In Colorado, the Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s paradise with over 50 day-hikes and many opportunities for multiple-day backpacking trips. Wonderful for the able-bodied visitor but challenging for those who use a wheelchair or scooter to get around. All is not lost though! In the Rocky Mountain National Park, there are accessible trails and outdoor attractions to enjoy nature.
There are a few short trails that the park has designated as accessible to some degree. We visited all of them plus a few other ones that are not marked as accessible but can be visited with help.
- Most people drive through the park from east to west. Going in that direction, the first is Lily Lake Trail. It’s a few miles south on Highway 7 which is before the official entrance to the park. The trail is composed of crushed stone with some short upgrades and beautiful views. Unfortunately, there’s a section from the parking lot to the trail that has large, loose gravel where it’s difficult to roll through.
- Next are two more short lake trails accessed from Bear Lake Road. Sprague Lake Trail is .5 miles long, composed of crushed stone, and fairly accessible but there may be large puddles across the trail in rainy weather. About halfway around the lake is a short spur trail that leads to an accessible tent campsite. Camping at this site is a nice way to get a little farther out into the wilderness than is usually possible for wheelchair users however it hasn’t been maintained very well and the tent pad isn’t elevated for easy usage.
- Bear Lake Trail is the prettiest of the three lake trails but it’s also the least accessible. A map at the beginning of the trail gives details on all of the steep sections. Wheelchair users can complete the trail if they have an energetic helper but everyone should keep the high elevation in mind which makes physical exertion harder than normal.
- Continue to the accessible Alpine Visitor Center and over the divide to two short trails in the Kawuneehe Valley. The valley is pretty level so the trails are good for wheelchair users. Both are hard-packed, crushed stone. The Coyote Valley Trail meanders along a stream and through a meadow. Old lodge buildings are located at the end of the Holzwarth Historic Site trail but they’re not accessible due to steps. The valley is a good place to look for elk and moose.
- Before climbing over the divide the road passes by several short paved trails that are accessible with help. The Alluvial Fan Trail, which travels through a boulder-strewn landscape created when a dam burst, is paved but very steep. Forest Canyon Trail, which is also paved with steep sections, passes by alpine flowers on the way to an overlook of the canyon.
Even if you choose to not roll along any of the trails the views along the park road are worth the trip. The road climbs almost 4,000′, crosses the Continental Divide and travels through three ecosystems. It’s gorgeous! Forests, meadows, wildflowers, and alpine vistas can be seen from the road along with moose, elk, and other animals. From end to end the road is about 20 miles long so even with stops it’s an easy drive.
If you wish to get a more rustic and less crowded driving experience try the one-way, gravel Old Fall River Road. This is the original park road built in 1920 and can be driven by any vehicle except for large RVs and trailers.
We stayed at two of the campgrounds, Timber Creek and Moraine Park. Of the two Timber Creek is the best for accessibility with large parking pads, level sites, picnic tables with long overhangs, fire pits with high sides, and gravel paths to the restrooms.
If you’re not camping the place to stay is Estes Park, just outside the eastern entrance to the park.
I am a 10 year disabled resident of Estes Park and live just outside of the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. This review of RMNP is well written and accurate. In fact, I have enjoyed camping at the Sprague Lake campsite on numerous occasions. However, I do want to state that you can access other trails (not accessible with a standard wheelchair) with an off-road hand cycle. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.