A decade ago we took advantage of the National Parks Free Access program. We were making a family trip “out west” as we called it.
There are two ways to get a Free National Park Access Pass: in person at a participating National Park or sending for it by mail.
First stop: Grand Canyon. Since the Grand Canyon is a participating site that issues the passes, we obtained ours right then and there. You can find a list of the parks that will issue your pass Here. Another option is to mail this application HERE *Note that if you mail your application you must include a $10 fee to cover the processing.
The process for the Free Access Pass is relatively simple.
First, be sure to bring a photo ID to prove American citizenship or permanent residency. And second, proof of a permanent disability that severely limits life activities. That seems a little vague, but I found a better explanation:
Some examples of acceptable documentation include:USGS Store
Statement by a licensed physician
(Statement must include: that the individual has a PERMANENT disability, that it limits one or more aspects of their daily life, and the nature of those limitations.) ;
Document issued by Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income;
Document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.
We took a doctor’s note and had no trouble obtaining passes for the girls.
A great family perk is that the Access pass allowed free entrance for our whole van full…a true blessing when travelling as a young family!
A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person).National Park Services
The pass is both free AND it lasts a lifetime…once you have one you are good to go forever!
National Parks have been surprisingly accessible destinations!
To be honest, we weren’t completely comfortable planning vacation days around locations in the wilderness with wheelchairs! But it has become a favorite thing to do. In fact, the parks we have visited have made it a priority to be well marked with easily accessible routes. At the time of our Grand Canyon visit we were able to access special routes that were for tour busses, not regular traffic, so we could get up close and personal to many stopping points. Every trip we have made to National Parks had maps of paths accessible to wheelchairs.
That trip “west” a decade ago was a success in many ways, thanks to National Parks. We were able to get right in among nature thanks to paths of many kinds: hard dirt, boardwalks, or even paved. Saving money on entrance fees and using it for other things was another plus. We had parking and accessible bathrooms, although maybe not always 5 stars! (Yosemite outhouses scarred me for quite awhile!!I hope to NEVER smell that smell again. ever.) During that vacation we used the Access Pass at the Grand Canyon (1), Yosemite (2), Zion (3) and Lake Mead (4).
From that experience came the desire to continue visiting National Parks!
In the ten years since that first glorious trip we visited as many of the parks as we could! We found a unique way to enjoy Acadia National Park (5) in Maine as a family with teenagers. We allowed the oldest daughters to hike their way to the top, as they desired, while we loaded the girls (with their wheelchairs) onto the trolley that took us to the peak. (*Trolley is a seperate fee, but worth the entertainment so the older ones could hike)
A few years later, in Tennessee, the Smoky Mountains (6) provided more wonderful paths and sites!
When we decided to take a trip to Colorado we were skeptical that it would meet our accessibility needs. Making stops in both the Rocky Mountain National Park (7) and the Royal Gorge Park (8) were a great way to gain access to the beauty! Again, while a bit cumbersome, there were many trails in the Rockies while the Royal Gorge was fully paved.
The Royal Gorge in Colorado was a little different, and easy to access, because of the paving.
Our last destination in Colorado was at Pikes Peak(9). It was a little more difficult to navigate with the crowds, but we can check it off the list!
At our return from Colorado, I felt really pleased have had our entire group enjoy the beauty of the mountains!
I also feel pleased for having traveled to 9 different National Parks with wheelchairs. However, there are over 2000 parks in the system! I would love to read which are your favorites. Any suggestions for which park to choose next? Leave them in the comments below…along with any suggestions for ease of travel and nearby entertainment. Thanks!