Thursday, May 25, 2017

Accessible Trails in Washington State

When I first started using a wheelchair over 10 years ago, I searched around for information on wheelchair hiking.  I found a great book, entitled Accessible Trails in Washington's Backcountry.  I was elated . . .  almost.  The book was published in 1995 and hadn't been updated since.  When I began hiking with the Freedom Chair last year, I once again pulled out this book.  My first excursion highlighted the changes in trails since the book was published and inspired me to a new goal: update the book to match present day reality and capture the information on a website, so as to easily allow for changes and additions. Well, I soon realized that this was a behemoth task, requiring time and attention to detail that I don't even pretend to possess.  So, as a paltry consolation prize, I've compiled a list of wheelchair-accessible hikes in Washington from my own experience and added some links to other resources.  I hope that this information will help other wheelchair hikers in the state, and that readers will share their own recommendations (perhaps even using this blog post as a forum?).

Keep in mind that the idea for this list actually came after many of the hikes, and that I have the memory of a middle-aged person with a chronic disease.  Therefore, it is more than possible that some of the details listed below are not exactly accurate!  Also, the type of wheelchair for which the trail is most appropriate is my own subjective opinion and is accumulative (i.e. anything appropriate for a power chair is also appropriate for a manual chair or all-terrain chair).  Finally, for more information about the hikes, click on the name of the trail to link to a website.  (Really finally -- the formatting function of this application is a mystery to me.  What looks good in the editor is all a jumble in the preview window.  I haven't the patience to figure it out and make it look pretty, so please pretend...)

Jenny's List of Wheelchair-Accessible Hikes in Washington

Location: Seattle, WA
Distance: short
Surface: paved and hard-packed dirt (roots pushing up               pavement in a couple of spots)
Wheelchair: power chair
Views: Puget Sound, West Point Lighthouse, Mt Rainier,                 Olympic Mountains, beach with driftwood,                                     wildflowers
Trailhead: with DMV disabled placard, pick up pass from                Visitors’ Center, allowing you to  park near the entrance to                                                                     the trails                   

Location: Seattle, WA
Distance: 2.8 miles round-trip
Surface: hard-packed dirt, sand dune
Wheelchair:  all-terrain chair
Views: Puget Sound, trees and grasses, birds
Trailhead: North end of parking lot near Visitor Center

Location: Seattle, WA
Distance: 1.4 miles out and back
Surface: hard-packed gravel
Wheelchair:   all-terrain chair 
View: trees and flowers  - azaleas and other rhododendrons when they bloom
Trailhead: central section of the Washington Park Arboretum

Location: Seattle, WA
Distance: about .5 miles (I don’t remember exactly) one-way downhill
Surface: hard-packed dirt
Wheelchair:   manual chair (power chair if conditions are good)
View: big trees in old-growth forest, ending at Lake Washington with views of Seattle
Trailhead: top of hill in center of park

Location: Seattle, WA
Distance: I don’t remember (less than 1 mile)
Surface: hard-packed dirt (sometimes muddy)
Wheelchair: manual chair (all-terrain chair when muddy)
View: Puget Sound, wetlands, over 200 species of birds
Trailhead: parking lot for Merrill Hall at UW Center for Urban Horticulture
Other: free tram tours first Thursday of each month

Location: Seattle, WA
Distance: 1500 feet
Surface: boardwalk
Wheelchair: manual or power chair
View: Puget Sound, swamp, water fowl
Trailhead: East side of Union Bay Natural Area at UW Center for Urban Horticulture

Location: 6 miles East of North Bend, WA off of I-90 on South Fork of Snoqualmie River
Distance: .4 miles one-way
Surface: hard-packed dirt with roots
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair
View: big trees, waterfall, along a river, through a mostly old-growth forest
Trailhead: East end of parking lot at Olallie State Park

Location: Bellingham, WA
Distance: 6.7 miles
Surface: hard-packed dirt and crushed stone
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair
View: through woods, follows coastline, Puget Sound, and San Juan Islands (sporadic)
Trailheads: Donovan Ave. and 10th St. (Fairhaven) and Larrabee State Park at Fragrance Lake Rd. and Chuckanut Dr. (Bellingham)

Location: Pierce County, WA
Distance: 15.1 miles (part of 30 miles of 6 unconnected segments of the old Burlington Northern Railway)
Surface: paved
Wheelchair: power chair
View: along Carbon River, salmon spawning in season, Mt Rainier in distance
Trailhead: four trailheads along the route at East Puyallup, McMillin, Orting, and South Prairie,

Location: Issaquah Alps,WA
Distance: 2.9 miles (not all ADA)
Surface: Hard-packed gravel, hard-packed dirt
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair
View: Woods, ferns, lake
Trailhead: High Point trailhead in Issaquah Alps

Location: Bellevue, WA
Distance: 10 miles of several segments from Lake Washington to Lake Sammamish
Surface: hard-packed gravel, paved (some city sidewalks connect trails between parks)
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Nine city parks, suburban streets, blueberries, lakes, second-growth forest
Trailhead: Weowna Park near Lake Sammamish (we parked at (Lake Hills Farm Fresh Produce fruit stand at 15562 SE 16th St).

 Location: North Cascades Highway near Rainy Pass, WA
Distance: 1 mile each way
Surface: paved
Wheelchair: power chair
View: trees, alpine lake
Trailhead: Milepost 158 on North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20); Need NW Forest Pass to park

Location: Stehekin, WA (Lake Chelan)
Distance: short
Surface: paved
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Rainbow Falls, cinnamon rolls at Stehekin Pastry Company on road down
Trailhead: Take Lady of the Lake Ferry ( from Chelan to Stehekin across Lake Chelan, and then take the accessible shuttle bus ( from Stehekin to Rainbow Falls.  The trail goes from the parking lot to the falls.   Other: You can wheel back on the paved road back down to Stehekin, stopping to sample the giant cinnamon rolls at the Stehekin Pastry                                                        Company (, and catching the shuttle bus for the                                            rest of the route.  FYI: the lodge at Stehekin has a wheelchair-accessible                                            cabin   (                      

Links to other lists and ideas about wheelchair-accessible hikes in WA (no personal recommendations here; try at your own risk!):

Wheelchair-accessible trails from Outdoors for All (compiled by two of their participants)  (last updated 2014)    (must register)

Please share your own recommendations!!!                            

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Accessible trails

2017 is a year of notable anniversaries.  50 years of life.  20 years of marriage.  15 years of Seattle. 10 years of using a wheelchair.  1 year of hiking with the Freedom Chair.

Hiking with the Freedom Chair
Looking back on my year of Freedom Chair hiking, I feel like many of my previous posts have something in common: they document adventures along hiking trails I'd hoped to be fitting for wheelchairs ... only to have some obstacle impede my passage to the point of needing serious assistance or even forcing me to turn back.

Too narrow to go further

Too rocky to go further

You get the picture!

My Ideal Wheelchair Trail

Perhaps an ideal wheelchair trail

Really, the main criterion for a wheelchair-accessible trail is one that is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

Secondary criteria include:
  • a fairly flat trail without a lot of ups and downs, or at least limited altitude gain with minimal steepness (difficult to find in a mountainous area!)
  • a trail that is neither too long nor too short (the exact distance depends upon the hiker)
  • a trail surface that falls somewhere between paved (usually boring!) and full of big rocks
      • an even trail that does not slant to the side (On slanting trails, straight forward motion requires one-armed propulsion, which is extremely tiring, and I prefer not to fall off of the trail -- especially because that usually involves a steep hill).

Ideas for Trails
  • Of course, the ideal would be a trail designated as "wheelchair accessible,"  but those are few and far between.  In addition, they are usually short, paved circuits around a nature center or en route from a parking lot to a viewpoint, so their length and variety is limited.  
  • Also rare, but usually in beautiful locations, are boardwalks through forests and/or swamps (and, to a lesser extent, near beaches).
    Asilomar Beach (CA)
  • Roads (paved and unpaved) can be a good option, through the trick is to find one that is not a war zone of potholes and is closed to cars (even one is enough to kill you).  Gated roads, fire roads, and sometimes logging roads will work.  

Hamma Hamma Campground (WA)
  • Another idea is mountain bike trails (although be sure to look for double-track trails for a wider trail).  
  • Many ski hills open their slopes to mountain bikes in the summer months, so the gentler slopes (catwalks) offer good possibilities for wheelchairs (thanks, Nerissa, for this idea).
  • For some reason, wildlife refuges seem to have good terrain for wheelchair  -- boardwalk and/or level trails.
Tualatin Wildlife Refuge (OR)
  • In recent years, many organizations, including Rails-to-Trails, have built multi-use trails, providing good hiking options for walkers, cyclists, families, and wheelchairs.
Othello Tunnels Trail (BC)

Sources of Ideas
  • The best source of ideas is other wheelchair users and their recommendations about where to hike or not to hike.  If I had more energy, I would start a website with a data base where hikers could search for accessible trails.  Instead, I'll offer my meager contribution in the next post, along with a list of accessible trails I received from an Outdoors for All staff member. I hope others will add their ideas somewhere as well.  
  • Luckily, Google exists.  (As always, use caution, since some links are old or inaccurate).
  • Another great idea is Traillink, the web-based database for Rails-to-Trails, where one can search for trails nationwide -- filtering for many conditions, including wheelchair accessibility! 
  • Other trail databases can also be helpful, although they may not include a filter for wheelchair accessibility (I used to search for "kid friendly" trails on Washington Trail Association's "Hike Finder Map," but it turned out that those trails were only friendly to some kick-ass kids, who were far more agile than I was.

Looking toward the future, I am resolved to be smarter about my trail choices -- mostly.  There is still something to be said about choosing back-country trails based on location, even though that invariably leads to frustration, asking for (and accepting) help, and most probably a quick turn-around.  If anybody reads this and has more ideas, please let me know!  As I mentioned, the best ideas come from people's experience and recommendations.