Skip to content

7 of the best national parks for wheelchair users

July 14, 2021
10 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.


National parks have long been some of America’s greatest assets, but over the past year they have gained even more popularity. Thanks to huge outdoor spaces where social distancing is easy to accomplish, more and more people are flocking to national parks to see the country’s natural beauty.

While it’s fantastic that the national parks are finally getting the recognition they deserve, some aspects of them can often be challenging for wheelchair users. Rough terrain and steep trails are associated with many of the nation’s most-known outdoor experiences, but there are a variety of phenomenally wheelchair-accessible national parks as well. From easy-to-traverse trails to scenic drives and overlooks, many of America’s national parks cater to all travelers. Here are seven of the best national parks for wheelchair users to explore.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Acadia National Park

The Jesup Trail in Acadia National Park is wheelchair friendly with a raised pathway. (Photo by Copyright Byron M. ONeal/Getty Images)

As New England’s only national park, Acadia is well worth the visit if you find yourself in northern Maine. It has everything from accessible beaches and picnic areas to wheelchair-friendly trails, making this a place where you can enjoy the best of what Maine has to offer.

Acadia National Park has free shuttles that can take visitors to nearby village centers and accessible shuttles are available for guests that need them. If you’re looking to visit the beach, Echo Lake is the most accessible beach option in Acadia. It has wheelchair-accessible parking spots and restrooms, and even an accessible path to the water.

Related: A beginner’s guide to visiting Acadia National Park

Lastly, you can’t visit a national park and not check out the trails. Luckily, Acadia has a few accessible trail options. Jesup Path winds through a white birch forest and has a boardwalk path, making it the smoothest trail for wheelchair users, but Acadia’s 45-mile carriage road system is a smooth and fun way for wheelchair users to roll through the national park as well. If you prefer to actually ride in a carriage instead of wheeling the carriage roads on your own though, two wheelchair-accessible carriages are available at Wildwood Stables.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Unlike most national parks, you won’t be spending a ton of time in the great outdoors while at Carlsbad Caverns. Instead, you’ll be descending underground into the largest accessible cave chamber in North America. While it hasn’t always been accessible, it is now thanks to an elevator that carries wheelchair users more than 750 feet underground in approximately one minute.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most stunning cave systems in the world. After taking the elevator down, you will be in the “Big Room,” a cave chamber that has more than a mile of paved trails. From the trails, limestone formations are visible in every direction. Most of the paved trail is easily accessible, but some sections can be steep and narrow, so use caution and plan to bring a companion with you in case assistance is needed during the self-guided tour.

Related: The most wheelchair-accessible beach destinations in the US

Grand Canyon National Park

Some of the trails are handicap accessible in Grand Canyon National Park. (Photo by Rawf8/Getty Images)

Is it possible to talk about national parks and not mention the Grand Canyon? Absolutely not in this case because the Grand Canyon is hands-down one of the most wheelchair-accessible national parks in the country. It’s a bucket-list destination for many people of all abilities and for good reason.

The Grand Canyon has the North and South rims and while the North Rim does have a visitor center, scenic drives and is certainly worth visiting, the South Rim is by far the most popular. It’s also the most accessible.

Related: Machu Picchu — one of Peru’s greatest tourist attractions — gets even more wheelchair accessible

The South Rim has accessible shuttle buses, a visitor center and many wheelchair-friendly viewpoints and trails. The Trail of Time is a must-do, 1.3-mile trail that goes from Verkamp’s Visitor Center to the Yavapai Geology Museum. Along the Trail of Time, you’ll learn interesting facts and take in the stunning views of the canyon. It’s a trail with views unlike anywhere else on earth. If you’d like to spend the night at the Grand Canyon, accommodations are available at the South Rim, but it’s highly recommended to book your stay as far in advance as possible since they get booked up well in advance.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Sand dunes and wheelchairs usually aren’t the best combination, but at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, it’s possible to have a remarkable time if you’re a wheelchair user. In recent years, this national park has become quite accessible, so there’s never been a better time to visit.

The visitor center has a limited number of special sand wheelchairs available to navigate the dunes more easily. The sand wheelchairs are similar to a manual beach wheelchair with large inflatable tires. To be able to use one of the sand wheelchairs, you’ll just need to leave your ID and return the chair at least 30 minutes before the visitor center closes for the day. You can also reserve a sand wheelchair in advance by calling 719-378-6395.

In addition to rolling in the dunes, there are also free ranger programs available, which are accessible, and a wheelchair-friendly picnic site is available and even has a smooth trail to an accessible restroom. Great Sand Dunes is one of the country’s lesser-known national parks, but it is a beautiful place to visit and incredibly accessible.

Related: Exploring national parks: Where to stay using points

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo by wbritten/Getty Images)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s most visited national park and also one of the largest, stretching into both Tennessee and North Carolina. The national park is 95% forest, so there are many trails to explore and quite a few wheelchair-accessible options, including trails you can drive on.

Two must-do drivable trails are Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Cades Cove has an 11-mile drivable loop and even though that may seem like a short distance, it can take anywhere from two to four hours to complete, as there is a lot to see. On a typical drive through Cades Cove, you can see deer, turkeys, bears and more wildlife. Similar to Cades Cove, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is also drivable and gives you the ability to spot wildlife within the park. At 5.5 miles, Roaring Fork is half the length of Cades Cove, but it’s equally impressive and even has a waterfall known as Place of a Thousand Drips.

Related: A beginner’s guide to visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you’d rather get out of your vehicle and roll on some accessible trails, there are a few different options. Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is the most accessible choice, as it is fully paved and flat. It’s a half-mile long and much of it runs by a river. Another accessible trail is the Little River Trail and while it isn’t paved, it is fairly smooth and flat for the first mile (two miles round-trip).

Shenandoah National Park

Located in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is a gorgeous place to enjoy the outdoors. Like the Great Smoky Mountains, it has both drivable routes and accessible trails.

Skyline Drive is the only public road in Shenandoah National Park and at 105 miles long, it goes through the whole park. The road is paved, so it’s easy to drive and takes about three hours if you drive the entirety of it. Along the route, you will likely see wildlife, but there are 69 overlooks as well, where you can pull over and take in the views of Shenandoah Valley. About 25% of the scenic overlooks have wheelchair-accessible parking spots, giving you the opportunity to get out of your vehicle for some nice photos.

Limberlost Trail is the park’s only fully accessible trail, but it’s one of the best in the country for wheelchair users. This trail is a 1.3-mile loop and it’s flat and smooth, being primarily made of crushed greenstone. Another trail that isn’t quite as accessible, but still possible for many wheelchair users, is Rose River Trail. The first mile of Rose River Trail is bumpy in some sections due to being a dirt road with gravel, but it’s possible in a motorized wheelchair. Scooters or manual wheelchairs may have a bit more difficulty. After a mile of rolling, you’ll see Dark Hollow Falls, a waterfall that makes the trek completely worth it.

Related: 8 national parks that are spectacular in spring

Yellowstone National Park

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by Imre Cikaljo/Getty Images)

This national park is located in three states; Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. As one of the most iconic national parks in the world, Yellowstone is a place that everyone should visit at least once and luckily, it is extremely accessible.

Access to popular attractions at Yellowstone, such as the Old Faithful geyser, is easy. There are multiple accessible paths and complimentary wheelchairs are even available to use from the Old Faithful, Grand Canyon, Mammoth (Albright), Norris and Fishing Bridge visitor centers on a first-come, first-served basis.

Yellowstone National Park offers so many experiences to enjoy, including seeing amazing wildlife and even fishing. An accessible fishing area is available on the Madison River at the Mount Haynes Overlook. Accessible picnic areas are also in the Madison area.

Related: A beginner’s guide to visiting Yellowstone National Park: Everything you should see and do

Bottom line

The seven national parks above are spectacular destinations for wheelchair users, but they are in no way the only accessible national parks. America’s National Park System is fantastic and nearly all parks have at least some degree of accessibility, so start exploring no matter what your abilities are.

Related: 7 air travel tips for wheelchair users

Featured image by Getty Images/EyeEm
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023