Traveling in the winter can already be challenging, and finding accessible spaces for small children, elderly or those who are otherwise unable to traverse uneven ground or tackle snowy winter sports can be even tougher. We’ve found a few accessible outdoor destinations throughout the Northwest that are worth your time not just during the winter, but all rear round.
Adaptive Skiing, B.C. and Washington
If you’ve never tried skiing or if you’ve never been able to, a few outfitters in the Northwest have your back. Snow-Limo Tours at Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia and Methow Trails in Winthrop, Washington both offer adaptive skiing so you can join your family on the slopes during your winter vacation.
With Snow-Limo, you relax in a slightly reclined seat mounted on skis, put on your seatbelt and have your legs zipped up into a blanket so you stay comfortable and warm. All tucked in, you’ll feel that the only thing missing is a cup of hot chocolate. An experienced skier then stands behind you on the adapted skis and guides you down the slopes. They do all the work, and you get to enjoy the scenery and tackle the slopes like a pro. The set up with Methow Trails is very similar, but focuses on assisted cross-country skiing in the beautiful Methow Valley of North-Central Washington. Methow Trails also hosts Ski for Light, an event that allows people who are vision-impaired to experience skiing.
It’s an experience that really allows for everyone to enjoy the mountains and ski trips in the winter. To learn more, go to snow-limotours.com. Book your adaptive ski tour with Methow Trails at methowtrails.org/adaptive-skiing.
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA
A known head-turner for those whizzing by on I-5 and a haven for wildlife, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is also an extremely accessible daytrip for people with wheelchairs, strollers, canes and walkers. The half-mile accessible Estuary Trail leads into the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail. The boardwalk follows McAllister Creek and ends with a covered viewing platform.
From the boardwalk, the landscape will change beneath you. When the tide is in, you will be out over calm water. When it is going out, you will be looking down at the mudflats that the waterfowl love. Bring binoculars and cameras for the excellent birding opportunities and views of both Mount Rainier to the east and the Olympic Mountains to the west, across the water. Lower railings and mesh fencing allow wheelchair users and children to see down to the tidelands below.
The roundtrip is about four miles. Learn more at fws.gov/refuge/billy_frank_jr_nisqually.
Glacier National Park, MT
The word “immersive” is an understatement when it comes to the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The roadway winds directly through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Northwest. The jagged peaks above and across from you meet at the meadows and lakes below along the 50-mile road. The name itself evokes an image of an idyllic cruise to the top of the world.
During the summer, a free shuttle bus drives the length of the road to and from the Apgar Visitors Center on the west side of the park and St. Mary Visitors Center on the east side. The hop on, hop off seasonal shuttle is ADA accessible and parents can bring strollers on as well. Allow about seven hours to make a round trip on the road and explore the exhibits in the visitor centers. While sections of the road remain open during the winter, open sections are weather-dependent.
Some people with physical disabilities are using off-road wheelchairs to navigate outdoor settings with uneven ground, such as trails and even rocky terrain. These are perfect for exploring places like Glacier National Park.
Visit nps.gov/glac/index.htm to plan your visit to Glacier National Park and for more information about the free shuttle service.
Lava Hot Springs, ID
Keep warm this winter at Lava Hot Springs in Southeast Idaho. The small vacation town’s hot pools are their star attraction and are ADA accessible. A ramp and stairs lead into the water while a snow-melt system keeps the decks around them as safe and accessible as possible for everyone, year-round. The resort also has a wheelchair that you can borrow and use in the pools.
Lava Hot Springs has an accessible Indoor Aquatic Center complete with an ADA pool lift and hot tub transfer bench so both the indoor and outdoor options are available to anyone who would like to go for a soak.
Hot springs are generally a luxurious experience and can help with joint pains and mobility, too. Top off a relaxing day of soaking with a trip to the spa. Hot pools are available to children ages 3 and up.
Go to lavahotsprings.org to learn more.
Paradise, Mount Rainier, WA
The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park takes you through the geologic, cultural and social history of the mountain. The center is wheelchair accessible, has wheelchair loans available and can be enjoyed with listening devices for the audio descriptive tour of the center. Large windows face the mountain and look out over the surrounding foothills so you can take in the sights from indoors.
When the snow has melted and the wildflowers have started to bloom, the lower meadows at Paradise can be accessed by a gravel ramp or a steeper paved ramp. From the lower parking lot, you can take a half-mile path to view Myrtle Falls. The path is paved but includes a small hill, so assistance is recommended. At the viewpoint you’ll find stunning views of the mountain and the famous falls. Learn more at nps.gov/mora/index.htm and visitrainier.com/myrtle-falls.
The National Park Inn in Longmire, open year-round, is a popular hotel for those on longer visits to Mount Rainier and has wheelchair accessible rooms. For reservations, go to mtrainierguestservices.com/accommodations/national-park-inn.