9 Tips for an Accessible National Park Trip
Planning a National Park trip is fun, exciting and can be a little overwhelming. We hope these tips will help guide you in your planning and give you a good foundation to start.
GET THE ACCESS PASS
The Access Pass may be issued, to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of any age that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability (does not have to be a 100% disability) that severely limits one or more major life activities. There is a $10 processing fee and it's totally worth it. The pass grants the pass holder, plus 3 adults, entry to all National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands. Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship. To learn more about this pass or apply online click here: https://store.usgs.gov/access-pass
CHECK OUT THE ACCESSIBILITY PAGE OF THE PARK
Each National Park website will has an “Accessibility” page under the "Plan Your Visit" tab, describing accessible buildings, trails (some include trail descriptions such as crushed granite or pavement, and grades), restrooms, campgrounds with ADA sites, parking, etc. Some parks, like Yellowstone and Yosemite, have accessibility brochures you can download and are usually available at the Visitor’s Center. These are very useful in planning your outings and which areas you want to focus on. Click here to see Yellowstone’s Accessibility Guide: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/Accessibility-Guide_web_20170731.pdf
STAY UP TO DATE ON ALERTS
Alerts in effect can be found on the top of each National Park website describing road and trail closures, campgrounds that are closed, if reservations are required for timed entry (a lot of parks are going this route) and more.
Timed entry reservations – be sure to stay up to date on this and purchase your entry tickets well in advance. Entry tickets may be purchased at www.recreation.gov . Release dates are different for each park, so read the fine print! There are usually tickets released 24 hours in advance, but they go fast! Here is a reference of parks requiring entry reservations: https://www.outsideonline.com/adventure-travel/national-parks/national-park-reservations-2022/ (NOTE: This is always subject to change, Arches and Rocky Mountain have dropped their timed entry system for the remainder of the year, check the park website frequently.)
Vehicle Limitations - some parks, such as Sequoia National Park, have length limitations on vehicles entering certain roads. If you are traveling in a Class C RV, without a tow vehicle, this could affect your visit.
STAY INSIDE THE PARK AND BOOK LODGING EARLY
When we booked our Yellowstone trip, we booked a year out and the campsites were gone in 60 seconds once they were released! Whether you are camping or staying in a hotel, you need to book as much in advance as possible. Each park releases campsites and rooms at different times – ranging from a year in advance to three months in advance. Check the park website to know where and how to book, either recreation.gov or through the park's lodging.
We prefer to stay inside the park, when available, to avoid entry lines which can be pretty long and time consuming. Sometimes this isn’t always possible, but if you can swing lodging inside the park, it is totally worth it! We stayed at Fishing Bridge RV Campground in Yellowstone at an amazing accessible site and it was a great base location for all the places we explored.
STOP BY THE VISITOR’S CENTER AND CHAT WITH PARK RANGERS
Park Rangers are a wealth of knowledge when it comes, not only to the park itself, but the accessibility of certain areas. We have had rangers give us the scoop on great picnic areas, off the beaten path trails the powerchair could maneuver and much more. Park Rangers LOVE their jobs and LOVE helping families make the best memories!
Junior Ranger Programs – If you are traveling with kids, take the time to stop at the Visitor’s Center and grab a Junior Ranger book. These books are an excellent way to explore the park, keep the kids engaged and learn so many things that are unique to each park including history, wildlife, geology – and so much more! Once the activity book is complete, head back to the Visitor Center to be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and get your badge! Bonus: a great collection of badges from each park and instant souvenirs!
PACK & PLAN FOR WEATHER
Check the weather before you leave and plan for anything. Depending on where you are visiting, the mornings may be cool with temperatures rising high during the day. Higher elevations will be cooler, so make sure you plan accordingly. Don't forget sunscreen and bug spray!
Pack a light backpack for the day with water, snacks and a place you can throw your layers if you need to take some off or put some on. We have experienced 32 degree mornings in Montana and heating up to around 80 degrees in the afternoon - winter and summer in one day!
Rain gear is essential – don’t be caught without it! We were in Mesa Verde National Park when out of now where a huge monsoon rain pummeled down on us and we were NOT prepared! Everything turned out fine, however, water, power wheelchairs and medical equipment do not mix well! ( I was soaked in the picture below)
CREATE A “THINGS TO DO” LIST
Look up various things that interest you at each park and the surrounding area you plan to visit. Most parks have very limited service, so having an idea beforehand or a list of activities may be crucial if you aren’t able to look things up once you arrive. You can also download trails you are interested in from AllTrails: https://www.alltrails.com/ . If you're super organized, mark points of interest on a map for a quick reference!
TRAVELING WITH SERVICE A DOG
If you are traveling with a service dog, check in with the Visitor Center or Park Rangers to learn if there are any areas wildlife is prevalent and may react negatively to your dog. This may sound silly, but in some areas bears, bison, moose and wolves have been known to be aggressive towards dogs - you don't want to make your dog, or yourself, a target.
Locate areas trafficked by wildlife – Wildlife can be present anywhere and anytime and this can create a risk for you and your service dog. When we visited Glacier National Park, the Park Rangers warned us of areas that we may come in contact with bears or wolves on trails and advised against bringing the dog to those areas to avoid any confrontations. However, at Craters of the Moon National Park there was a very low risk of a wildlife encounter. When we were in Grand Teton National Park, the Park Ranger gave Orinda a "Bark Ranger" badge so others would know she had complete access - and, it was totally cute!
Pack gear for your service dog – make sure to pack water, a collapsible bowl, and even hiking boots for your dog. Mary’s service dog, Orinda, has sensitive pads and prefers to wear boots on terrain such as crushed granite or rock. This link will take you to the boots she prefers: https://ruffwear.com/collections/dog-boots
HAVE FUN AND TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE
Sometimes the fastest route isn't always the best route - take the less traveled route to your destination to find hidden gems along the way! And, soak it all in! Being outside in the fresh air and taking in new sights is always so refreshing and reflective. Enjoy all you can on your trip, even if the weather doesn’t cooperate! If you can’t be outside, visit a museum the park has to offer or perhaps a Ranger program given at one of the Visitor Centers. With all that is offered, you can’t go wrong!
We hope these tips were helpful! If you have other tips please leave in the comment section! Happy planning and happy adventures!
Grand Canyon National Park
Badlands National Park