Accessbility In Our National Parks

Joshua Tree National Park | Photo by Will Strathmann

By Enock Glidden
My climbing journey was inspired by a friend who worked as a rescue ranger at Mt. Rainier National Park. I marveled at the pictures he would post on social media and it made me want to see those views for myself. Unfortunately, my friend lost his life during a rescue. That day I decided I wanted to experience the places he had shown through his pictures.

That inspiration pushed me to try climbing which has afforded me the opportunity to visit some of America’s most beautiful outdoor spaces – and the most amazing places I have visited are our national parks. To my surprise, a lot of our national park system is very accessible to everyone.
The most accessible park I have visited so far is Yosemite National Park. If you have followed my blog you will know I have spent a considerable amount of time in this national treasure.  I climbed Washington Column in 2015 and El Capitan in 2016 and had the good fortune to spend almost two months total in the park over those two years.
During my time in Yosemite I have learned that I could literally live there on my own and function quite well.
  • I was able to make use of the excellent bus system to navigate from place to place; each bus has a wheelchair lift in it and a space to park a couple wheelchairs.
  • The cafeteria at Yosemite Lodge served as a great place to get my meals (unless I could find a generous friend cooking around Camp 4 which actually happened quite frequently – it is amazing how generous and helpful the climbing community is!).
  • There are lots of accessible bathroom facilities and even an accessible shower at housekeeping camp.

El Capitan, Yosemite Valley | Photo by Craig Muderlak

You may be wondering about enjoying the actual park? Well that is actually very possible by way of the bus system and paved trails to most of the iconic spots to visit. I have pushed the trail to Mirror Lake on a number of occassions and am always in awe of the beautiful views of Half Dome and the area along the way. I also love hanging out at the El Cap bridge listening to all the climbers’ stories and staring up at that granite monolith. You may also run into a famous climber or two if you hang out long enough. I was able to meet Hans Florine the same day that he attempted to climb the nose as many times in a day as he could. There is also the ask a climber at the bridge – staffed by climber stewards and climbing rangers, the ask a climber is there to answer all your questions about climbing.
Of course there are options that are a bit less accessible but with a little thought and ingenuity there are a lot of places that I was able to access. It may take a group of people carrying you to the base, but you can still access El Capitan and even climb it.
I have had similar experiences in other parks such as Zion, Death Valley, and Bryce Canyon. They all had roads and paths that allowed for people of all abilities to enjoy the beautiful highlights of the parks.
I would encourage everyone to make a point to see what has been set aside for all of us to enjoy. Some of my best memories and experiences come from time spent in these places. It has been a huge privilege to enjoy all of these beautiful, diverse places and I hope I am able to see more and more as time goes on.  I never want to stop exploring and learning from our outdoor spaces.