All-Terrain Wheelchairs at National Parks enable wheelchair users to access nature's wonders. With these specialized wheelchairs, users can effortlessly conquer rugged trails and admire scenic landscapes. Join Dan and Jeana, siblings from Ohio and Illinois, as Dan rents an all-terrain wheelchair to hike with his sister from Estes Park Mountain Shop near Rocky Mountain National Park. Dan graciously allowed me to document his experience using the All-Terrain Wheelchair and share his story and thoughts. I extend my gratitude to Austin from the Estes Park Mountain Shop for connecting me with these incredible individuals.
Meeting Dan and Jean
I had the pleasure of meeting Jeana first and was immediately uplifted by her infectious positive energy. She shared with me that her brother Dan, a passionate outdoor enthusiast, was born with Cerebral Palsy and was happy to share his experience in the hopes of inspiring others. To help Dan access the National Park, he received the America the Beautiful Pass, which would assist him in his endeavors. With Dan and Jeana having original reservations set from 8-10 am, I swiftly made matching reservations at recreation.gov for the following day. We agreed to meet in Estes Park at 7:00 am to kickstart our hiking adventure.
Dan, a 51-year-old Ohio resident, and a devoted Kentucky fan, is an avid enthusiast for outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, and hiking. Before he visited Rocky Mountain National Park, he shared that his first National Park visit was the Smoky Mountains National Park. Dan's enthusiasm for exploring new destinations includes locations like Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone National Park, which have some accessibility for wheelchair users but have yet to make available all-terrain wheelchairs for visitors. As I got to know Dan more, his positive outlook on life inspired me. Get ready to be entertained and uplifted through his video conversations. Listening to Dan's stories will surely bring a smile and warmth to your heart.
Getting to the Bear Lake Trailhead
Parking at the Bear Lake Trailhead can be challenging, but luckily we found spots. Before the hike, they set up the rented all-terrain wheelchair from Estes Park Mountain Shop. It's easy to set up, and the rental was free. It's recommended to reserve the wheelchair early since there's only one available. The chair is a combination of a manual wheelchair and a mountain bike. Note that it's longer than a standard wheelchair, so they were fortunate to have a vehicle that could accommodate it. Dan tested the wheelchair the day before and received detailed instructions. Now comfortably seated, Dan was ready for the hike.
Starting the Hike
The Bear Lake trail, located conveniently near the parking area, is easily accessible with a wheelchair. Following recommendations, we took the counter-clockwise route using the all-terrain wheelchair. As we hiked, we decided to take a moment to enjoy the breathtaking scenery along the way, taking photos to commemorate the experience. Afterward, Dan familiarized himself with the wheelchair and gained more confidence in operating it. He did mention that it takes some getting used to, but it works well for the terrain. Dan likened the sensation to rowing a boat, activating muscles that had been unused. Jeana also observed the stark difference between his regular wheelchair and the all-terrain one, noting how much easier it was to be mobile on rugged terrain. To witness Dan's first-time experience using the all-terrain wheelchair on the hiking trail, please watch the video below.
Watching Dan navigate the all-terrain wheelchair in Rocky Mountain National Park was incredible. His presence inspired fellow hikers, who were just made aware of the accessibility option at the parks. These fellow hikers looked forward to telling their loved ones (who also use wheelchairs) about it, opening doors to more outdoor exploration for them. As we took a break, I had the chance to delve into Dan's story. His words and wisdom left a lasting impact on me. He was grateful for his family's unwavering support and refusal to let his wheelchair define him. Dan's mother courageously challenged societal norms in the 70s, ensuring he received a public education and instilling the belief that he could accomplish anything. In our video interview below, you will witness Dan's empowering message for others to embrace new experiences, such as visiting National Parks, and to never place limits on themselves.
End of the Bear Lake Trail
After our hike, I inquired about Dan's perspective on the all-terrain wheelchair. He responded thoughtfully, saying, "You don't start out running marathons, it's a process, but I think it's a good concept. Anything that gets people out doing things, I'm all for it." Although using the wheelchair took some work and used a good amount of energy, he wasn't done. Following our hike, Dan and his sister ventured to Sprague Lake for another enjoyable hike and some fishing. With an extra surprise, they were greeted with a memorable sight of a moose and her adorable calves, adding an extra layer of wonder to their remarkable trip.
Motorized All-terrain Wheelchair at Hidden Valley Trail
Oh, before I forget! Let me share a delightful surprise that occurred the day before meeting Dan and Jeana. Jeana informed me that while they were exploring the Hidden Valley Trail, Dan was given a chance to use a motorized trail wheelchair located at this trailhead, enabling him to explore the trail further. This unexpected addition was a fantastic surprise for both of them, as they had no idea such convenient equipment was available in that area.
To wrap up this fun adventure with the all-terrain wheelchair in one of our beloved National Parks, I want to leave you with encouraging words from Dan: "give it a try.' So go ahead, embrace the exciting possibilities that await you in our vast outdoor spaces, and truly immerse yourself in the beauty and joy the parks have to offer.
Best trails at Rocky Mountain National Park for All-Terrain Wheelchair Use
Bear Lake Trail
Hidden Valley Trail
Where to rent an all-terrain wheelchair at Rocky Mountain National Park:
To rent/reserve an all-terrain wheelchair, contact Estes Park Mountain Shop at 970-586-6548. Motorized trail wheelchairs are also available at the Hidden Valley Trail.
What to know before going to Rocky Mountain National Park:
Reservations are required at Rocky Mountain National Park from May 26 – October 22, plus the purchase a Park pass. Go to recreation.gov to make a reservation.
Reservations are not required before 5 am or after 6 pm.
Check the weather and be prepared for weather changes.
If needed, reserve a wheelchair that can be used on the trails; it's free!
Parking fills up fast at many trailheads, so be prepared to ride the shuttle. If you have a disability pass, you will have a better chance of finding a spot.
· Always carry a water bottle. Check out the many National Park water bottles at McGovern Outdoor.
Other National and State Parks with all-terrain wheelchairs:
Cloudland Canyon State Park and ten other state parks in Georgia
Straunton State Park, Colorado
Muskegon State Park, Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Bald Mountain Recreation Area and ten other state parks in Michigan
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Camden State Park and five other state parks in Minnesota
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