California is no stranger to natural beauty, there is a reason we have the most National Parks (our nine even beating out gorgeous Alaska’s eight!). It is a part of our culture as Californians to not only be custodians to a variety of environments, but also to meaningfully interact with them. That is why it is imperative that we make as much of that natural beauty available to as many Californians as possible, as it is one of the biggest perks of living in our stunning state.
Research can be the most important step you take before you even step on that trail.
Whether you need to know the slope or surface of the trail to know if it can accommodate your mobility AT, weather trends to be able regulate your body temperature, or you live with chronic pain or illness that means you need short but sweet trails with plentiful resting spots, when you have a disability, knowing the best places to hike can sometimes determine whether or not you tackle that trek!
AllTrails is probably the most comprehensive and widely reviewed trail resource and it even has a page that ranks the best wheelchair accessible trails! AllTrails has collected all of the available information you could possibly need to plan your hike. You can learn the length, difficulty level, fees and amenities available at hiking sites. It has pictures and weather forecasts and with such high numbers of reviews, you are able to learn nearly everything you need to know about any given hike.
TrailLink has an easy to understand list of nearly 300 wheelchair accessible trails! Their website has useful information like, whether a trail is accessible to people with mobility disabilities, what the length of the trail is and what material the path is comprised of. Plus, they have a small community of hikers who leave reviews that you can use to see if the trail is the right one for you. This is a great resource for people who may feel overwhelmed by the myriad of information offered by AllTrails.
Nature for All provides a list of accessible braille nature trails and sensory gardens in order to advocate for the widespread use of existing sites and the more frequent creation of new ones. Their directory shares trails which have Braille signs, physical aides, guide ropes with markers, tactile walkways to provide direction or audio tours/smartphone access. Their directory also includes sensory gardens which have aromatic plants to touch and smell with raised garden beds and tactile pathways. Their directory includes locations from all around the world, with eleven of them being located in California.
And of course, you can always find resources from the official source, the National Park Service website. Although the information on the site can be limited, with a very small section dedicated to accessibility information, the bottom of each park’s page has the contact information for the park, so you can call the park directly if you have questions you need answered that you can’t find through an internet search alone.
Unfortunately, knowing which hikes are the most accessible does not guarantee accessible parking, maintained parking lots or trails, accessible bathrooms, plain language materials and signs or views that can be observed from any height.
One group who is dedicated to supporting hikers in the disability community is Disabled Hikers. Disabled hikers is a disability-led organization that provides resources, holds events and advocates for inclusion through parks brands and other organizations. Check out their great resource page for more disability-based hiking information like; Accessible trail surface types, boot recommendations, or fall hiking tips. Although the organization is based in Washington, they reach across the west coast and hold events in California!
Another fantastic group that specifically exists to foster a diverse and inclusive hiking community is Unlikely Hikers. You can connect with them on Instagram or find hiking events on their events page with their “About Us” page explaining that “Unlikely Hikers is for adventurers who are plus-size & fat, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary, disabled, neurodivergent and beyond.”
It takes community to evoke meaningful change, because the more we are out there, making our presence known, the more capable we are of obtaining the equity we deserve.
Here are a few extra tips to send you on your way:
The National Park Service provides a free America The Beautiful Access Pass to US citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities. These passes provide free entrance to most national lands and a 50% discount on camping and other fees at some facilities.
See if there are audio tours available, like this audio tour of the Redwood Loop Trail or through the National Park Service Mobile app, or if staff/guides are available to contextualize the area and make it a more inclusive experience.
If you have a mobility disability and would like equipment designed specifically for hiking, check out Move United, who have an extensive library of off-road chairs, off-road chair add-ons, off-road handcycles and off-road accessories including poles, crutches, and walkers.
To start, plan a hike that is just a bit shorter than you think your group can collectively handle.
Communicate expectations and safety with your group, buddying up, entreating people to stay on the trail, and always packing compasses, safety whistles, and first aid kits.
Have AT supports even if you think you don‘t need them. For example, trekking poles help you spend less energy at once and delay the onset of pain that can develop from unassisted walking.
Starting early enables you to beat the heat and allows you to take your time and have fun!
Look out for any adverse responses to changes in elevation or temperature.