Monday, April 8, 2024

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Washington State and the Olympic Peninsula

Roll on, Columbia!

Because it was home territory, we didn't spend a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest. We did find accessible lodging (see previous blog on lodging) at the Motel 6 in Spokane, WA and the Red Lion Inn in Pendleton, OR. The change from western to eastern Washington, as well as the return from OR to WA were both marked by crossing the mighty Columbia River. 

Olympic Peninsula forest and ferns

Most of our time in the Pacific Northwest was spent on the very northwest part of the country, on the Olympic Peninsula.*

Before departing on this road trip, we developed a series of points, as in "the point of this trip is ...,"  by which the trip grew in scope and size in order to meet all of the points.  

The most fundamental points were the scheduled family reunions, combined with the insanity of airline ticket prices.  Another foundation was a long-desired visit to Quebec and its patisseries, which dove-tailed nicely into following the St Lawrence River from end to end.  The final organizing point became apparent when looking at the scope of the proposed trip: we were near enough to realistically extend the trip to reach the westernmost and easternmost points of the contiguous USA. The fact that the Prius had already been to the northernmost point in the contiguous USA (the Northwest Angle in MN) sealed the deal.  

Easternmost point in the contiguous USA:
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, ME

The easternmost point of the contiguous USA was easily identified and required only a relatively short detour on our way from Connecticut to Quebec, racing the setting sun to West Quoddy Head Lighthouse (Longitude 66.95 W) in Maine.  We were able to drive right up to the lighthouse, reaching it just in time to admire the view and take a few photos of the geographical marker, before the ranger appeared to close the park. 

Westernmost point in
the contiguous USA:
Cape Loop Road, WA

The identification of the westernmost point turned out to be more difficult.  Google will tell you that the westernmost point in the contiguous US is Cape Alava in Washington state (Longitude 124.73 W). However, in order to reach this cape, one must hike several miles on a trail that is not wheelchair friendly. Since I couldn't hike on that trail, and since this was a road trip, we decided that our point would be the westernmost drivable point in the contiguous USA.  Thus, our westernmost point ended up being an unmarked spot on Cape Loop Road about 1 mile south of Cape Flattery (also  inaccessible) on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington (Longitude 124.72 W).

Inaccessible boardwalk
on trail to Cape Flattery
(It gets even worse!!)

From this westernmost point on Cape Loop Road, we started with a short jaunt to Cape Flattery at the end of the road, just to confirm the inaccessibility of the trail (it was), and then we headed back toward the mainland on Cape Loop Road, passing through the city of Neah Bay.  Unfortunately, we arrived in the city too late to visit the museum ourselves, but I would like to pass along many high recommendations for the Makah museum there. 

Strait of Juan de Fuca

Highway 112 runs along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with amazing views (though minimal access). Maybe the best accessible views are the overlooks with picnic tables on either side of the town of Clallum Bay.  At Pillar Point, there are two paved lots: the upper lot has disabled parking spots, an accessible vault toilet, and a currently-locked gate to a picnic shelter, while the lower lot has shabby picnic tables, a view of the water and Pillar Point, and a boat ramp.

Campgrounds abound on the northern Olympic Peninsula, and many of them probably fit the needs of a camper using a wheelchair.  We happened to explore two such campgrounds.  

Lyre River Campground

Midway across Highway 112, we poked around the Lyre River Campground, which has an ADA site with a wheelchair picnic table next to the river and a disabled vault toilet.  I think that the best accessible site is #13 -- not ADA and not with a special picnic table, but next to an accessible gravel path from the road to a river overlook.  It looked as though the campground has water, garbage cans, and even an accessible shower.

Dungeness Recreation Area

We spent a couple of nights camping at the Dungeness Recreation Area northwest of Sequim.  After checking out a good-enough ADA campsite, we ended up in a non-ADA campsite that worked well: easy access between the car and tent, not far down a paved road from accessible bathrooms, and near to an accessible trail that hugs the bluffs above the water.  The only downside was that our tent and car were directly below a pine tree being used by squirrels to harvest pinecones -- and thus we were constantly bombarded by pinecones during daylight hours!

Paved steep trail down to
Dungeness Spit

Next to the campground in the county-run Dungeness Recreation Area is the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. The trail down to the spit challenges the definition of an accessible hike, but I did it and enjoyed it, so I'm going to call it accessible.  (That reminded me of creating the "wheelchair-friendly" filter for the WTA trail database, where the final answer as to what defines "wheelchair friendly" is a trail that ANY wheelchair can travel -- accompanied by a ton of data about the trail, so that individual users can decide whether or not it is a good fit for them.) The paved parking lot at the top has a disabled spot.  The accessible restrooms have flush toilets and a wide stall, but one has to go over a large root bump to get there.  The trails run through the woods down to the picturesque sand spit below, which gives its name to one of North America's favorite crabs (the Dungeness Spit and Dungeness crabs). The direct trail is paved, but very steep at times. There is a noticeable cross-slope, usually flowing out to both sides from the center but sometimes actually slanting toward the hillside. 

Dungeness Spit Overlook

There is a flat wooden overook with a view of the Dungeness Spit and two free telescopes (one shorter for wheelchairs!), which may be a good enough end-point for some.  Farther down the hill is another flat wooden overlook. 

Dungeness Spit: long, beautiful beach

The spit itself is a long stretch of loose sand with no trail (I tried to continue down it with my all-terrain GRIT Freedom Chair, but I got stuck in the sand almost immediately). Beautiful, but, unfortunately, very inaccessible!

The Primitive Trail (also to the Spit)

An alternative to the steep direct route is the Primitive Trail, which runs from near the top (off to the right, but unmarked) of the paved trail to near the lower look-out area (signed).  It winds back and forth through the forest to one side of the paved trail.  This means that it is longer than the direct, paved trail, but it is not nearly as steep (manual chairs would probably still need assistance with the uphill slope).  This dirt trail is covered with medium- to hard-packed wood chips (probably firm enough for manual and power chairs).  At the time, there was no cross slope, only one root in the trail, all sorts of trees and sword ferns, and no people. 

Interestingly, it was on a trail over the Elwha River in the Olympic National Park where a pair of park rangers stopped me during a hike and made me leave the trail, citing the Wilderness Act of 1964 and its purpose of preserving wilderness and trails.  I countered by asking how they accommodated wheelchair hikers, as mandated by 1990’s ADA.  Unfortunately, i didn’t have all of the details or any of the proof, and they made me get off of the trail.  Because of this incident, I try to remember to carry with me a copy of the ADA, Title V Section 508c and one of the many summaries stating that nothing in the Wilderness Act should be construed as prohibiting the use of an actual wheelchair in the wilderness by a person whose disability requires use of a wheelchair.  After hiking with a wheelchair in various wilderness locations over many years, it was all the more fitting that we ended this epic road trip with a wheelchair hike on the Olympic Peninsula!

On the ferry

We then drove to Kingston, where we crossed Puget Sound on a ferry** and drove to Seattle.  Home at last!

* The Olympic Peninsula with a wheelchair

Despite the inaccessible trails to the western beaches and capes (both Capes Alava and Flattery have boardwalks, but they are narrow and full of steps, stairs, and missing planks), the northern Olympic Peninsula itself is a wonderful place for a wheelchair vacation.  Every year, Ian Mackay of Ian’s Ride organizes the Sea to Sound ride on the Discovery Trail -- a three-day, multi-user (including wheelchairs) ride from the Pacific Ocean to Port Townsend.  The group also hosts Ride the Ridge, in which power chairs roll over the paved trails of Hurricane Ridge. You can learn more at

You can also hike the Discovery Trail or one of its segments by yourself (for example, the Spruce Railroad Trail along Crescent Lake or the Larry Scott Trail out of Port Townsend). You can find online accessibility information about the Discovery Trail.

In fact, Ian told me about a Google map that a friend of his had created to show wheelchair-friendly trails near Forks, WA on the northern Olympic Peninsula.  I haven't hiked most of these trails, but the author and his son have.

You can check out more ideas for accessible trails and cabins in the Olympic National Park in the book, Barrier-Free Travel at Washington National Parks for Wheelers and Slow Walkers by Candy Harrington. In addition, there is excellent online information about accessibility for the Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula on the park website and the peninsula tourism website

** Ferries with a wheelchair

Tip: be sure to tell the ticket seller if there are any riders or drivers with a disability (the DMV placard should be proof enough).  Also, if you want to get out of your car during the ferry ride, mention to the ticket seller (at the booth, immediately when you drive into the ferry area) that you'd like to have access to an elevator and indicate which doors of the car you’ll need access to.  If the ride is long enough for this option, you'll be directed to a special boarding area and requested to turn on your hazard lights.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Idaho

Unexpected accessibility in Idaho: 
in the north (traveling east)
and the south (going west)

All across Idaho —both directions, an old song from grade school kept running through my head, begging the question: What does Idaho?

I wasn't expecting to find accessible activities in Idaho, but part of the excitement of a road trip is discovering the unexpected.  And the places we discovered were indeed unexpected, accessible, and exciting.  On the way out, we too a driving break in Couer d'Alene.  On the way back, we made several stops at waterfalls near Twin Falls.

Coeur d'Alene

Coeur d’Alene Lake

Our trip eastward was basically a long, long drive across the country with a deadline that prevented extraneous exploration, but we did make a few pre-planned stops -- one of which was Coeur d'Alene, ID.

The panhandle presents with absolutely stunning views of mountains, lakes, and their intersection.  I don’t remember much from the movies that I watch, but I still have memories of the beauty of this part of the world from "My Own Private Idaho" in the early 90’s. The city of Coeur d'Alene is a, understandable vacation destination, offering views, lodging, and activities for everyone.  

Coeur d’Alene Lake’s boardwalk

Surrounded by mountains, Coeur d'Alene Lake boasts the world's longest floating boardwalk, which is -- for the most part -- wheelchair accessible.   

Picnic tables on boardwalk at 
Coeur d’Alene Lake

The boardwalk is home to floating cantinas, boat rentals and rides, picnic tables, and mooring posts.  The boardwalk was in good shape and all transitions were level. 

Steps on this little section make it impossible
to do a circuit on Coeur d’Alene Lake’s
otherwise-accessible boardwalk

The only problem -- and the reason I say it was accessible "for the most part" -- is that about 100 yards after the entrance on the west side is a short yet inaccessible high bridge that involves many steps.  Therefore, the best route is to start at the east side and go around to this bridge, at which point you'll need to turn around, back track, and exit where you started on the east. Despite backtracking, the boardwalk is worth it.  Along the way, you'll be treated to stupendous views and cantinas.  

McEuen Park 

The east end of the boardwalk leads to a nice park, McEuen Park, with accessible restrooms and the Buoy Bar restaurant -- a nice way to end your excursion.

I also noticed possibilities for future wheelchair hikes:

The North Idaho Centennial Trail is a paved multi-use trail, running about 23 miles from the state border with Washington to Higgins Point, 6 miles east of Coeur d'Alene, at the end of Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive.

Further west, the multi-use Spokane River Centennial State Park Trail in Washington state winds 40 miles from the border to the Nine Mile Recreation Area on Lake Spokane. There are several trailheads and access points along the way.  I have a feeling the slopes may be too much for most people in manual chairs, but perhaps those with power chairs could tackle it.

Idaho Falls

Fairfield Inn in Idaho Falls

On the way home, we drove (westward) across the southern section of the state and experienced more accessible surprises.  In Idaho Falls, we could not find a cheap motel with accessible rooms available at the late hour of our arrival (I called about 8 low-end places, and none of them had availability on the ground floor and none had elevators).  So, we ended up staying at the hotel in the parking lot from which I'd been making my final calls: the Fairfield Inn by Marriott.  Along with giving us a good deal (the man at the front desk was very helpful and friendly and offered me their senior deal -- even though I'm not there yet), they had an accessible room.  It was one of the best we'd stayed in, with wide doorways to the room and bathroom, lots of space in the room and by the bed, and a completely accessible bathroom, including a roll-in shower.

Twin Falls

We stopped for a couple of hours in Twin Falls to explore Waterfall Alley.  Actually, I'm still not certain where Waterfall Alley is located, or if, in fact, there even exists an actual Waterfall Alley.  What I do know is that southern Idaho has a lot of beautiful waterfalls and that several of them can be found around the city of Twin Falls.

Shoshone Falls

We started with Shoshone Falls, which were a gorgeous surprise of huge rushing falls, even in August. After passing through the entry gate and paying our $5 fee, there were a couple of disabled parking spots with a ramp up to the flat brick and paved walkway.  

Shoshone Falls

The wooden overlook had steps, but I could see the falls well from other, unofficial viewpoints.

Perrine Coulee

Then we went on a trail overlooking Perrine Coulee --  high falls that able-bodied people could walk behind on lower trails.  

Snake River Canyon

The paved Snake River Canyon Rim Trail has multiple entry points. We had difficulty finding an access point with parking, but we eventually found a trailhead next to a parking lot, with a ramp to the trail, and an accessible water fountain (as far as I could tell, there was no restroom).  I think that the best easy-access point is found by searching maps for 2088 Washington St.

Snake River Canyon Rim Trail

We hiked on the paved trail along the rim of Snake Canyon, passing interesting signs with geological information, the town's event center, and then a bar with an overlook, before reaching a bridge and a falls overlook.  The trail was mostly level, with short inclines at some points, and with a level threshold at the bridge. The paved path was mostly well-maintained, with just a few cracks and roots.  The main downside is that it was very hot -- perhaps suggesting that a better use of time might be to grab a cold beer and enjoy the canyon view from the bar near the event center.  

Golf course and lower road at
Snake River Canyon

Alternatively, I think that going toward the golf course and Centennial Waterfront Park down below might take you to a better view of the falls (though not of the canyon).

Thousand Springs State Park

On the way out, we drove by Thousand Springs State Park, south of Hagerman, where from the road you can see water coming out of the rock and falling down the cliffs into the Snake River.   

The answer to the song’s question, by the way (What does Idaho?) is that she hoes her Maryland.  Of course!  Thanks, Google!

We then continued westward to visit more relatives and enjoy summer produce, and then to the Pacific Ocean and the end of the trip!  Stay tuned . . .