Accessible National Parks and Resorts in the Heart of America’s Red Rock Wonderland
By: Dave Jensen and Elysia Everett Burns
US National Parks are a source of awe-inspiring natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and rare wildlife. The dramatic red earth formations of Utah’s Arches, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Colorado’s famous ancestral Pueblo Cliff Dwellings hold particular sway in the collective imagination of the majesty of the US Parks system. These protected areas offer unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation, education, and personal reflection, making them a vital resource for people of all backgrounds and abilities.
John Muir famously inspired Teddy Roosevelt to start the National Park system by inviting him to visit him in Yosemite in 1903. Their shared love of nature helped Roosevelt see the need for government protection of natural resources. Making National Parks accessible to all not only provides equal opportunities for everyone to enjoy these magnificent landscapes but also fosters a greater appreciation and understanding of our natural world, promoting conservation and preservation for future generations.
Research suggests that up to a third of US adults have some sort of access need due to a temporary or permanent disability or being a person of size or mature age. No one is average, so many individuals with disabilities will face significant barriers in accessing these natural wonders. The ADA ensures that most National Parks have accessible infrastructure as much as possible, but until recently looking up specifics required intense reconnaissance work in advance.
The new Friendly Like Me mobile App and web platform recently launched this Spring to place essential accessibility specifics at our fingertips. Now families and friends can quickly find personally relevant information on the accessibility of major National Park landmarks and iconic vistas, and where to stay and recharge after a day of enjoying the great outdoors. With both proprietary “Overall Friendliness” and “Like Me” scores, Friendly Like Me is unique in that it honors how disability is very individual and the National platform is quickly becoming a go-to resource for restaurants, hotels and resorts, state and federal parks, beaches and lakes!
In our exclusive guide to this magical region of the country you may get inspired to take a long awaited trip, and bring loved ones who thought their travel days were behind them!
You can explore much of Arches National Park and see many famous arches and rock formations via the paved scenic road. Some short accessible trails and viewpoints provide a closer view of the park, but the longer trails should be avoided by people with mobility concerns. Many areas are accessible and the park's scenic drive passes many notable arches and rock formations that are visible from the road. All toilets in the park are wheelchair accessible, and the picnic areas near Balanced Rock, Panorama Point, and Devils Garden have paved sections. Devils Garden campground has two accessible sites and the amphitheater has a paved walkway.
Red Rocks, Pink Cliffs, and Endless Vistas! Situated along a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase, the park's high elevations include numerous life communities, fantastic dark skies, and geological wonders that defy description.
Most viewpoints for the park have accessible parking and ramps for visitors in wheelchairs. The visitor center is fully accessible with ramps and accessible bathrooms, a lowered information desk, and a fully accessible auditorium.
Accessible restroom stalls are available at the Visitor Center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, the General Store, Loop A and the group site of Sunset Campground, Farview Point, and Rainbow Point. Restrooms at Sunset Point are accessible with assistance. Only Service Animals recognized by the ADA are permitted to accompany their owners off pavement. Having assistance is recommended at this altitude.
Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserves some of the most significant archaeological sites in the United States. The park features numerous cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Pueblo people over 700 years ago, including the impressive Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America.
Many areas of Mesa Verde Park are fully accessible. However, the park does have accessibility limitations for people with low vision, hearing, and mobility impairments. Wheelchairs with wide rim wheels are recommended on trails. Service animals are allowed anywhere that you are allowed to go in Mesa Verde. Persons with heart or respiratory ailments may have breathing problems at this altitude.