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Accessible and Adaptive Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

Accessible and Adaptive Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

Hiking with a child who uses a wheelchair has its challenges and its opportunities. The first time we tried hiking with our daughter Lydia, we knew nothing about what it would take. Getting ready took us longer than the actual hike! We spent an hour checking and re-checking our packing list, a couple of hours driving to the trailhead, twenty minutes unloading everything from the car and setting up Lydia with all her accessories in the wheelchair. But the accessible trail was only a paved quarter-mile, mostly to the toilets, and we were back at the car before we had even sipped our water bottles. Definitely not worth the effort.

Over the years, my partner Mark and I have learned that “accessible trail” is not always what we want. Some of our favorite hikes aren’t paved, flat or short. They have hills that take a lot of effort, dirt surfaces, and long routes. We don’t mind lifting our daughter’s wheelchair over a couple tree stumps or boulders as long as there aren’t many, and we like being able to go until we all get tired. Lydia enjoys the dappled shade over her, and sounds of the birds or a bubbling creek. 

Kids Hiking on a trail

Finding trails that work for us isn’t easy. Often the information we need just isn’t available online. We need to know things such as, “is the trail wide enough for her wheels to fit?”, “are there a lot of bumps in the trail surface?” or “is there enough shade so Lydia does not overheat?.” If possible, one of us goes to the trail ahead of time to test it out in person. We also acquired an adult stroller to use outdoors instead of her wheelchair. It is much lighter and comes with a built-in sunshade. I joke about getting a sled dog to help pull her up the hills (we have a chihuahua who rides in her lap).

One of our favorite hikes was with my grandma, just before she died. It was a trail we knew well. Grandma held my arm as we went slowly up the wide dirt path, Mark pushed Lydia's wheelchair, and our son held his toddler sister’s hand. We could hear the soft roar of the creek below and smell the faint vanilla of the Ponderosa pines. When we got to a spectacular viewpoint of the valley below framed by canyon walls, my grandma gave one of her famous big smiles and said, “I can’t believe I am 80-years-old and I get to see this view!” We are so grateful that all three of our children were able to share this moment with their great-grandmother. It could not have happened without a trail that could accommodate the varying abilities of our group.

Family Hiking

For us, getting our daughter onto the trail is about spending time in nature and enjoying life. Lydia doesn’t speak, but we can see that she likes the sensory experience of being outdoors. She listens to the chirping of the birds and the rustle of wind in the trees. She studies the shadow patterns that the trees make on the trail. She smiles when we hold sagebrush leaves to her nose. Sharing these things is our connection with each other as a family. Although it took a bit of creativity and a lot of determination, we have come a long way from our first attempt at hiking. We are so glad we stuck with it. Every turn of Lydia’s wheels forward is another inch on her miles traveled. And that makes us really proud.

In the next blog post, my partner Mark will share some of our favorite hikes and the tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way. Please join in on his Accessible and Inclusive Outdoor Recreation Opportunities presentation one of our conversations that count summer series on Thursday, June 17 from 6-7pm.  Register at

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