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Hikers Using Wheelchairs Help Improve Our Hiking Guide

Posted by Anna Roth at Apr 04, 2022 05:00 PM |

With the help of hikers using wheelchairs, WTA now has a new way to filter our hiking information.

WTA's Hiking Guide has a new filter — one that helps users determine whether or not a trail is wheelchair-friendly.

We've been working on this tool for a while, relying on insight and expertise from a cohort of hikers who use wheelchairs, including Jenny Schmitz of Wheelchair Wandering.

Jenny Schmitz hikes the Old Sauk River trail. Photo courtesy Jenny Schmitz.
Jenny Schmitz of Wheelchair Wandering poses on a chilly day on the Old Sauk River Trail, one of several wheelchair-friendly trails in WTA's Hiking Guide. Photo by Ted Bashor.

What makes a wheelchair-friendly hike?

Our conversations highlighted that there's much more to identifying hikes as wheelchair-friendly than simply presenting a list of trails. It's more about empowering the user to make their own choice by highlighting details about surface type, grade and cross-slope (the slant of the trail bed).

Jenny summed it up succinctly. "The first question to answer is: can you even get a wheelchair on it? Then, depending on who you are and what kind of wheelchair you use, you need all this other information to tell if a trail might be open to you."

As we discussed what this tool might look like, we also realized accessibility extended beyond the trail itself. Hiking Guide readers need to know whether the trailhead and bathrooms were wheelchair-accessible in order to fully enjoy a day on trail.

Some wheelchair hikers have had to turn around at the trailhead or shortly past it because a trail identified as "accessible" wasn't actually right for them. It's better to provide lots of details, and then let each individual choose.

How to Use it

Navigate to WTA's Hiking Guide or the Hike Finder Map. Click on Trail Features & Rating and look for the Accessibility section. Click on the box and hit Search and you'll get a list of results. These are hikes identified as wheelchair-friendly.

Wheelchair friendly filter with arrow
The filters in the Hiking Guide and your My Backpack profile include language explaining what makes a trail wheelchair friendly.

If you see one you like, click through, and the hiking guide entry will give more details about the trail and what makes it good for a wheelchair user. These are presented in a section titled Accessibility Notes, or directly in the text of the hike description.

In order to provide details like this we needed some on-the-ground research. So last summer, Jenny and a cohort of other people who hike using wheelchairs helped us identify several trails that are confirmed wheelchair-friendly. We used that information and cross-referenced it with land manager trail info to identify several more trails as wheelchair-friendly, just to start us off.

Two wheelchair hikers on the Picture Lake trail at Mount Baker on a cloudy day with the sun and Shuksan visible behind them. Photo courtesy Jenny Schmitz.
Toni Lynch and Denise Smith-Irwin were two of the people who helped research our initial round of wheelchair-friendly trails. Photo courtesy Toni Lynch and Denise Smith-Irwin.

A new tool in your Hike Selection Kit

In addition to working with Jenny, we also consulted Syren Nagakyrie of Disabled Hikers, who pointed out that developing this tool would help not only wheelchair hikers, but hikers who are otherwise mobility-challenged, because wheelchair-friendly trails are often fairly flat and smooth. That means users who are mobility-limited or looking for stroller-friendly trails should be able to find what they need by using this tool as well.

hiker in manual wheechair on wide gravel path at Fort Casey. Photo by thedirtbaguette.
Hikers use many types of wheelchairs to get outside, and each type is able to manage different types of trails. Sometimes these trails vary within the same park. Photo by thedirtbaguette.

This new filter should point you in the right direction, but don't forget to check trip reports. Conditions change from day to day, with even seemingly permanent features of a trail changing according to weather and maintenance. Trees fall. Trails wash out in floods or become eroded over the season.

Also, read the Hiking Guide description to get a more detailed idea of what to expect out there. And if you know of a trail you think should be indicated as wheelchair-friendly, please let us know in the comments below!

We're thrilled this is finally available for users. And like so many features on our site, it's a work in progress that will continue to be improved and refined over time.

So far, we've got more than 120 hikes identified as wheelchair-friendly, and that list will continue to grow as we get more input about other wheelchair-friendly trails from our site users. 

Zane Kenney and his wife Bedky with their dog Daring. Photo courtesy Jenny Schmitz.
Zane Kenney and his wife, Becky Finn, hike with her service dog Daring on the Preston to Snoqualmie Trail. Photo courtesy Jenny Schmitz.


nhoj4782 on Hikers Using Wheelchairs Help Improve Our Hiking Guide

Interrorem on the Duckabush is wheelchair friendly. The first 1/4 mile of the Big Creek Loop is wheelchair is wheelchair friendly. The first 1/4 mile of the Legacy trail on the Hamma Hamma is wheelchair friendly. Go check them out.

Posted by:

nhoj4782 on Apr 20, 2022 05:47 PM

dontraille on Hikers Using Wheelchairs Help Improve Our Hiking Guide

This effort and the additions to the hiking guide for accessibility information are great. I hope that WTA and members will keep adding to it. One sentence in the "wheelchair friendly" tag seems misleading: “Indicating a trail is wheelchair-friendly does not mean it meets ADA standards”. The ADA does not have standards applicable to recreational hiking trails. The ADA does have standards applicable to public trailhead facilities, like parking, restrooms, but not the trails.

Posted by:

dontraille on Apr 20, 2022 09:20 PM

nhoj4782 on Hikers Using Wheelchairs Help Improve Our Hiking Guide

Dontraille, Have you looked at these sections to determine they won't work? Go take a look at them. We spent a lot of effort to make these wheelchair ccessible.

Posted by:

nhoj4782 on Apr 21, 2022 11:18 AM

dontraille on Hikers Using Wheelchairs Help Improve Our Hiking Guide

nhoj4782, you misunderstand my comment. I am not taking issue with the accessibility of the trails that WTA noted as wheelchair-friendly. I am noting that there are no ADA standards or ADA regulations for recreational hiking trails. The last sentence in your wheelchair friendly checkbox notice should not mention ADA standards for trails because there are no such standards. The Americans with Disablities Act does not regulate recreational hiking trails. There are other disabilities to consider, too, like signage and trail edges for hikers who are blind or have low-vision, but these too are not regulated by ADA on trails. Again, I applaud WTA for efforts to identify wheelchair-friendly trails.

Posted by:

dontraille on Apr 21, 2022 11:54 AM

Washington Trails Association on Hikers Using Wheelchairs Help Improve Our Hiking Guide

We're glad to hear that you're enjoying this filter! To provide a little clarity about why we included the mention of ADA-accessibility in our filter: WTA's Hiking Guide includes trails all across the hiking spectrum, from cities to backcountry. Many of the trails we feature are recreational hiking trails, but there are others that are paved routes in or near cities that may in fact be ADA-accessible. With that variation in mind, we decided it would be best to indicate up front that while a trail may conform to ADA standards, our wheelchair-friendly filter does not return a list of trails that are fully ADA-compliant.

Posted by:

Washington Trails Association on Apr 26, 2022 04:46 PM

RestStep on Hikers Using Wheelchairs Help Improve Our Hiking Guide

I was just on the “What Permit Do I Need” page, and I noticed it doesn’t contain info on the America the Beautiful Access Pass. This pass is identical to the Senior pass, but it’s free, and good for a lifetime. It can be obtained with documentation of permanent disability (doesn’t have to be full disability). Info at

Posted by:

RestStep on May 21, 2022 05:14 PM