National and state parks preserve some of the country's greatest natural and historic treasures. However, since many picture them as places to go rock climbing, whitewater rafting or some other strenuous activity, you might not realize that they can also be enjoyed by those with less energy.
Even if you do not use a wheelchair, accessible trails at state and national parks often are easier to navigate for slow walkers, small children, anyone pushing a stroller, and those facing health challenges. They provide access to some of the most popular sites and can offer breathtaking views. You can see some of the most amazing sights in the world even if hiking steep mountain trails is out of the question.
Historic Spring Mill Inn is wheelchair accessible, and the restaurant serves baked goods made from cornmeal ground at nearby Spring Mill located in Pioneer Village. Arrive early enough to get a window seat and enjoy a wide variety of birds feasting at one of the log cabin-shaped bird feeders.
Park lodges provide a comfortable home base for exploring. While the lodges in the most popular parks are often reserved a year or more in advance, some of the lesser-known parks sometimes offer midweek specials to fill available rooms.
Many parks have accessible trolleys or buses so you can enjoy the views and get to various points of interest within the park without having to drive. (Larger wheelchairs and scooters sometimes do not fit, so be sure to inquire about size specifications in advance.)
You may qualify for a special parks pass. Each country has its own policies for its parks, but in the US, seniors can get a lifetime pass for just $10. US citizens of any age with a permanent disability may qualify for a free pass. US military members also qualify for a free pass. The pass will admit the owner and everyone in his or her car. They are good at over 2,000 federal recreation areas! Click here for more information.
Even if you don't qualify for a pass, there are special fee free days throughout the year, and some parks are free every day! (For example, the George Rogers Clark National Historic Park, shown below, is always free.)
George Rogers Clark National Historic Park is a small but scenic park on the banks of the Wabash River commemorating a crucial Revolutionary War battle. In the march to Vincennes, Clark and his men waded through icy flood water for miles, sometimes up to their shoulders. Not even 30 years old when he was the highest ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier, he has often been called "The Conqueror of the Old Northwest." (His younger brother, William, was one of the leaders in the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition.)
While the monument requires climbing 33 steps to enter, the visitor center and park are easily enjoyed by those who cannot climb stairs. A statue of Fr. Pierre Gibault, the "Patriot Priest of the Old Northwest" stands in front of the adjacent Old Cathedral. The Old Cathedral "French and Indian" Cemetery is the final resting place for 4,000 people including those who helped in the battle. A statue of Francis Vigo, founder of Vincennes University and the foremost financier of the American Revolution in the Northwest, stands beside the Wabash River. This picture was taken from the Lincoln Bridge which marks the spot along the old Buffalo Trace where Abraham Lincoln crossed the Wabash.
Yellowstone National Park: The Old Faithful area has several miles of boardwalks and paved paths which are accessible according to the National Park Service website. (Click picture for more accessibility information.)
Grand Teton National Park: Accessible trails, with asphalt surfaces, appropriate grades and good views include Colter Bay headwall, Jackson Lake Dam overview, Menors Ferry Historic District, and the Jenny Lake shore trail according to the National Park Service site. "All lodging facilities provide some units that are accessible except the American Alpine Club Climber's Ranch. Restaurants with accessible facilities are located at Flagg Ranch, Leeks Marina, Colter Bay, Signal Mountain Lodge, Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Lodge. (Click picture for more info.)
Dinosaur National Monument: "The Quarry Exhibit Hall is located over the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry and allows visitors to view the wall of approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones in a refurbished, comfortable space." (Click picture for more info.)
Grand Canyon National Park: A Scenic Drive Accessibility Permit allows visitors with mobility issues access to some areas closed to public traffic. Windshield Views, noted on a special map, are available without leaving your vehicle. (Click picture for more information.)
For more information about US national parks, including accessibility information on individual parks click here. Each state maintains its own sites for its state parks. Be sure to search yours for hidden gems.
We hope this inspires you to get out and enjoy!
Pioneer Village in Spring Mill State Park - A few of the buildings are wheelchair accessible, including the mill. The paths within the village are wide and easy to navigate for the most part. However, the first bridge you come to when accessing the village from the parking lot has steps. The one farther along the river does not have a step so is much easier to cautiously cross.
Visitor Center at Lincoln Boyhood Home - There is a short movie about Lincoln's life in Indiana, a gift shop, exhibits and rest rooms. Access passes can be purchased here.