Unlike the other lists, this one takes surface stability, cross slope, accessible parking, and trail grade into account. (Photo: PETER WEY/Stocksy)

The 25 Best Accessible Trails in America

We talked to the experts about everything from surface stability to parking to find the most epic trails in the U.S.

As the country begins to reopen, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

There’s stiff competition to get onto any “best of” trail list in the United States. But with sweeping views of towering rock features, ruins of historic railroad towns, and some of the biggest trees in the world, these trails are all bucket-list worthy on their own merits. Unlike the other lists, however, this one takes surface stability, cross slope, accessible parking, and trail grade into account. I first interviewed experts like Accessible Nature creator Cecilia Travis and Disabled Hikers founder Syren Nagakyrie, as well as wheelchair adventurers from across the country, including Peter Littrel, Mark Irishsea, and “4WheelBob” Coomber. Then I scoured dozens of national-park accessibility guides and whittled down a massive list to bring you 25 trails that each offer a unique slice of American wilderness.

South Rim Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: hmiller61615/Creative Commons)

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Distance: 13 miles; point-to-point
Trail surface: Paved and packed gravel

Beginning at the South Kaibab Trailhead and ending at the stone ruins of Hermits Rest, this path cuts right along the rust-colored cliff edge of the Grand Canyon. Though much of the trail is unpaved, it presents few obstacles for those in wheelchairs and has a negligible elevation profile. Start at the accessible, 1.3-mile Trail of Time to learn about the unique geology of the area via interpretive signs and rock samples, then continue along the paved trail to South Kaibab before hopping onto a wheelchair-friendly shuttle bus to Hermits Rest for a three-mile paved trek full of those famous panoramic canyon views. Those looking to go the full 13 miles might want to bring a friend along for the unpaved section of trail between Monument Creek Vista and Bright Angel Lodge.

Lower Yosemite Fall Loop

National Park Trails
(Photo: Amit Patel/Creative Commons)

Yosemite National Park, California

Distance: 1.1 miles; loop
Trail surface: Paved

Feel the spray of mist and hear the roaring power of the famous waterfall up close on this paved loop trail leading to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. Along the way are seating areas and boulders set at wheelchair height, orientation maps, and tactile, educational exhibits that lend a sense of scale to the grandeur that is Yosemite Valley. An accessible restroom and picnic area can be found at the trailhead. (Worth noting: the last half mile of the trail has a brief section with a 13.8 percent grade.)

Shark Valley Tram Road Loop

National Park Trails
(Photo: SridharSaraf/Creative Commons)

Everglades National Park, Florida

Distance: 15 miles; loop
Trail surface: Paved and wooden boardwalk

This paved, multi-use trail is rife with opportunities to see wildlife. Visitors here have spotted herons, egrets, snail kites, deer, and, yes, even the Everglades’ most notorious resident, the alligator. Veer slightly off the tram loop behind the visitor center and onto the Bobcat Boardwalk for a closer look at the sawgrass slough and tropical-hardwood forest. Shark Valley Tram Tours can pick you up when you’ve had enough and is accessible with advance notice.

Bear Lake Loop

National Park Trails
(Photo: InSapphoWeTrust/Creative Commons)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Distance: 0.6 mile; loop
Trail surface: Hard-packed dirt

Set at an elevation of 9,475 feet, the Bear Lake Loop winds through a dense forest of spruce and fir trees situated at the base of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. Some may find this high-altitude dirt trail to be challenging, due to its 95 feet of elevation gain, but the impressive views of wooded hillsides and notorious fourteener Longs Peak will more than make up for any breathlessness. Hike counterclockwise to follow along with an interpretive guide that can be purchased at the trailhead ($2).

Big Trees Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Mike Bird/Creative Commons)

Sequoia National Park, California

Distance: 0.8 mile; loop
Trail surface: Paved and wooden boardwalk

Giant trees tower over visitors on this loop trail in the heart of Sequoia National Park. From the accessible parking lot, take a gently graded dirt trail to the Giant Forest Museum (free with park admission) to jump-start your tree knowledge. Continue onto the mostly paved loop that curves through massive, thousand-year-old sequoias before traversing the lush, green grasses of Round Meadow.

Pa’rus Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Zion National Park/Creative Commons)

Zion National Park, Utah

Distance: 3 miles; out-and-back
Trail surface: Paved

Zion is famous for its crimson and ocher-colored sandstone cliffs, and the Pa’rus Trail meanders right through some of the best sights. This paved, eight-foot-wide multi-use trail starts at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and hugs the serpentine curves of the Virgin River before ending at Canyon Junction. A brief section of trail has a steeper, 18 percent grade. You then have the option of turning around at Canyon Junction for a three-mile round-trip or taking a wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus back to the trailhead.

Bar Island Sand Bar

National Park Trails
(Photo: visionsofmaine/iStock)

Acadia National Park, Maine

Distance: 0.08 mile; out-and-back
Trail surface: Sand

OK, so you’ll need knobby tires, a FreeWheel, and a friend to explore this ephemeral trail that’s only reachable for three hours a day at low tide, but writer and self-described wheelchair-travel addict Peter Littrell says that’s half the fun. Use a tide-tracking site to find a safe time to explore the area. “It’s pretty sweet wheeling over the dried ocean floor to a forested island,” Littrell says. “Soak up the views of the Maine coastline as the wind rips in over the dark blue Atlantic.”

Boardwalk Loop Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Ken Lund/Creative Commons)

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Distance: 2.4 miles; loop
Trail surface: Wooden boardwalk

Congaree National Park boasts the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in North America (try saying that three times fast), and the Boardwalk Loop Trail is designed specifically to give visitors a firsthand look at the majestic beech, oak, and bald cypress trees that thrive there. Pick up a self-guided brochure at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, then spend the day admiring the dense forest and learning about its history as you listen to the same sounds of songbirds, frogs, and insects that the Congaree and Catawba tribes heard centuries ago.

Devils Garden to Landscape Arch

National Park Trails
(Photo: Ken Lund/Creative Commons)

Arches National Park, Utah

Distance: 1.6 miles; out-and-back
Trail surface: Hard-packed dirt and sand

Standing at an impressive 306 feet long, Landscape Arch is the largest in North America. This relatively level trail begins at the Devils Garden Trailhead, at the far end of the road leading into Arches National Park. Wheelchair hikers may require some assistance on a few steeper sections. Visitors here can scan the horizon for other well-known rock features, like the Pine Tree, Tunnel, and Wall Arches, as they navigate towering sandstone fins on the way to the trail’s grand finale, Landscape Arch.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

National Park Trails
(Photo: Max and Dee Bernt/Creative Commons)

Colorado

Distance: N/A
Trail surface: Sand

Though not technically a trail, Great Sand Dunes National Park has many fantastic and accessible ways for visitors to explore the tallest sand dunes on the continent. Guests can get off the beaten path by borrowing a sand-friendly wheelchair with inflatable tires from the visitor center (free with admission; reserve ahead in summer) and having an intrepid buddy lead them around the Medano Creek area and onto the dunes for an afternoon. At night, check out a ranger-led wildlife and astronomy program at the accessible, open-air amphitheater.

Swiftcurrent Nature Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Cmichel67/Wikimedia Commons)

Glacier National Park, Montana

Distance: 1.5 miles; out-and-back
Trail surface: Packed gravel

Soak up some of the best views of Allen Mountain, Grinnell Point, and Swiftcurrent Lake on this mostly level path that begins at the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead. Traverse a lakeshore forest of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir, and scan the lower slopes of Altyn Peak near the Many Glacier Hotel for moose, grizzlies, and bighorn sheep. Construction is underway to make the entire loop wheelchair friendly by 2025, but for now, some assistance may be needed after the first 0.75 miles, due to uneven terrain.

Upper Geyser Basin Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Gunnar Ries zwo/Creative Commons)

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Distance: 2.8 miles; out-and-back
Trail surface: Paved and wooden boardwalk

No trip to Yellowstone would be complete without a hike along the boardwalk to watch Old Faithful erupt. Find an accessible parking spot at the Old Faithful Inn, then spend the day exploring the multi-use trail up to the brilliantly colored Morning Glory Pool, catching glimpses of Castle, Daisy, and Riverside Geysers along the way. Download the GeyserTimes phone app for up-to-the-minute eruption predictions, and end your journey by watching the powerful spray of Old Faithful as the sun sets beyond the basin.

Badwater Basin Salt Flats

National Park Trails
(Photo: Ky0n Cheng/Creative Commons)

Death Valley National Park, California

Distance: 1-plus miles; out-and-back
Trail surface: Wooden boardwalk and hard-packed salt flats

At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. This arid expanse of salt and mineral deposits is almost perfectly flat, and an accessible boardwalk puts hikers right onto the edge of the 200-square-mile tract. “If the season is right, and you’re prepared with knobby tires and a FreeWheel, keep pushing right onto the crunchy, white salt flats, where the hottest temperatures in the world evaporate all the water that drains here,” says Littrell.

Window View Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Jonathan Cutrer/Creative Commons)

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Distance: 0.3 mile; loop
Trail surface: Paved

Not to be confused with its neighbor, the much longer Window Trail, the Window View Trail is a perfect slice of some of the best scenery in Big Bend National Park. Beginning at the Chisos Basin Trailhead, this paved path serves up some seriously amazing views of high-mountain peaks and craggy rock formations. Hit the trail when the sun gets low to enjoy a classic Big Bend sunset, watching the light paint neighboring rocks in striking shades of coral, amber, and rose.

Yosemite Valley Floor Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Holiday Point/Creative Commons)

Yosemite National Park, California

Distance: 12 miles; loop
Trail surface: Paved

Wind along the blue ribbon of the Merced River, crane your neck to take in the majesty of Royal Arches, and nab that perfect picture of Half Dome on this paved multi-use trail, which snakes around the highlights of Yosemite Valley. “It’s like rolling in a postcard,” says Bob Coomber. Nearly all 12 miles of this pathway are accessible, apart from a few steps at the Superintendent’s Bridge and a short, steep section near Housekeeping Camp.

Sunrise to Sunset Point

National Park Trails
(Photo: Giuseppe Milo/Creative Commons)

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Distance: 1 mile; out-and-back
Trail surface: Paved

Rise early to beat the crowds and catch the sunrise on this short trail, which offers up some of Bryce Canyon’s best scenery. Beginning at either Sunrise or Sunset Point, hikers here can gaze out at the panoramic view of Queen’s Garden, Wall Street, and plenty of rust- and umber-colored hoodoos and rock fins. This high-altitude trail sits at 8,000 feet above sea level and features accessible parking and several seating areas to rest and admire the immense canyon below.

McKinley Station Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Courtesy National Park Service)

Denali National Park, Alaska

Distance: 3 miles; loop
Trail surface: Packed gravel

Travel back in time to an era when fur trappers, gold prospectors, and hunters roamed the vast Alaskan wilderness on this gently graded, 1.6-mile trail that connects with the Denali Bike Trail to create a three-mile loop. Pick up a hiking guide at the Denali Visitor Center for an in-depth look at the area’s history. Then wind through a picturesque forest full of spruce and quaking aspen, gaze up at the historic Alaska Railroad Trestle, and saunter along the banks of Hines and Riley streams.

Redwood Grove Loop Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: ars5017/Creative Commons)

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, California

Distance: 0.8 mile; loop
Trail surface: Hard-packed dirt

The Redwood Grove Loop Trail offers hikers the chance to experience the rich quality of Santa Cruz’s only remaining old-growth grove. As visitors amble around this 0.8-mile loop, they’ll be greeted with a characteristic hush—ground plants like redwood sorrel and ferns dampen nearby city sounds. The park also offers several accessible campsites (from $35) for overnight adventurers. “This is the type of trail where you want to take your time and breathe in the full experience of being surrounded by the beauty of a redwood forest,” says Irishsea.

Coyote Valley Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Ken Lund/Creative Commons)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Distance: 1 mile; out-and-back
Trail surface: Packed gravel

Set at an altitude of 8,840 feet, this mostly level trail crosses the mighty Colorado River and allows visitors to explore the expansive Kawuneeche Valley. Named after the Arapaho word for “coyote,” the valley provides incredible views of the Never Summer Mountains and the western slopes of the Continental Divide. Keep your eyes peeled for bursts of alpine wildflowers, elusive moose, and the valley’s namesake coyote.

North Pathway to Jenny Lake

National Park Trails
(Photo: bjolo/iStock)

Jackson, Wyoming

Distance: 20.3 miles; point-to-point
Trail surface: Paved

Though the accessible trails within Grand Teton National Park are short and rugged, the town of Jackson is home to a wealth of multi-use pathways that allow visitors to soak up all the splendor of the Tetons and push bigger miles. By far the most impressive of the bunch is the 20.3-mile route that parallels the highway from central Jackson to Jenny Lake. Pass through an elk refuge, visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art, cross the Snake River, and look up to catch that perfect view of the Grand.

Kestner Homestead and Maple Glade Loop

accessible trails
(Photo: zrfphoto/iStock)

Olympic National Park, Washington

Distance: 1.5 miles; loop
Trail surface: Hard-packed dirt

Fall in love with the emerald lushness of Olympic’s old-growth temperate rainforest on this dirt trail, which leads to a historic homestead. Beginning at the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station, the path may require slight assistance as it cuts through moss-draped maples, head-high sword ferns, and flowering skunk cabbage before intersecting with the beautiful and fully accessible Maple Glade Nature Loop. “With a fern-covered cliff rising to the right and a moss-covered fence to the left, green is exploding everywhere—even the moss is covered in moss,” says Littrell.

Devastation Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Jeff/Creative Commons)

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Distance: 1 mile; out-and-back
Trail surface: Paved

Though not as flamboyantly scenic as many of the trails on this list, this route through Volcanoes National Park offers a rare and starkly beautiful look at a landscape in recovery after the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. Once buried by falling cinder, this fragile ecosystem is making a comeback, and endangered Hawaiian nene are often spotted here. The highlight of the trail is the Puu Puai Overlook, where hikers can get a more panoramic view of how this volcanic spatter cone was formed. 

Riverside Walk

National Park Trails
(Photo: Jared/Creative Commons)

Zion National Park, Utah

Distance: 2 miles; out-and-back
Trail surface: Paved

Starting at the last shuttle stop, Temple of Sinawava, hikers can traverse verdant hanging gardens, huge waterfalls, and weeping sandstone walls as they saunter through Zion Canyon. Look for mule deer and blue herons on this trek, once known as the Gateway to the Narrows. At the 0.4-mile mark, the trail tapers and briefly exceeds a grade of 20 percent, so having a friend tag along is recommended for those looking to go the full two miles.

Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Brian Stansberry/Wikimedia Commons)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Distance: 0.5 mile; loop
Trail surface: Paved and wooden boardwalk

As the only accessible trail in the nation’s most visited national park, Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail has a lot to live up to. Though it boasts no panoramic views, it does offer a more intimate look at east Tenessee’s famous mountain range. Deer, black bears, and wild turkeys frequent the area, and the trail passes by the remains of the historic Sugarlands settlement, which predated the national park. Those lucky enough to visit in the fall will glimpse a special treat when the leaves of the surrounding forest turn electric shades of red, yellow, and orange.

Godfrey Glen Loop Trail

National Park Trails
(Photo: Markgorzynski/Wikimedia Commons)

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Distance: 1 mile; loop
Trail surface: Hard-packed dirt

Sure, Crater Lake is known for epic views of its namesake sapphire tarn, and many viewpoints along the rim are accessible. But for those looking to venture a little farther out from their car, the Godfrey Glen Trail is a perfect afternoon adventure. This dirt pathway starts at Munson Valley Road and meanders through an old-growth forest full of Shasta red firs. The trek features some breathtaking views of the crumbling volcanic cliffs above Munson Creek and Annie Creek Canyon’s distinct, columnar formations. In spring, be on the lookout for wildflower rarities, like the bell-shaped blooms of the pinedrop.

Filed To: NatureNorth AmericaWildlifeHiking and BackpackingNPS
Lead Photo: PETER WEY/Stocksy
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