National Parks Trails That Are Truly Accessible

Wheelchair user, disabled-travel advocate, and blogger Cory Lee shares his favorite accessible trails in national parks.

Distant view of person in powered wheelchair on a paved path in forest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cory Lee has been to all seven continents and a variety of U.S. national parks.

Courtesy of Cory Lee

As a wheelchair user, finding accessibility in the great outdoors makes me feel refreshed and free. There is nothing better than rolling in the open terrain and smelling the earthy scents of the trees, flowers, and grass as the wind wisps through my hair and across my face. But if the trail is rocky or has roots, tree limbs, and debris across it, it blocks my ability to roll on the trail in my powered wheelchair—and my entire outdoor experience can be ruined.

When trails are inclusive, I truly am the happiest version of myself. I have loved the great outdoors since my family took me to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the first time when I was six years old. To this day, I vividly remember that trip and how amazing it was to see bears and admire waterfalls; I even remember enjoying a picnic within the park. At that time, my mom could easily carry me pretty much anywhere I wanted to go, whether it was wheelchair accessible or not. However, now that I’m in my 30s and use a powered wheelchair full time, I need to thoroughly research accessibility before I visit a national park to figure out what’s accessible. Luckily, most national parks’ websites mention accessibility to an extent, but I also heavily rely on other sites like AllTrails for information. And once I’m in a national park, it never hurts to swing by the visitor center to further inquire about accessibility. In my experience, park rangers have been friendly and incredibly helpful with discovering accessible trails to try out.

Every trail mentioned below is accessible, no matter what your abilities are or what mobility devices you may use, with smooth paths and beautiful scenery. Let’s get started, so that you can begin enjoying outdoor experiences as soon as possible.

Rocky cliff face with two waterfalls flowing into green riverbed: Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls consists of three cascades and is one of the world’s tallest waterfalls.

Courtesy of Damon Joyce/National Park Service

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

Yosemite National Park, California

Located in Yosemite National Park in California, the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is one of my favorite accessible trails. It is a fully paved, one-mile loop that takes you to the base of one of North America’s tallest waterfalls—and I am telling you firsthand, it is breathtaking! The pathway is mostly flat and wide, but it does get a bit steep in certain sections with a total elevation gain of 50 feet. I had no problems in my powered wheelchair, though, and saw several manual wheelchair users navigating this trail. On a hot day, you will enjoy the cool mist from the waterfall, which you can feel from the viewing point at the end of the trail. There are places to sit and rest at the base of the falls as well.

Acadia's Jesup Path: a boardwalk-style trail through greenery and tall trees

Acadia’s Jesup Path is a boardwalk-style trail.

Courtesy of National Park Service

Jesup Path and Hemlock Loop

Acadia National Park, Maine

I absolutely loved my visit to Acadia National Park in Maine—and not only because of its beauty. I was so happy to see that most of the 45 miles of carriage roads were wheelchair accessible since they were smooth and easy to roll on. They are 16 feet wide and made from hard-packed gravel. My powered wheelchair had no trouble rolling on many of those carriage roads, but I also discovered the Jesup Path and Hemlock Path Loop trails. They wind through the woods and over the marsh for about 1.5 miles round trip and are made from raised wooden boardwalks and small, packed gravel.

Smiling man in powered wheelchair on boardwalk trail in Shenandoah National Park

The mile-long Limberlost Trail has a boardwalk and a trail of crushed greenstone.

Courtesy of Cory Lee

Limberlost Trail

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Limberlost Trail is a mile-long loop through the forest in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. It is made from crushed greenstone and includes a bridge and a boardwalk, all of which can be easily traversed. On this trail, you will also find plenty of spots to rest along the way, with approximately 20 benches and spaces for a wheelchair user to pull off and take a break. If you are lucky, you may even spot some wildlife along this trail. When I visited, I saw several deer running across the trail at one point.

Empty paved road with yellow line through a grassy plain with fall-colored trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has four visitor centers: Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Oconaluftee, and Sugarlands.

Courtesy of NPS / Victoria Stauffenberg

Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can admire beautiful scenery by driving through places like Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in your vehicle, but the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is a way to embrace the park’s beauty outside of the car. This half-mile path is completely wheelchair accessible, as it is flat and paved. It runs along the river, so you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the flowing water. There are several benches and paved areas where you can relax along the way.

A green river valley in Glacier National Park, with small stretch of Going-to-the-Sun-Road at left on steep hillside

The Going-to-the-Sun-Road is a stunning drive through Glacier National Park, and the accessible Trail of the Cedars forks off from it.

Courtesy of National Park Service

Trail of the Cedars

Glacier National Park, Montana

The Trail of the Cedars is about half a mile long, and it begins and ends along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the 50-mile scenic drive that is one of Glacier National Park’s most iconic experiences. The trail is paved with some boardwalk sections, making it smooth and accessible to roll on. Monumental red cedars—some more than 80 feet tall and over 500 years old—fill the area, known as the “land of the giants.” Along the way, stop to marvel at Avalanche Gorge and Avalanche Creek, which run through the middle of the trail.

More resources on accessible trails

Emerging Horizons

Candy Harrington has written many blog posts and books about accessibility in national parks. Her books include detailed accessibility information on trails, lodging, and more.

National Park Capable

Amanda Powell shares her accessible adventures in national parks as someone with cerebral palsy. She also plans accessible group hikes in different parks.

Disabled Hikers

This entirely disabled-led organization is on a mission to provide as much accessibility information about outdoor spaces as possible. Its site has trail guides for routes in many states, and it’s constantly adding more information.

Cory Lee is a writer and influencer who runs Curb Free with Cory Lee, where he covers how to travel, where to travel, and most importantly, why to travel as a person with a disability. Follow him on Instagram @curbfreecorylee.
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