At first glance Yosemite National Park looks like it would be a challenge for anybody with mobility issues After all, you can’t exactly ramp Half Dome or El Capitan. That said, a bevy of access upgrades have been added to the park over the past 20 years, so it’s now more accessible for everyone. With that in mind, here are five must-see attractions for wheelchair-users and slow walkers in California’s first national park.
Lower Yosemite Fall
Located near Yosemite Valley Lodge, the trail to Lower Yosemite Fall received some major upgrades in 2005. The east section of the wide paved trail leads through the forest to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. There’s also a short boardwalk section of the trail, which has low bumpers for unobstructed wheelchair viewing There are benches and interpretive plaques along the way, and it’s a pleasant spot to just sit back and enjoy Mother Nature. Plus you just can’t beat the feel of the mist on your face as you admire the roaring fall.
Indian Village of the Ahwahnee
This reconstructed village, which is right behind the Yosemite Museum, is often overlooked by visitors. There are paved level pathways through the village, which is dotted with interpretive plaques that tell the story of the Miwok people. At the center of the village there are dirt pathways over to the various dwellings; however the paths are fairly level and even though there are rocks here and there, they are easy to dodge. As an added bonus, the village is always open, even when the museum is closed.
Happy Isles Nature Road
Although visitors with accessible placards or plates are allowed to drive along Happy Isles Road, this route also makes a nice hike due to the absence of private vehicles. The road is fairly level, and if you get tired you can always hop on the wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus at the Happy Isles or Mirror Lake stops. From Half Dome Village it’s a mile to Happy Isles, and then another.7-mile to Mirror Lake. And if you want to complete the loop it’s an additional.8 mile back to Half Dome Village. The road is also open to bicycles, so rent a handcycle at Half Dome Village or Yosemite Valley Lodge, pack along a picnic lunch, and make a day out of it.
Although the one-mile road to Mirror Lake is wide and paved, it loses its access at about the.65-mile point due to the steep grade. That said, visitors with accessible placards or plates are allowed to drive up the road. Accessible vault toilets are available at the end of the road, and some of the picnic tables that are on level ground may be usable for wheelers. It should be noted that Mirror Lake is seasonal, and it usually dries up by late summer; however the site always boasts some spectacular granite views.
Last but certainly not least, save some time for a drive up to Glacier Point, which offers a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, and a bird’s eye view of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Although the path out to the upper viewpoint is steep and has stairs along the way, there’s an accessible path just to the left of the stairs. This wide paved pathway features a number of switchbacks and offers a gentle — and accessible — climb to the upper viewpoint. Signage is also good at Glacier Point, so it’s relatively easy to locate the accessible route.
Candy Harrington is the founding editor of Emerging Horizons ( http://www.EmergingHorizons.com ) and the author of twelve accessible travel titles, including the classic, Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. Her newest book Barrier-Free Travel: Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for Wheelers and Slow Walkers ( http://www.barrierfreeyosemite.com ), includes detailed access information about trails, sites, lodging options and attractions in and near Central California’s three national parks.
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