When you think of our national parks, you might envision hiking through the woods, laughing around a campfire, swimming in a lake, or other iconic outdoor activities. But for people with disabilities, there’s much more to think about.
However, having a disability doesn't have to hold you back from enjoying the country's beautiful national parks. Many U.S. national parks offer programs designed for people with disabilities along with wheel-accessible activities and amenities. So before you set out on your great outdoor adventure, plan your trip by checking out these helpful tips on accessibility in the national parks.
Getting Into the National Parks
If you are disabled, you may be qualified to receive a free national parks entry pass. The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass is a lifetime pass offered to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are permanently disabled, including children. Disabilities can include physical, mental, or sensory impairment. If you are partially disabled, however, you may not qualify. To receive a free access pass, the disability must be permanent and limit one or more major life activities.
The access pass offers the same benefits as a regular annual pass. It also may provide a discount on some amenity fees (e.g., camping, swimming, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services). The pass admits the pass owner plus any passengers traveling in the same vehicle. It can be used at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests.
When applying for the pass, you will be asked to provide proof of residency or citizenship with photo identification, plus proof of permanent disability from one of the following:
- A statement by a licensed physician
- A document issued by a federal agency, such as the Veterans Affairs administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income; or a document issued by a state agency, such as a vocational rehabilitation agency
An access pass can be obtained in person from a participating federal recreation site or office. Examples include the following:
- Bureau of Land Management
- Bureau of Reclamation
- Fish & Wildlife Service
- USDA Forest Service
- National Park Service
A pass can also be obtained by mail; however, there is a $10 application processing fee.
Before You Go
Before any trip, make sure you’ve done your research. Here are a few helpful tips to remember before traveling:
- Contact the park you wish to visit directly and speak with a ranger. He or she will be able to answer your questions and give you a better idea of what services and accommodations are available for those with disabilities.
- Check the calendar of events on the national park's website to see if any special programs are scheduled for those with disabilities.
- Have a backup plan. It's not always possible to secure a reservation for some campsites, so be sure to bring information for nearby hotels that are handicap accessible.
- Don’t try to do too much. Visitors can have a tendency to try to squeeze too many activities into a short amount of time. Be honest with how much time you have, how much extra time you may need, and how much energy you have.
Accessible National Parks in the Northeast
Accessible National Parks in the Southeast
Accessible National Parks in the Intermountain Region
Accessible National Parks in the Pacific West
Accessible National Parks in the Alaska
There ’s a lot to do in the parks and the National Park Service is consistently working to make the parks more accessible for you and your family. Check out the following articles when planning your next trip.