America’s National Parks are meant for everyone to enjoy. Established on the principle that they would be accessible to all, it makes sense that the matter of accessibility in national parks is of utmost importance—so much so that the National Parks Service established the “Accessibility Task Force” in 2012. The objective of this task force is to improve access to all national parks by 2020.
What does accessibility mean?
Accessibility is pretty simple. It means access to places and transportation for everyone, regardless of physical limitations. This could mean someone who uses a wheelchair, walker, or other device for mobility.
While the National Park System is making increased efforts to improve accessibility, there are still parks with visitor centers, restrooms, water fountains, and entrances that aren’t ADA compliant. Many recreational areas lack opportunities and features that would broaden the spectrum of visitors that can experience the great outdoors.
But thanks to the Accessibility Task Force, accessibility guides can be found for most parks on their respective national park webpage. We put together a list of the most accessible parks in the system of some of the activities that everyone can participate in.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
Located in Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park has plenty of accessible options for visitors. There are several bus tours with lifts for those who require a wheelchair for mobility. Most people come for the stunning views of the canyon, and luckily, there are also several barrier-free look-outs that are wheelchair accessible.
Travelers can request a scenic drive accessibility permit upon arrival to get access some to some drivable areas that are otherwise closed to visitors. With advanced planning, mule rides can provide accessibility needs depending on the riders specific situation. Various river rafting companies also have wheelchair-accessible ramps to get onto their motorized boats.
2. Yellowstone National Park
Located in three states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming), Yellowstone has several accessible activities for those who may need it. One of Yellowstone’s largest attractions is the park geysers—specifically Old Faithful—and there is a large boardwalk system for anyone walking or using a wheelchair to get a safe view of them.
For the more adventurous visitors, enjoy wheelchair-friendly fishing spots on the Madison River. Keep in mind some facilities are very old and may not be up to ADA standards, so utilize their park guide to find the best handicap-accessible stops.
3. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A less crowded, but just as stunning park is Black Canyon of the Gunnison. There are two entrances to the park. The south entrance has a paved drive with several stops—a few which are handicapped accessible. The overlooks that are wheelchair accessible include Tomichi, Chasm, and Sunset overlooks.
4. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Another park located in Colorado that has accessible activities to offer is Great Sand Dunes, a natural formation of sand dunes with a beautiful river. One of the main attractions is hiking up the various sand dunes and sand boarding/sledding down. With notice, visitors can rent a sand wheelchair that has the ability to climb the sand dunes!
5. Acadia National Park
Lastly, we find ourselves in the northeast U.S. in the beautiful state of Maine at Acadia National Park. To start, this park has several shuttles to the main attractions of the park which are all handicap accessible. There are also several trails that have boardwalks that are handicap accessible including Jesup Path and Thunder Hole.
Renting a Wheelchair Accessible RV
Unless you live near one of these parks, you’ll also need to find accommodations that are accessible. Luckily, many RVs are equipped with features designed to help those with mobility issues. This can include wider pathways in the RV, grab bars, and even a ramp or lift.
Outdoorsy’s RV search has a special filter that allows you to browse only ADA accessible rigs. From there, you can look for RVs that have features that you are looking for. If you have specific questions, you can contact the owner. They’d love to help!
Explore the World
The outdoors is meant for everyone. With some planning, even folks with mobility differences can enjoy what the National Park System has to offer. As the NPS continues to make improvements towards park accessibility, expect to see more locations and activities become accessible to all.