While visiting the Grand Teton National Park, we decided on an overnight adventure in Yellowstone National Park, since they are located right next to each other. Despite this geography, the parks are large and traffic can be unpredictable, so staying at least one night is advisable. Doing and seeing everything in Yellowstone that’s wheelchair accessible within a few days is a challenge because there is so much, like many boardwalk trails around different geyser sites and paved trails to various waterfalls and overlooks.
This article is designed to prepare wheelchair travelers on what to expect when visiting Yellowstone National Park, even if time is limited. The best resource is the “Accessibility Guide” found when arriving at Yellowstone, which can be obtained at the gate or one of the visitor centers. This guide may be borrowed if one is available (not in use), and although there are many copies at the park, there is not an infinite supply. Inside this guide is detailed information about wheelchair accessibility organized by various park areas. Since cell phone service is limited, it’s incredibly useful for finding what you’re looking for. When finally leaving the park, please return the guide to the ranger station or any visitor center. It’s great to have a physical copy of the wheelchair accessible features, but the park also has created this app that includes up-to-date accessibility information.
Food, Restrooms + Amenities Stops
- Flagg Ranch is located on the border between Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. In addition to food and restrooms, there is also a gas station.
- Albright Visitor Center near Mammoth Hot Springs Historical District has wheelchair accessible restrooms. The Mammoth Hot Spring General Store has food, water, and some basic supplies as well as gifts.
- Both Yellowstone Lake Lodge and Lake Yellowstone Hotel sit along Yellowstone Lake. In addition to food services, stores, and the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, there is a medical clinic.
- Canyon Village has places to stay and general public amenities, like the Canyon Village Education Center. Canyon Lodge and Cabins has several accessible rooms for visitors.
- The Museum of National Park Ranger is an original log cabin built in 1886 and located in the Norris Area of the park. Van accessible parking is located in front of the museum and next to it are the public toilets which are wheelchair accessible.
- Cooke City is one of the entrances to Yellowstone National Park. It’s a scenic mountain town and a great place to flue up on food and gas, etc.
Overlooks: Waterfalls + Geysers
A plethora of overlooks are found throughout Yellowstone. Some sites can be seen without getting out of the vehicle, while others require a little stroll. Designated, wheelchair accessible parking spots are often seen at the overlooks, and are commonly used heavily at peak spots and times.
- The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone around Canyon Village has several overlooks and viewing points, especially of the waterfall. On the North Rim, the Grand View Overlook, Inspirational Point (West + Mid Overlooks), and Lookout Point Overlook are the main overlooks that are wheelchair accessible. On the South Rim, the Upper Falls Overlook is accessible along a paved sidewalk. Also seen from Upper Falls is a smaller and more delicate waterfall called Crystal Falls. At Upper Falls, visitors will find wheelchair accessible parking and a toilet too. A little further up the road on the South Rim is the Artist Point Overlook, which is a picturesque point of lower falls. From designated accessible parking is a smoothly paved pathway to the overlook.
- Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces (upper and lower) and its surroundings may be seen from the vehicle in the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, but wooden boardwalks also loop around the site if one wants a closer look. Accessible parking spots are here too. This area is particularly special due to the rock formations resembling ice blocks. The highlight is a giant rock formation in the shape of a thumb that randomly obtrudes from the earth’s surface, which is one of the best examples of a cone-type hot-spring deposit.
- Gibbon Falls, in the Madison Junction Area, is fully wheelchair friendly with designated accessible parking and a smoothly paved, wide pathway to the overlook. In the viewing area, cutouts are along the rim for maximum viewing as well as an accessible raised platform on the backside.
- Tower Fall is located near the Tower-Roosevelt Area in the northeast part of the park. From the few designated accessible parking spots, a smoothly paved, wide trail travels 500 feet to the waterfall overlook. Wheelchair accessible toilets are also available here.
- Obsidian Cliff is located between Mammoth and Norris along the Grand Loop. Designated accessible parking is available at the beginning of a short trail that leads to an informational panel.
- Old Faithful Geyser is the biggest attraction in Yellowstone and is world-famous. Many wheelchair accessible parking spots have been added, but availability is often scarce, especially during peak hours or right when the geyser is about to go off. Wheelchair friendly toilets are also located at this top park attraction.
Throughout the park are several boardwalk trails. Trails to and around geysers are much more weathered with weak or broken spots. Weathered wooden boardwalks become extremely bumpy for someone traveling with a wheelchair, so plan accordingly. Some sections of a boardwalk may be a steep grade (8-10 degrees), so assistance is possibly required, especially if using a manual wheelchair.
For example, in the Norris Geyser Basin Area, the boardwalk around the Museum of National Park Ranger with views of the meadow and Gibbon River is basically level and well-maintained. One curb cut is closest to the museum entrance by the two accessible parking spaces, and accessible flush toilets are nearby. Just down the road, visitors with wheelchairs can see the Porcelain Bain from the Norris Museum, but to get down to the Emerald Pool and geysers requires navigating down steep hills and changes in the trail surface. Stairs in some places are also an issue.
Avoiding hills and weathered, bumpy boardwalks is nearly impossible with Yellowstone trails, so make your efforts count if traveling with a wheelchair. One trail that may be worth it is the West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail is located along Yellowstone Lake. This area has one of the largest thermal basins in the park with a number of pools, and it’s particularly lovely because it is located along Yellowstone Lake. Some of the natural thermal features, called cones, are set in the lake. A few designated accessible parking spots are at this site along with accessible vaulted toilets.
Perhaps just as famous as Old Faithful are the animals of Yellowstone National Park. Grizzly and Black Bears roam throughout the park. Most commonly seen are Elk and Moose. Wolves are the most elusive. The best time for animal sightings is in the early morning and evening when it’s not too hot or bright. Use Google Maps to watch for red traffic. Oftentimes, this means a wildlife sighting and people are slowing down and/or stopping, but occasionally it indicates construction.
There are many places to see wildlife in Yellowstone National Park, and this link helps to find out what animals are in what location. Driving from Hayden Valley (South End) to Lamar Valley is one recommendation as well as both sides of the river. An accessible vaulted toilet is at the Lamar River trailhead.
Other Points of Interest
- Firehole Lake Drive is off the Grand Loop between Old Faithful and the Madison Junction. This 3.3-mile scenic loop drive passes active thermal areas with geysers and springs.
- The Continental Divide in Yellowstone is crossed twice on the Grand Loop. Once at an elevation of 8,391 at mile 4.2 as well as at mile 10 where the elevation is 8,262.
- Yellowstone Tribal Heritage Center is located in the Old Faithful area between the lodge and the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.
- A list of picnic table locations explains which sites have an accessible picnic table as well as a vaulted toilet.