Disabled

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One of the greatest features of the national parks is their commitment to ensure that everyone has a chance to visit and enjoy them. Making sure the parks are accessible to visitors with disabilities is something that is not taken lightly in the National Park Service. To ensure that everyone can see every angle of the parks, many trails have been enhances to allow wheelchair-accessibility. Check out which trails are the top picks, and learn where you can find others to accommodate you needs.

1. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park, South Carolina
© hdport via Flickr

This is a must-visit! It’s difficult not to get lost in the massive beauty of one of the tallest deciduous forests in the world. And this park welcomes all visitors, especially those with disabilities. It features a 2.4 mile wheelchair-accessible boardwalk loop through an ancient floodplain forest. Thanks to this trail, visitors can enjoy elevated views of the forest while seeing and hearing the activity of a diverse ecosystem.

Visitors may also look forward to the fact that public facilities are ADA/ABAS compliant, including the Visitor Center and outdoor picnic shelter. A small number of wheel chairs are available for visitors to borrow.

2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Old Faithful erupts every 45-110 minutes bursting over 8,000 gallons of hot water 180 feet high.
© markhillary via Flickr

You can’t miss Old Faithful and luckily it is easily accessible from the Visitor Center. An accessible bike/pedestrian path leads from the center 1.5 miles to Morning Glory Pool (a 3- mile round-trip).

Other trails include LeHardy Rapids which runs between Canyon and Fishing Bridge and is accessible from the north parking lot. Terrace Springs (just north of Madison Junction) is completely accessible, though there is a steep grade in the middle of the loop, which requires assistance.

3. Acadia National Park, Maine

With a choice of the woods or the beach, Pretty Marsh is a perfect location for a picnic.
© pixelyne via Flickr

Popular to many, including President Obama, Acadia is an eastern beauty. From small town sight-seeing to hiking and fishing, Acadia offers a fun, yet relaxing getaway. Many of the trails are considered accessible, though some may require more assistance. Sieur de Monts Spring Area is a simple way to start your experience. The Wild Gardens of Acadia are adjacent to the parking lot and the garden paths have a packed gravel surface. From there, you may want to travel along The Hemlock Road, which begins to the right of the parking lot’s entrance. It’s hard-packed path meanders through woodlands at the base of Dorr Mountain for a 1.5 miles round-trip.

If you are looking for something a bit more adventurous, check out Wonderland Trail, Ship Harbor Trail, or Man o' War Brook Fire Road. But keep in mind, these trails may change in uphill or downhill grades and may require some assistance. Your best bet is to stick to carriage roads, which offer the best access to interior areas of the park. The two easiest roads are Eagle Lake and Bubble Pond.

The following trails should be avoided: Precipice; Beehive; Ladder Trail to Dorr Mountain; Cadillac Mountain - West Face (from Bubble Pond); Beech Cliff (from Echo Lake); and Perpendicular Trail ( Mansell Mountain).

4. Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park
© minds-eye via Flickr

Swamps and alligators? Sure! You may be surprised to learn that all major trails in the park are accessible. The park also makes sure to provide assistance with all boat and tram tours. Begin with the Anhinga Trail - a 1/2-mile loop that offers one of the best opportunities to view wildlife, including alligators and birds, up close. Another fully-accessible option is the Gumbo Limbo Trail, also a 1.2-miles loop. The trail trickles through a once-dense tropical hardwood hammock that was reshaped by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

The following Walking Trails are also wheelchair-accessible and leave from parking areas along the Main Park Road: Pinelands Trail, a 1/2-mile loop through subtropical pine forest; Pa-hay-okee Overlook, a 1/4-mile boardwalk that ends at an observation deck where you can view of the vast Everglades; and Mahogany Hammock Trail, a 1/2-mile boardwalk that travels through dense areas and showcase a variety of tropical plants.

5. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
© Trodel via Flickr

Everyone should visit the Grand Canyon at least once, and the park made sure to accommodate everyone. The Rim Trail extends from the village area to Hermits Rest and offers quiet views of the inner canyon, with many parts paved. The park also has shuttle buses that allows visitors to customize their visit to meet their needs. Further information may be found online.

6. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

© krossbow via Flickr

When you first see the Rocky Mountains, it looks straight out of a postcard. With miles of scenic beauty, lively wilderness, and peaceful solitude. It is also equipped with many trails to choose from. Many trails are moderately accessible, and your experience will all depend on how much assistance you may need. For example, Bear Lake Trail and Beaver Boardwalk are considered moderately accessible as some sections may be steep.

Be sure to check out Coyote Valley Trail. Located on the west side of the park, the trail goes 1 mile (roundtrip) through open meadows and along the Colorado River. The grade is fully accessible and the hard-packed gravel surface is helpful for those in wheelchairs.

Another beautiful option is the Lily Lake Trail, which goes around the lake and wetlands for 3/4 of a mile. It then extends 2/5 of a mile is at the south end of the lake. Once at the end, you can relax at a picnic table, fishing pier, and enjoy the convenience of an accessible vault toilet. Or check out Sprague Lake Trail, also encircles a lake. It is equipped with ISA -designated parking, fully accessible restrooms, and a fully accessible picnic area.

7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Work in one of Wyoming's most majestic destinations.
© Birdfreak.com via Flickr

Revel in the beauty of the old west in this Wyoming park. With its majestic mountains, active wildlife, and crystal-clear lakes, Grand Teton is a park that reminds visitors of how life used to be. And with the help of accessible trails, you can enjoy just that.

Hiking trails in the park offer vary in their degrees of difficulty. Some trails, like those at Jenny Lake, String Lake, and Colter Bay, are easily accessible. You can take wide, paved trails with gentle slopes to the shore of Jenny Lake. And a level, paved trail follows the String Lake shoreline for stunning views and places to stop and rest. Another option is the Colter Bay Lakeshore Trail, along the eastern shore of Jackson Lake, which is paved for 1/3 of a mile beginning at the marina.

But don’t miss a full-accessible trail, located at the south end of the Jackson Lake Dam, that offers tremendous views of Jackson Lake and the Teton Range.

8. Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

© B Mully via Flickr

Oh Alaska. The national parks of this area seem to have this indescribable quality that makes them feel like no other. And the beauty of Alaska should be enjoyed by all. Luckily, all of Denali’s ADA trails have a compacted gravel surface, 3-10 feet wide, allowing for better axcessibility. And they offer a great chance to encounter wildlife on any trail, from songbirds to moose.

The Denali Bike Trail is the main pedestrian path that connects the park entrance with the Denali Visitor Center. It proves access to the Riley Creek Campground, Mercantile, the Wilderness Access Center, the Bus & Train Depots, and the Visitor Center Campus. You may also want to check out the McKinley Station Trail which also ends at the Visitor Center from the Riley Creek Campground. It’s a very pretty 1.5-mile scenic trail through the diverse taiga forest.

Other options include the short Spruce Forest Trail, the historical Morino Loop Trail, and the Taiga Trail. Further out on the Park Road, stop near the Savage River for the Savage Cabin Trail which contains interpretive signs and the historic Savage log cabin. Or the Savage Bar Trail for that offers beautiful views and wildlife sightings.

This is only a taste of what you can enjoy in the parks. Check out a complete list of trails that have been made more accessible to those with disabilities.

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