Wednesday, November 7, 2018

San Josef Bay

First Beach at San Josef Bay, Cape Scott Provincial Park, BC

Backpacking was a big part of life in my twenties.  It was also what threw me into an existential crisis when -- after I got my first wheelchair -- somebody asked, "Do you like backpacking?"  How do you answer that question, if you really like something, but you can't actually do it?  Ever since I started wheelchair hiking, I have wanted to go wheelchair backpacking.  I think I may have finally accomplished that goal.

I have to qualify this with "I think," because we hiked on a well-maintained trail to a small group of campsites.  Still, we did have backpacks: Ted had a huge one on his back, and I had a much smaller one on the back of my wheelchair.  Moreover, getting to the campsite involved a significant hike of 3 km through a magical rainforest.

The trail to San Josef Bay starts in a parking lot in Cape Scott Provincial Park, about 64 km of mainly unpaved logging roads from Port Hardy (about 11/2 hours) on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  The trail is a miracle!  It is well-maintained, mostly medium-to-hard-packed gravel, with a boardwalk in some areas.  It was advertised as wheelchair accessible with assistance, and it really was.  "Some assistance" was advised, because there were some steep hills.  The trail meanders through a coastal rainforest with large, mossy trees nd even old-growth trees, lowland bogs, and mushrooms.

At the end of the trail was San Josef Bay and the campsites at First Beach.  The ground was a bit sandy for wheelchair ease, but the view made the discomfort worth it.  The more difficult challenge was getting to the sites themselves, since the paths are quite narrow and overgrown, requiring serious assistance.  There is no water source.  Water can be obtained about 1 km away at the stream at Second Beach,  but it must be filtered or boiled before drinking, and Second Beach is only accessible by a slippery, narrow path.

Although the outhouses at the trailhead in the parking lot were fully wheelchair accessible, the outhouse at the end of the trail, at the campground, wasn't.  Oh, it was labelled with a wheelchair sign on the door, and it was bigger than usual.  It even had grab bars inside.  But it was situated on a concrete platform that was about 4" off of the ground.  What were they thinking?

My biggest asset was a former Eagle Scout, who pushed me up hills, helped me brake down hills, refilled water bottles from the Second Beach stream, and made an extra trip to carry all of our camping gear -- a double air mattress about 20" high, large tent that fits this air mattress plus a wheelchair, commode wheelchair, and privacy tent that houses that wheelchair and serves as an outhouse.

Like most campsites, ours was on the edge of the rainforest, in big, beautiful trees.  It was also right next to -- and looking out at -- the gorgeous San Josef beach and bay.  There was one other group there the first night, but nobody else there the second night.  We had our own private beach-front campground

We camped two nights, which gave us a full day to hike on the beach as far as we could go.  We started a couple of hours before low tide and ended a couple of hours after it, so the water was way out, and there was sandy beach around the rocks for a long ways.  With the Freedom Chair, I was able to go on most of the beach -- including the rippled sand and even in the water.  When the sand got soft and deep, however, the chair started sinking, and I needed help getting out.   In fact, where the sand was too soft and deep, Ted had to drag me by the front wheel.  I have since received a new pneumatic front wheel (thanks, Alex!), and hope to avoid this scenario in the future.

The biggest surprise were the sea stacks -- tall rocks stacked in different shapes, which are usually seen sticking out of the water.  Because it was low tide and the water was out, the rocks were coming out of the sand.  In fact, the end of beach looked like a museum, and the rocks were the exhibits on display.  We were able to wander through, enjoying them both close up and as a whole from afar.

Then it was back to our campsite in the trees.  On the way out the next day, we were accompanied by a light, misty rain, allowing us to see the rainforest in its full glory.  Despite the challenges, this may have been the best wheelchair hike yet!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Wrapping Up: Two Years of Wheelchair Accessible Trails

Two years of riding the Freedom Chair and blogging about my adventures.  Another life chapter has drawn to a close, and once again I find myself needing to reinvent myself -- who I am and what I do -- partly to reestablish my own sense of identity and purpose and partly to answer that dreaded question asked in American introductions: "So, what do you do?"   In the meantime, I've cut-and-pasted and compiled a summary of the trails I've found to be wheelchair-accessible in the past couple of years. (Interestingly, it's probably shorter than the unwritten summary of trails I've found to be NOT wheelchair accessible in the past couple of years.)  If you want more details, read the old blogs.

(as always, please excuse the formatting)


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
Other: I hear they've added more accessible trail

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

Western WA outside of Seattle
Location: Olympia, WA
Distance: 5 miles
Surface: Mostly boardwalk; section of hard-packed gravel
Views: Puget Sound, Mt Rainier, Olympic Mountains, wildlife (birds)
Trailhead: Parking lot for $3/car at exit 114 off of I-5
Elevation Gain: 10 feet

Trail: Lake to Lake Trail

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: 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: 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: Snoqualmie Pass, WA
Distance: 1 mile loop
Surface: paved (muddy if wet), some boardwalk
Wheelchair: Power or manual chair, if conditions are good; otherwise, third wheel 
View: Gold Creek Pond, mountains, forest
Trailhead: Exit 54 off of I-90 is about 2 miles east of Snoqualmie Summit
                                                    Other: Picnic tables at Pond

Trail: Peoh Point

Location: Cle Elum, WA
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Surface: dirt road
Wheelchair: manual with third wheel
View: Cascade mountains, flowers, Snoqualmie Pass, Cle Elum Lake

Trailhead: South Cle Elum Way to 6th/Westwood to paved/signed road to FR 3350.  At five-way intersection with parking, continue on left road till gate and park there.  (warning - potholes!)

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)
TrailheadsDonovan 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
Trailheadfour trailheads along the route at East Puyallup, McMillin, Orting, and South Prairie,

Trail: Mountain Lake

Location: Orcas Island, WA
Distance: 3.9 miles round trip
Surface: dirt
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel
View: Mountain Lake, forest, birds
Trailhead: The parking area is 1/4 mile down Mountain Lake Turnoff, near Eastsound, on Orcas Island.
Other: I hesitate to call this trail wheelchair-accessible, because of the barrier to prevent bikes at the beginning, which necessitates disembarking and having someone carry you across.  However,                                                           once past the barrier, the rest of the path is flat and accessible and                                                       beautiful.  Someone should contact Moran State Park!

 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

Trail: Rainbow Falls

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 ( Stehekin to Rainbow Falls.  The trail goes from the parking lot to the falls.   OtherYou 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   (                      


Location: Sherwood, OR
Distance: 3.1 mile loop
Surface: dirt (mud)
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair
View: Wildlife refuge, birds, river, forest
Trailhead: SW of Portland, OR on SW Pacific Highway, between Tualatin and Sherwood, OR

Location: Umatilla, OR
Distance: 7.3 miles one-way
Surface: hard-packed gravel
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair
View: Columbia River
Trailheads: McNary Beach Park, Hat Rock State Park, or Warehouse Beach

California Coast

Location: Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, CA
Distance: 1.6 miles out & back
Surface: paved, dirt, hard-packed gravel
Wheelchair: manual chair
Views: Hollywood sign, hills, and mansions, LA skyline, flowers and cacti
Trailhead: North end of Fuller Ave
Other: busy urban trail, bring water


Trail: Point Vicente

Location: Rancho Palos Verdes, Los Angeles, CA
Distance: 5.6 miles out & back
Surface: dirt
Wheelchair: manual chair
Views:  Pacific Ocean, whales, lighthouse, interpretive center
Trailhead: Interpretive Center at end of Point Vicente Interpretive Center Road at curve where Palos Verdes Dr W meets Palos Verdes Dr S.

Location: Monterey, CA
Distance: 18 miles one-way
Surface: paved
Wheelchair:  power chair
View: Pacific Ocean, sand dunes, otters and marine mammals, Monterey Bay, harbor, & city
Trailheads: several on & off points along coast from Pacific Grove to Castroville.
                                                     Other: busy multi-use urban trail

Trail: Asilomar Beach

Location: Pacific Grove, CA
Distance: 2.6 miles out & back
Surface: hard-packed sand, boardwalks
Wheelchair:   manual with third wheel
View: Pacific Ocean, beach with dunes, rocks, otters, sunset
Trailheads: Multiple parking spaces and entrances to Asilomar Beach off of Ocean View Blvd in Pacific Grove.

British Columbia

Trail: Othello Tunnels

Location: Hope, BC
Distance: 3.5 km round-trip
Surface: packed gravel
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel or all-terrain chair
View: train tunnels, gorge with raging rivers and sheer granite cliffs, forest
Trailhead: parking lot for Coquihalla Provincial Park, off of Highway 5, about 12 miles northeast of Hope

Location: Hope, BC
Distance: 1.5 km+
Surface: packed gravel
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel or all-terrain chair
View: mountains, valleys, wild flowers
Trailhead: parking lot of Cascade Lookout in EC Manning Provincial Park, off of Highway 3, about 40 miles southeast of Hope

Trail: Inland Lake

Location: Powell River, Sunshine Coast, BC
Distance: 13km round-trip
Surface: crushed limestone and boardwalk
Wheelchair: power chair
View: lake, forest
Trailhead: Inland Lake Provincial Park 
OtherThere are supposedly three cabins on the trail; I haven't investigated them, but it might make a great overnight trip.

Trails: Take it Easy and Monty's Way

Location Hidden Grove, Sechelt, BC
Distance: 400m loop & 800m there & back
Surface: "hard surface"
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel
View: forest with big trees, Salish Sea
                                                 TrailheadComing from Gibsons at the main traffic light in                                                        Sechelt turn right onto Wharf Road and then right after 600                                                      meters to Sechelt Inlet Road. Follow Sechelt Inlet Road for                                                      6 k to the parking area and head of the trail.

Location: Ucluelet, BC
Distance: 2.6 km loop
Surface: paved and?
Wheelchair: power chair and all-terrain chair, depending on part of trail travelled
View: Pacific Ocean, rocky coastal headlands, mossy rainforest, lighthouse, bog
Trailhead: Follow the signs in Ucluelet

Location: Ucluelet, BC
Distance: 1 km loop
Surface: dirt
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair with assistance
View: Big old trees
TrailheadPark alongside Pacific Rim Highway about 3 miles north of Ucluelet and follow bike trail to signed Ancient Cedars trail.
Other: Very steep beginning

Trail: Radar Hill

Location: Tofino, BC
Distance: .6 km there and back
Surface: pavement and boardwalk
Wheelchair: power chair
View: ocean, mountains
Trailhead: Radar Hill exit on Pacific Rim Highway south of Tofino. For the upper lookout, park in the first parking lot.  For the lower lookout, drive farther and park in the second parking lot.
Other: parking pass needed (kiosks sell them on site).

Trail: Shorepine Bog 

Location: Tofino, BC
Distance: 1 km
Surface: boardwalk
Wheelchair: power or manual chair
View: bog with dwarfed and stunted trees
Trailhead: Take the Wickaninnish exit on the Pacific Rim Highway and continue about 2km until you see the sign for the Shorepine Bog Trail.

Trail: Cathedral Grove

Location: Qualicum, Vancouver Island, BC
Distance: ?short
Surface: dirt
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel or all-terrain chair
View: Big, old trees, gentle river
Trailhead: In  MacMillan Park25k west of Qualicum 

Trail: Universal Access Trail in the Ancient Forest

Location: Ancient Forest, Prince George, BC 
Distance: 450 meters
Surface: boardwalk
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Forest of big trees, rushing stream
Trailhead: Midway between Prince George and McBride (113 km) on Highway 16

Trail: Rancheria Falls

Location: Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada)
Distance: short
Surface: boardwalk
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Rancheria River and Falls
Trailhead: Post 1112.5 km on the Alaska Highway

Trails: Glacier National Park, BC:

            Hemlock Grove Boardwalk

                                Abandoned Rails

Location: Glacier National Park, BC

Distance: HGB 300 m
                 1885 7.2 km there and back
                 AR 2.4 km there and back

Surface: HGB boardwalk and paved
               1885 probably dirt and gravel
               AR probably dirt and gravel

Wheelchair: HGB power chair
                     1885 probably all-terrain chair
                      AR probably all-terrain chair

View: HGB rainforest
          1885 railway interpretive, forest, mountains
          AR forest, mountains

Trailhead: Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park, BC

Canadian Rockies

Trail: Takakkaw (Tak) Falls
LocationYoho National Park
Distance: about 1/3 mile
Surface: paved
Wheelchair: power chair
View: waterfall, cliffs
Trailhead: signed parking lot in Yoho National Park
Other: hilly. misty, so be prepared to get wet

Trail: Emerald Lake
LocationYoho National Park
Distance: 5.2 km
Surface: paved, hard-packed gravel, dirt
Wheelchair: power chair on pavement, all-terrain chair
View: lake with mountains

Trailhead: signed parking lot in Yoho National Park
Other: At end of lake trail deteriorates to narrow with roots

Trail: Peyto Lake Overlook
Icefields Parkway 
Distance: 2.7 km round trip
Surface: paved
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Peyto lake, mountains, glacier

Trailhead: Signed upper parking lot with buses
Other: Lower car parking lot possible, but more hills, steep

Trail: Bow Summit 
Icefields Parkway 
Distance: 2.9 km one way 
Surface: after paved path, fire road with hard-packed dirt up to summit, eventually narrowing to dirt path
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair
View: Bow Lake & Glacier, mountains, flowers, marmots

Trailhead: Signed parking lot on Icefields Parkway
Other: very steep, bugs

Trail: Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail
Lake Louise and Banff National Park
Distance: 2-6 km one way (depends how far you go)
Surface: well-paved, then poorly paved, then dirt with boardwalks
Wheelchair: power chair then all-terrain chair
                                                View: Lake Louise, mountains

                                                Trailhead: signed parking lot
                                                Other: crowded; trail along                                                                                                         lake is flat, but back side is very steep

Trail:Pyramid Lake Island
LocationJasper National Park
Distance: short
Surface: hard-packed dirt
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel
Viewlake, mountains, Mt Edith Cavell, elk

Trailheadcross wooden bridge leading from a parking lot about ½ mile from the Pyramid Lake Resort in Jasper National Park.

Trail: Mary Schaeffer Loop
LocationJasper National Park
Distance: 2 miles
Surface: paved
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Lake Maligne
Trailhead: East side of Lake Maligne, Jasper National Park
Other: didn't go on this trail, so can't confirm details

 Bald Hills 
Jasper National Park
Distance: 6.5 km (round trip)
Surface: fire road with dirt
Wheelchair: all-terrain
View: ?
Trailhead: Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park
Otherdidn't go on this trail, so can't confirm details

Trail: Lake Annette
Jasper National Park
Distance: 2.4 km round traip
Surface: paved
Wheelchair: power chair
View: lake
Trailhead: signed parking lot in Jasper National Park

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)