Everyone knows that the U.S. National Parks are wonderful to visit and there are plenty of breathtaking scenic drives that are must-dos in each park. However, to really experience the parks, you have to get outside and enjoy the environment on one of the trails in the parks.
Many of the best trails in each of the parks are wheelchair friendly, and we wanted to put together what we thought were our top five accessible trails in all the parks we’ve visited over the years.
#1 TRAIL OF THE CEDARS – GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
The Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park is one of the most popular trails in one of the most popular parks on the country. This short 0.8-mile loop is partial boardwalk and partial packed dirt as it heads through a tall grove of western hemlocks and red cedars. These trees can grow to over 200 feet tall and some live over 1,000 years!
The trail crosses Avalanche Creek at the bottom of Avalanche Gorge and offers a really amazing view of the rushing blue water below.
What makes this trail special is how quiet it is. Even though you’ll likely be with many others, people tend to be very quiet and just take in the surroundings!
The Trail of the Cedars is 0.8-miles (round-trip) and has 34 feet of total elevation gain. Be prepared for mosquitoes and keep your eye out for bears, though they are rare on this trail.
#2 ANHINGA TRAIL – EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
The entire state of Florida is nearly flat, making many of its trails accessible. Everglades National Park is unique from most of the National Parks in that it has many accessible trails that include pavement (to handle the large number of annual visitors) and well-maintained boardwalks.
The Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park is our favorite trail in the park. This short trail puts you right in the heart of what you would expect for Everglades landscape, complete with abundant wildlife, including alligators and its namesake, the Anhinga. The alligators won’t bother you (though you do need to give them your space), so don’t worry!
We especially enjoyed taking this trail in the evening hours-the colors were breathtaking, and people were nearly non-existent!
The Anhinga Trail is 0.8-miles round-trip without any elevation gain. Be prepared to be exposed to the sun and mosquitoes. Also, if you have time, consider a trip on the Tram in Shark Valley to see an entirely different landscape in Everglades National Park.
#3 CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN – JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
A ten acre stand of peculiar looking cactus is home to the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park. These teddybear cholla cactus are amazing all year, but they really show their color in early May through June when they bloom.
At 0.3-miles total, this loop trail is short. However, that is okay considering the trail is very exposed and can be very hot during the spring through fall. In addition, you need to be careful to avoid any “hitchhiking cactus” that may reach out and grab you while you experience this path.
The Trail of the Cedars is 0.3-miles (round-trip) and is flat. Be prepared for full sun.
#4 PAULINA FALLS TRAIL – NEWBERRY NATIONAL VOLCANIC MONUMENT
Newberry National Volcanic Monument surprised us in our journey to the Northwest. Located just south of Bend, Oregon, this National Park site had plenty to see and do. Even though our family spent an entire day here, we wish we had allocated more time to really experience all the spot had to offer, including its lakeside picnicking spots and amazing views.
The Paulina Falls Trail was our most talked-about trail during our visit. The trail (on packed dirt) is short, and starts off right away with views down into the gully that has been created over thousands of years of erosion. At the end of the trail is Paulina Falls itself, which is quite impressive. Due to continued water erosion, the falls is retreating slowly back to the source, Paulina Lake.
The Paulina Falls Trail is 0.5-miles (round-trip) and climbs only 23 feet. Be prepared for sun (though you can find shade on the trail) and bugs in the heat of the summer.
#5 BIG TREES TRAIL – SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
Everyone knows that Sequoia National Park is full of amazingly tall trees, and they are everywhere throughout the park. It seems almost funny to recommend a trail where the big attraction is the trees. However, the Big Trees Trail provides such a special and serene view of a grassy meadow with surrounding trees that it really is a “must-see.”
This trail is fully accessible as it is mostly paved with some boardwalks. It circles Round Meadow and there are interpretive signs along the way to help you learn about the area. When we visited, the stark colors of the trunks really stood out, no matter where you were on this trail.
The Big Trees Trail is 0.6-miles long (round trip) with minimal elevation changes. Most of the trail is shaded. Be prepared for other visitors, as this trail is quite popular.