5 Most ADA Friendly National Parks
Adventurer & Photographer
There are many different obstacles that can hinder accessibility to the outdoors—physical disabilities, financial barriers, proximity and transportation issues, racism, and more. In 2012, the National Park Service (NPS) established the Accessibility Task Force, with a goal of improving access to all national parks by 2020 for people with disabilities. If you are someone with a permanent disability, consider applying for the NPS Access Pass. It’s a free, lifetime pass for all national parks and federal recreation lands available to American citizens. Curious which national parks are the most accessible for folks with disabilities? Here are five parks that provide easy access.
#1: Acadia National Park
Situated on the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park was the first park that came to mind when thinking about accessibility. Acadia offers free, wheelchair-accessible shuttles to neighboring village centers and all the main attractions. There are some paved “carriage roads” throughout the park that offer stable ground, like Eagle Lake. Jesup Path is a boardwalk trail winding through a white birch forest.
#2: Great Sand Dunes National Park
In southern Colorado, experience pristine sand dunes and maybe even the beach that appears when the seasonal Medano Creek is flowing. Sand dunes and wheelchairs don’t typically go together, but at Great Sand Dunes National Park visitors can borrow a sand wheelchair (with four inflatable tires) to climb and explore the dunes. A limited number of sand wheelchairs are available for loan at the visitors center. There is also an accessible picnic site with a hardened trail to nearby restrooms.
#3: Yellowstone National Park
It’s no surprise that America’s first national park has facilities that are more than a century old, making accessibility a bit more challenging. Through their on-going self-assessment and transition plan, though, Yellowstone is actually a quite accessible national park. We recommend downloading the NPS Yellowstone National Park app for up-to-date accessibility information on facilities and trails. The most popular attraction, the Old Faithful geyser, can be reached from the parking lot by a large boardwalk system. There are also accessible fishing areas on the Madison River, boating facilities at Grant Village, and all campgrounds except for Fishing Bridge RV Park.
#4: Grand Canyon National Park
Located just north of Flagstaff, Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park is one with lots of accessible options for visitors. All park shuttle buses are wheelchair accessible, and the park even offers a Scenic Drive Accessibility Permit, which allows entry for visitors with mobility issues access to some areas that are normally closed to public traffic. The South Rim, which is the most popular area, has wheelchair-accessible, barrier-free overlooks. There is also a paved 1.3-mile trail between Verkamp’s Visitor Center and Yavapai Geology Museum to enjoy views of the canyon from the rim. Arizona Raft Adventures can also add a ramp to motorized boats, wheelchair tracks for sandy beach camps, and specialized hiking and toileting systems for their trips.
#5: Denali National Park
Located in Alaska, Denali National Park is somewhat difficult to get to for most people, often requiring at least a few flight connections. The park is mostly wilderness without trails, which adds extra obstacles because of its remote nature. However, once you arrive, Denali has lots of options for persons with disabilities. There is one road in the park, which is primarily accessed by tour buses or shuttle. If those cannot accommodate, visitors can apply for a road travel permit to drive the road in their own vehicle. There are several ADA trails to choose from as well. Spruce Forest Trail and McKinley Station Trail are the favorites, offering views of the diverse forest, Riley Creek, the Alaska Range, wildflowers, and historic building remains.