Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.
Taking in autumn foliage can be a beautiful experience as you move along various trails and pathways, brightly colored leaves falling all around you. But for people with certain disabilities, a little more planning may be required. Several national, state, and local parks have made or readapted hiking trails to make them more accessible, in particular to better align with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The following trails are some of the most beautiful and accessible ones out there; just be sure to call head to confirm the current status of the trail or park, and make sure it suits your individual needs.
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The National Park Service offers people with permanent disabilities a parks Access Pass, a free lifetime admission pass to all National Parks. The pass can be ordered online or in person at most National Parks offices, centers, or other sites. Applicants must provide documentation of their disability and proof of U.S. permanent residency or citizenship.
Ready to hike? Check NPS.gov to find accessibility information related to features and programs at each park for visitors with disabilities. For example, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in California have a series of videos on its website for travelers with accessibility questions on what to expect when visiting the parks. Interested in hearing more on accessibility issues in our National Parks? Check out the Explorable podcast‘s interview with NPS’s Chief of Accessibility Management Program.
And when it comes to planning your stay, be sure to book your hotels on Orbitz, which offers accessibility filters that can help you find accommodations with roll-in showers, sign language-capable staff, and other features.
Credit: Wild Center
Within the Adirondacks region of New York State, the Wild Center in Tupper Lake is an interactive nature museum that shows how people and nature can thrive together. At the center, manual wheelchairs and walkers, a power scooter, and children’s wagons and strollers are available at no cost. A guided tour for those who are visually impaired can be scheduled by notifying the center in advance. Its main building and exhibit hall have a universal design and its Greenleaf Pond offers an accessible loop.
The center’s Wild Walk takes visitors even closer to nature, thanks to its accessible design. The Wild Walk starts on the ground, but gradually climbs in elevation as visitors walk or roll on it, providing great leaf peeping and views of the Adirondack Mountains.
Mike Tittel/Destination Door County
In Wisconsin’s Door County, this 3,776-acre park has introduced another way for visitors to reach the top of its Eagle Tower. The Eagle Tower and Canopy Walk includes both a replacement of the original tower built in 1936, and also a new ramp canopy walkway to accommodate visitors with mobility issues.
Completely surrounded by forest, this 850-foot ramp winds its way up to the tower deck. Up on the top of the tower’s observation deck, the fall foliage views of Upper Lake Michigan’s shoreline and the nearby Horseshoe Island are stunning.
The ramp’s design includes wire railings to provide unobstructed views. Benches placed along certain sections allow visitors to go off slightly to the side to take in the scenery without blocking the path. Future plans include the providing of all-terrain wheelchairs at its base that can be used at no cost.
This massive wildlife refuge along the Connecticut River holds boardwalks and trails leading to viewpoints of northern New Hampshire and Vermont. The Mud Pond Trail at Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge, a division of Conte, leads to an observation platform on the shore of Mud Pond. The 200-foot Mollie Beattie Boardwalk begins with a packed stone dust surface and then transitions to an elevated boardwalk over the bog. The 250-foot, elevated Black Branch Boardwalk partially lingers through a softwood forest and offers a large observation platform overing the Black Branch of the Nulhegan River. The Lewis Pond Boardwalk travels along the pond’s shoreline and ends at a large observation platform overlooking the Pond and Gore Mountain to the north.
Southwest of Denver, Staunton State Park offers a track-chair program which provides Action Trackchairs—patented all-terrain wheelchairs—for visitors with limited mobility to explore three designated trails. Each trail provides chair users with views of this state park’s highlights, including its Pikes Peak, Lions Head, and Mount Rosalie. If needed, the park’s Track-Chair program also offers slide boards and a sling lift to help in transferring into the chair; bring a caregiver or a plus one to assist, if possible.
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Mollie Shutt, Visit Fort Wayne
While this park, set along Fort Wayne’s riverfront, is more urban, it can produce a good share of autumn splendor. Open since August 2019, this 4.5-acre green space contains a textured tactile paver ribbon that helps guide those with vision impairment along the trail.
Other ADA-friendly features include extra wide pathways that were built to accommodate multiple wheelchairs at once and grass made of special turf to enable wheelchairs to move easier. In autumn, the park gleams with changing leaves from brown or russet Oaks, bright yellow Birch trees, purple-red Dogwoods, golden yellow Poplars, orange Sassafras, and red Tupelos.
Credit: Shenandoah National Park
This 1.3-mile circuit hike in Shenandoah Valley follows along a wide gravel and boardwalk trail, with its surface primarily consisting of crushed greenstone. Pets are not allowed on this trail, though service dogs are permitted. While the park’s website lists the trail as ADA compliant for wheelchairs and strollers, feedback on the trail review website Alltrails.com notes that there are a few steeper sections where assistance might be needed. Check directly with the park’s staff before going.
At this arboretum, which includes plantings from desert ecosystems around the world, a 1.3-mile main trail takes visitors along a route that really pops in color with dry-climate flora during the fall season. A LivAbility magazine review notes that the rubberized gravel on the path right outside of the arboretum’s visitors’ center makes it easier for wheelchair users to move around.
At this wildlife refuge west of the city of Old Town, the Trail of the Senses is designed to offer a wilderness experience to visitors who are sensory or mobility impaired. Both its Meadow and the Pond loops feature interpretive signage with information on a wide variety of ecological topics, and encourage visitors in the use of multiple senses to explore their surroundings. Along with signage, this trail provides ADA access for wheelchairs and walkers, plus benches and observation platforms.
Credit: What to do in Southern Oregon
This ADA accessible trail within Prescott Park in the southwest Oregon city of Medford, runs about half a mile, is pitched at a gentle gradient, and goes around the park’s Roxy Ann Peak. Its north end is across from a small dirt parking area and kiosk sign on the park’s entry road.
Its south end is at the Madrone Ledge Picnic Area, on the loop road. The main upper parking area at the park (with portable toilets) is located between the ADA Trail’s north and south ends. The paved or hard surface entry and loop roads can be used to connect both ends of the ADA Trail. The trail passes through stands of oak that brighten with colors in the fall and leads to huge, ancient madrones at a picnic area.
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