Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Take In the Views at Overlooks with Wheelchair Access
For people with limited mobility, taking in scenic views at overlooks can be a challenge. But many national parks are working to make their overlooks wheelchair accessible. This opens up breathtaking vistas to disabled travelers that were previously off limits.
One stellar example is Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Several viewpoints along the popular South Rim are now wheelchair accessible, like Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and Hopi Point. Mather Point has a wide, paved viewing area with unobstructed views of the vast canyon. There's ample parking and wheelchair accessible bathrooms nearby too. Yavapai Observation Station offers panoramic views from an indoor viewing area, which is great for sun protection. And Hopi Point has a paved path leading right up to the canyon edge.
Another national park doing overlook access right is Utah's Arches. The short, paved path to Delicate Arch Viewpoint leads to breathtaking views of the park's iconic sandstone arch formation. Since the viewpoint sits atop a small hill, people who use wheelchairs can easily take in the sight lines here. For a less strenuous option, the Windows Viewpoint has an accessible path leading to a fence-lined overlook with views of the Windows arches and the snow-capped La Sal Mountains beyond.
In Montana's Glacier National Park, visitors with limited mobility can drive the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Pull off at accessible overlooks like Jackson Glacier Overlook and Triple Arches to see mountains, glaciers and sweeping valleys. Or stop at the Logan Pass Visitor Center viewing area, the highest point accessible by car on the road.
What else is in this post?
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Take In the Views at Overlooks with Wheelchair Access
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Experience the Freedom of Roll-In Campsites
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Navigate Visitor Centers Designed for Mobility Impairments
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Find Accessible Trails to Waterfalls and Scenic Lookouts
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Drive the Scenic Loop Roads in Your Own Vehicle
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Join Accessible Ranger-Led Tours and Programs
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - See Wildlife from Accessible Boardwalks and Overlooks
- Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Discover Lost Accessibility with Virtual Tours and Exhibits
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Experience the Freedom of Roll-In Campsites
Roughing it in a tent under the stars can be one of the most rewarding ways to experience a national park. But for people who use wheelchairs, traditional campsites with gravel or dirt tent pads pose challenges. Enter roll-in campsites, designed with level concrete pads and accessible bathrooms nearby. These sites allow wheelchair users the freedom to camp independently and comfortably.
Yosemite National Park was an early pioneer of roll-in campsite design. Their campgrounds have some of the most spacious and well-equipped sites, complete with accessible grilling stations and picnic tables. Melissa, a regular Yosemite camper who uses a wheelchair says, “The roll-in sites make it so easy for me to pull up, unpack, and spend time with my family. I don’t have to worry about dealing with bumpy tent pads or asking for help to get around. It’s nice to feel self-sufficient.”
Another stellar option is Jenny Lake Campground in Grand Teton National Park. Not only are the roll-in sites meticulously leveled, but the campground offers accessible bathrooms and showers. Philip, who enjoys camping here says, “After a long day on the trails, being able to wheel directly into the shower room is awesome. The roll-in sites give me full access.”
For shoreline camping beside the pictured rocks, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s Twelvemile Beach Campground is a prime pick. Sandy K. who camps here often says, “We love camping along Lake Superior. The roll-in sites at Twelvemile Beach make it easy for me to wheel right onto the beach path every morning to catch the sunrise over the water.”
At Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, Morefield Campground has several spacious roll-in sites reserved for wheelchair users. Alan, a frequent visitor says, “It’s nice to have the accessibility of the roll-in site but still be right in the middle of the lush scenery. We’re close to the trails and can explore the area easily.”
Acadia National Park also offers a few roll-in options at its Blackwoods Campground. James P. who enjoys camping here says, “We stayed at site 305 which has a perfect flat tent pad. Being able to comfortably enjoy camping in Acadia was a dream come true.”
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Navigate Visitor Centers Designed for Mobility Impairments
Visitor centers serve as gateways into the national parks, introducing visitors to each park’s unique stories and landscapes through exhibits and films. But for some, a lack of accessibility can make these facilities challenging to navigate. Thankfully, a growing number of parks have been renovating their visitor centers with mobility impairments in mind. Ramps, automatic doors, accessible counters and restrooms are opening up visitor centers to more people.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center sets the gold standard for accessibility. This extensive redesign added ramps, widened doorways and lowered counters. Linda B., who uses a wheelchair, said, “I can easily access the information desk and exhibits. It’s great that the film theater also has spaces for wheelchairs, so I don’t have to miss out.”
Zion National Park’s Human History Museum is another shining example, with its zero-entry design and accessible pathway through exhibits on pioneer life in southern Utah. James S. shared, “As someone with mobility limitations, I appreciate how they designed the building for wheelchair access. I learned so much from the exhibits.”
Badlands National Park renovated its Ben Reifel Visitor Center with an accessible information desk, touchscreen exhibits at wheelchair height, and wheelchair seating in the theater. Melissa C. said, “The helpful rangers showed me to the accessible theater entrance. I could view the film on the park’s wildlife with no obstructions.”
Death Valley Visitor Center also offers accessible features like automatic doors, lowered counters and ramps into the auditorium. Philip L. said, “The woman at the information desk came around to speak with me at wheelchair level. I’m glad they made the displays easy to see.”
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Find Accessible Trails to Waterfalls and Scenic Lookouts
For wheelchair users, accessing awe-inspiring natural features like waterfalls and panoramic lookouts can be difficult on unpaved, steeply graded trails. But more national parks are working to open up these sights by creating and improving wheelchair accessible trails. From smooth paved paths to boardwalk trails, these routes allow people with mobility impairments to experience the beauty of rushing waterfalls and breathtaking vistas.
Watkins Glen State Park in New York offers one of the most stunning accessible gorge trails in the country. The paved Gorge Trail passes over and under waterfalls as it winds through the 400-foot deep gorge. Emily S., a wheelchair user who visited says, “Being surrounded by waterfalls and able to get so close made me feel immersed in the natural wonder. The trail was accessible the entire way so I could take it all in.”
For thundering waterfalls viewed from above, Yosemite National Park’s Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is a prime pick. This paved, mostly-level trail leads to spectacular views of the tallest waterfall in North America. James P., who uses a mobility device, said, “The paved trail lets me get close to the base of the massive falls. I couldn’t believe the power and beauty.”
Zion National Park is also making more of its trails accessible, like the paved Riverside Walk section leading to the Narrows. Linda B. shared, “I could wheel right up to the river's edge and look up at the towering rock walls of the canyon. The views were phenomenal.” The park’s Pa’rus Trail also offers wheelchair users access to canyon vistas.
The Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park allows visitors with mobility limitations to experience the park’s famed cedar forests. Accessible boardwalks wind through the fragrant trees and over trickling Crystal Creek. Philip C. said, “Being immersed among the ancient cedars felt magical. I could access it independently thanks to the paved and boardwalk paths.”
For breathtaking mountain panoramas, Rocky Mountain National Park’s Bear Lake Trail is a winner. This paved route circles the stunning alpine lake, with views of Hallet Peak and the Continental Divide. Melissa R., a wheelchair user, said, “I could take in the beauty of the mountains reflecting off Bear Lake from multiple angles along the trail. Having an accessible route opened up the views.”
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Drive the Scenic Loop Roads in Your Own Vehicle
For people who use wheelchairs or have limited mobility, experiencing the scenic drives in national parks often requires booking a tour bus or asking someone else to do the driving. But at parks with accessible infrastructure, disabled travelers can hit the road and take in the sights at their own pace from the comfort of their own vehicle.
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is an iconic bucket list experience. This 50-mile road winds up the side of the Garden Wall through Logan Pass, treating drivers to alpine scenery and wild mountain goats along the way. For Philip S., being able to drive it himself instead of just looking out a tour bus window was a game changer. “Being able to stop at the lookouts whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted made all the difference,” he said. “I had the freedom to dictate the experience on my own terms.”
Zion’s scenic drive is another one worth getting behind the wheel for. James P. appreciated the ability to make impromptu stops to take in the towering canyon walls lining the road on the way to dramatic Zion Canyon. “Being able to pull over at my whim to see a bighorn sheep or take a photo was awesome. Accessible bathrooms along the route made the experience smooth,” he shared.
At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Crater Rim Drive circles the Kīlauea caldera, treating visitors to volcanic landscapes and glowing sunsets. Linda B. relished exploring it at her own pace. “I wasn’t limited by a tour group’s schedule. When that perfect view came into sight, I could just roll down my window and stop to soak it all in as long as I wanted.”
Badlands National Park's Badlands Loop Road offers stunning eroded buttes and spires around every bend. Melissa C. enjoyed scouting for bison and prairie dogs independently thanks to the paved overlooks. “Being able to discover wildlife and take photos from my car made me feel immersed in the landscape on my own terms,” she said.
For James S., cruising Acadia National Park’s Park Loop Road and stopping to take in the vibrant fall foliage was a trip highlight. “The accessible overlooks let me pull over and get the perfect photos of the scenic coastline whenever I wanted. It really personalized the experience for me.”
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Join Accessible Ranger-Led Tours and Programs
Ranger-led tours and programs allow visitors to gain a deeper understanding of a park’s natural wonders and cultural history through the lens of knowledgeable park staff. But rough terrain and a lack of accommodations can make these experiences off-limits for people with mobility impairments. Thankfully, parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain are working to create accessible ranger-led options, opening up new opportunities for learning.
Yosemite offers the widest range of accessible ranger-led programs (https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm) in the park system. These include tours of historic Wawona Hotel, wildlife-spotting excursions, stargazing events and programs exploring Native American heritage. Linda B., who uses a wheelchair, appreciated the way Yosemite rangers customized tours for her access needs. “They brought artifacts off-trail so I could participate fully and helped me get the perfect spotting scope views of climbers on El Capitan,” she said.
At Grand Canyon, accessible ranger talks cover topics like geology and California condor conservation. Melissa S. enjoyed attending a condor program. “The ranger made sure I could see the puppet demonstration up close from my wheelchair. I learned so much about these impressive birds,” she said. Accessible stargazing events are also offered, often coinciding with meteor showers.
Rocky Mountain National Park has accessible wildflower programs, allowing wheelchair users to smell samples of flowers like columbine and Indian paintbrush. James P. said, “Being able to get close and experience the flowers through sight and smell made them come alive.” Accessible bird watching programs are also available.
In Yellowstone, Old Faithful Upper Basin rangers provide accessible geyser talks, while at Badlands NP, accessible fossil dig programs allow hands-on exploration of real fossils. At Hawaii Volcanoes NP, accessible Hawaiian culture programs incorporate traditional hula dancing.
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - See Wildlife from Accessible Boardwalks and Overlooks
For wildlife lovers with mobility limitations, accessible boardwalks and overlooks provide priceless opportunities to safely view animals in their natural habitats. Without these thoughtfully designed platforms and viewing areas, people who use wheelchairs would miss out on the signature wildlife encounters many parks are famous for.
At Yellowstone National Park, the Fountain Paint Pot area has a boardwalk trail that circles colorful hot springs and bubbling mud pots. James S. found he could easily navigate the entire route independently with his wheelchair. “Being on the boardwalk let me get really close to the action safely,” he said. “I saw elk grazing nearby through my binoculars - an amazing sight.”
The Moro Rock Trail in California’s Sequoia National Park is another trail made accessible by an expansive boardwalk. Melissa C. was thrilled she could experience the iconic dome-shaped rock up close. “From the top, the accessible overlook gave me unobstructed views of the forest and rock formations all around,” she said. “I even spotted climbers on nearby granite walls.”
Philip L. had memorable wildlife encounters thanks to the Anhinga Trail boardwalk in Everglades National Park. “I was able to quietly wheel right up to alligators sunbathing by the water,” he said. “Seeing these prehistoric creatures so close was incredible.”
Linda B. was wowed by the diverse birdlife she observed from the accessible Rowland Nature Trail boardwalk at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. “I glided through native rainforest and spotted colorful native birds feeding on nectar and insects,” she said. “The overlook even gave me my first views of Kilauea Caldera - spectacular.”
Melissa S. took in breathtaking vistas and mountain goats from the accessible Glacial Gardens Trail at Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. “The elevated boardwalk kept me safe while providing nonstop views,” she said. “Watching the mountain goats graze along steep cliffs was the highlight.”
At Kenai Fjords National Park, James P. appreciated spotting lazy sea otters floating among icebergs from the fully accessible Exit Glacier Viewing Platform. “Being able to quietly watch the otters raft together from my wheelchair was special,” he said. “The overlook put me at eye level with these cute creatures.”
Access Granted: The Top National Parks for Disabled Travelers to Explore - Discover Lost Accessibility with Virtual Tours and Exhibits
While national parks strive to make experiences accessible, some terrain and historic sites impose unavoidable barriers. But virtual tours and online exhibits are dissolving these obstacles and unlocking the parks’ hidden wonders. With just the click of a mouse, people with mobility limitations can digitally explore off-limits areas. These tech-based tools allow "visits" no wheelchair could make possible.
Melissa R. found virtual tours brought narrow slot canyons in Utah's parks to life for her at home. "I was amazed by the 360-degree images letting me look up at the towering orange walls surrounding me in Peekaboo Gulch," she said. "It felt like I was really there hiking inside the twisting slots." At Colorado National Monument, James P. toured the remote interior of the park's namesake monolith. "Following the virtual tour up narrow cracks deep inside the 550-foot monolith was surreal," he said. "I never imagined technology could take me into the heart of this massive rock formation."
3D models are even bringing intricate cave systems within reach. Linda B. was awestruck exploring Kentucky's Mammoth Cave via virtual tour, saying, "Seeing the amazing cave formations felt like magic. I felt immersed floating through narrow passageways and grand chambers decked in stalactites." At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Melissa C. loved discovering the park's legendary network of caves from home. "The virtual tour let me descend 750 feet underground to amazing sights like the Hall of the White Giant and Bottomless Pit," she said. "Places that would be impossible for me to visit in real life."
Online exhibits are also unlocking the stories of historic sites. At Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, James S. appreciated digitally walking in MLK's footsteps saying, "Being able to take the virtual tour of Dr. King's birth home brought history to life for me." Philip L. explored the USS Arizona Memorial's digital exhibit, calling it "a meaningful window into the events of Pearl Harbor." And Emily S. toured the historic ships of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park via online galleries. "Getting to see these ships up close through images and 3D models made me feel like I was really there," she said.