When people think of parks filled with gorgeous mountains and unparalleled wild beauty, a place like Glacier National Park in Montana comes to mind. While many might believe the park’s rugged terrain and wilderness would be inaccessible for people with disabilities, quite the contrary is true for those who are adventurous. Most Glacier shuttles have wheelchair lifts, so park visitors with disabilities can enjoy many scenic destinations along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Glacier also offers large-print, Braille and audio versions of some of its park brochures. Park staff produced audio-described videos with closed captions featuring many Glacier locations and subjects. American Sign Language interpreters and assistive-listening devices are available upon advance request. Accessible evening and ranger-led programs are specially marked, and accessibility information is provided at numerous locations within the park.
The Bureau of Land Management and other Interior agencies work with Disabled Sports USA and their 120 community-based chapters located in more than 40 states nationwide. This network offers adaptive access to a broad array of outdoor adventures ranging from quiet flyfishing or horseback riding to adrenaline pumping whitewater and rock climbing. The U.S. Forest Service also partners with Outdoors for All to improve recreational opportunities for people with disabilities in national forests. Everyone deserves to enjoy the great outdoors -- especially our wounded warriors.
Massive stone arches, landscapes of contrasting colors and exquisite sunsets all make Arches National Park unlike any other place in the world. To ensure all can enjoy its natural beauty, the park’s staff works to ensure that it is accessible to people of varying abilities. An audio brochure of the park is available for blind visitors, and Delicate Arch, a stone icon of Utah, has a wheelchair-accessible viewing point. All audio-visual programs are close-captioned, and the visitor center exhibits include tactile models and maps. In 2017, the park renovated some trails, adding additional wheelchair ramps and widening existing sidewalks for easier access. Additionally, rangers add touch-ups to accessible trails every year.
For two days each year, hunters travel from across America to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The refuge offers a unique deer hunting program that is accessible for people with a range of disabilities, from those with missing limbs to individuals with quadriplegia. The hunt is wheelchair-accessible and offers drive-up ready hunting blinds and locations that are adapted for the needs of hunters with disabilities. Similar programs exist at Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota and Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. These incredibly popular programs provide an accessible opportunity for people with disabilities to connect with the outdoors and experience the thrill of hunting.
Behind the stunning beauty of Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii lies a little-known story of a nation in crisis and a community thrown into isolation. When leprosy was mysteriously introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in 1866, all those who contracted it were banished to a remote peninsula on the island of Molokai that became their prison. More than 8,000 people died at Kalaupapa. Many of those who were exiled were left without food or shelter, and the few who recovered remained disfigured and rebuked by society. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is now treatable and has receded into the past. Today, Kalaupapa remains a place for education and reflection. It stands as a place where past suffering has given way to pride in accomplishments and where we can reconsider our responses to people with disfiguring disabilities or illnesses.
Denali National Park in Alaska is known for its pristine wilderness and secluded beauty, but many people don’t realize it’s also one of the most-accessible national parks. Denali is an excellent example of seamlessly blending nature with accessibility for visitors with disabilities. The park only has one road -- the Denali Park Road -- open to private vehicles for the first 15 miles, with the remaining 92 miles carrying visitors via wheelchair-accessible buses. Each of the park’s campgrounds and trails are rated for accessibility. American Sign Language interpreters are available upon advance request for ranger programs and bus trips. Visitors with hearing loss can also use assistive-listening devices. A group of visitors who are Deaf created a video detailing their experience in Denali to show how everyone can enjoy this amazing place.
All public lands allow service animals and provide a free, lifetime Access Pass for people with disabilities. The pass provides admittance to thousands of recreation sites and national parks across the nation. Don’t wait, start planning your adventure to these beautiful lands today!