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Tue, Oct. 15

All welcome: Grand Canyon accessible to those with mobility issues

The Michelsons, visiting from Bakersfield, California, have been to the Grand Canyon several times and have had no accessibility issues in the park.  (Erin Ford/WGCN)

The Michelsons, visiting from Bakersfield, California, have been to the Grand Canyon several times and have had no accessibility issues in the park. (Erin Ford/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Grand Canyon is often, and rightly, referred to as an outdoor lover’s paradise — there’s hiking, biking and camping and a host of educational opportunities.

But what if physical pursuits like hiking, biking and camping aren’t doable because of mobility issues or developmental disabilities? Can you still enjoy Grand Canyon?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Brenda and Johnny Michelson of Bakersfield, California, have been to the Grand Canyon several times, and are now visiting with their granddaughter. Johnny, who wheels around Desert View Watchtower with little trouble, said he’s never encountered any issues with accessibility at the Canyon.

“The only thing is —everything goes downhill and eventually you have to come back up,” he said.

While that is true for many parts of Grand Canyon National Park, there are trails and activities, including campgrounds, accessible to those who use mobility devices.

What devices are allowed?

All mobility devices, including canes, walkers, strollers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters are allowed in the park. For those who may need assistance after arriving at the park, wheelchairs are available to rent at Bright Angel Bicycles adjacent to the Visitor Center. The North Rim Visitor Center has a limited number of wheelchairs available for loan free of charge.

Getting around the park

Grand Canyon National Park operates a year-round shuttle service free of charge for visitors, with multiple stops at scenic viewpoints, the historic Grand Canyon Village, and the train depot, among others. The park’s air-conditioned buses can accommodate folding wheelchairs, and for those who are unable to leave their chair, each shuttle has an area to park for the duration of the ride. Shuttles cannot, however, accommodate motorized mobility devices such as scooters.

For those traveling to the Grand Canyon via the Grand Canyon Railway, the train can accommodate both scooters and wheelchairs. Those who are able to leave their mobility device for the journey can choose one of four service class option with storage for their device. For those who need to remain with their device, both first class and coach service classes are available with parking areas. Conductor Bernie Hiemenz said a lift is located on either end of the train to help visitors with mobility needs and restrooms are ADA compliant. Visitors who have booked a railway package can also notify a customer service agent in advance to be met at the station by one of Xanterra’s ADA compliant motorcoaches or vans for a guided drive of some of the park’s most popular areas.

“We take real good care of them,” Hiemenz said. “A van will meet them at the depot and take them wherever they want to go.”

For visitors with mobility needs arriving by vehicle, a special scenic drive accessibility permit can be obtained at the entrance stations, visitor centers and in-park hotels. While private vehicle traffic is not allowed on Hermit Road from February through October, those with a permit will be allowed to drive and stop at all scenic viewpoints along the road. However, a government-issued parking pass is still required to park in designated handicap parking spaces throughout the park.

Lodging and Services

All in-park hotels and restaurants are ADA compliant. Additionally, Mather Campground and the North Rim campground have wheelchair-accessible sites. Because campsites fill up quickly, park officials recommend contacting the park as soon as possible to request an accessible site for your selected dates. Accommodations at Xanterra and Delaware North properties within the park can be requested when making reservations. All hotels located in Tusayan, a gateway community located one mile outside the park, are also completely accessible.

Grand Canyon National Park has several educational offerings, including the Yavapai Geology Museum, Desert View Watchtower, Verkamp’s Store, the Visitor Center and the Trail of Time. Each of these activities is accessible to mobility devices with the exception of Kolb Studio and the upper floors of Desert View Watchtower. Those who are able to climb narrow staircases with the assistance of a cane or another person may be able to visit these two locations. All bookstores and gift shops are wheelchair and scooter accessible.

What trails are available?

Aside from scenic viewpoints accessible by shuttle bus or private vehicle, visitors can also get a look at the Canyon via trail: the Rim Trail, which stretches about 13 miles from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest, is completely paved and mostly level. It’s wide enough for all mobility devices with few changes in elevation throughout. A section of the trail between Powell Point and Monument Creek Vista, but is still wide enough to accommodate mobility devices. Visitors are encouraged to hop on or off the shuttle at any stop along the trail.

Other accommodations

Service animals are allowed in all facilities and on all shuttle buses and trails, but must always be leashed. Animals are typically not allowed below the rim, but those wishing to take a service animal must notify the Backcountry Information Center in advance for requirements and permission.

American Sign Language interpreters are available for all free ranger programs in the park by emailing or calling the park at grca_information@nps.gov or calling (928) 638-7888.

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