Finding Accessible Trail Information

Finding accessible trail information takes far too much time and energy. It’s often a major barrier for many disabled people who want to enjoy the outdoors. Disabled Hikers’ founder and director, Syren Nagakyrie, has spent years and countless hours researching and writing about trails to create resources for the disabled community. However, there is always a need for more trail guides, and the Disabled Hikers team is small! As we continue to grow our capacity, we’re sharing an overview of the process Disabled Hikers uses to find accessible trail information. We hope this helps with finding the best trails for you – though, even with the best preparation, hoping for the best is still a big part of the process!

image: Syren and their dog Benji walk on a paved trail through trees and green ferns. They are wearing a green t-shirt with the Disabled Hikers logo and a backpack and holding a cane in one hand and a leash for their dog in the other. Photo by Marissa Solini.

Start with guidebooks

If you have access to a guidebook that features the trail you’re researching, start there. Make notes of anything you want to review. Beyond the The Disabled Hiker’s Guides, guidebooks rarely provide the level of information about accessibility needed. However, the can offer a starting point.

Search the land manager’s website

Use the land manager’s website (such as the national forest, national park, or state park page) to search for trail or park details. Note contact information, look for accessibility information, and download a map. Again, there is almost never complete information from a single source, so more research is needed.

Research other blogs or websites

Search for other blogs or websites that have written about the trail. Check trail association websites first, followed by hiker blogs, local news websites, tourism sites, and work party postings.

Google image search the trail

Use Google image to search the physical features of the trail. Check for anything that may show design, conditions, amenities, etc. Look for any features that are essential for you – for example, benches on the trail or a restroom at the trailhead. Also check street view and satellite images.

Check trail apps for details

Use trail apps to find details such as elevation profiles and topographic maps. Also check the reviews for key details that may be missing from the general information. (After your hike, it’s also helpful to go back and leave your own review that includes information you wished you had known before you started. The reviews often end up being one of the most important resources for Disabled Hikers staff in determining whether the trail is a good fit.)

Call the land manager for current conditions

Reach out to the land manager to get details about current conditions and to ask about accessibility. Try to speak with a ranger, recreation manager, and/or the designated accessibility contact. This step often involves a lot of educating. You may get details about another person to contact, as well.

Hike the trail

Go on the hike and hope for the best. Even with extensive research, it’s often the case that you’ll learn something new about the accessibility of (or lack thereof) the trail. This may mean turning back. Syren has found they have to abandon at least one third of the trails they start to hike. This is why resources like Disabled Hikers are so important!

image: Syren faces away from the camera, reviewing and pointing at a trail information board at a trailhead. They are holding a hiking pole and wearing a backpack. Photo by Scott Kranz.

We hope this process helps you find more places to hike and experience nature in your area. Because the Disabled Hikers staff can’t be everywhere, we are developing a training program so more disabled folx can learn how to research and create trail guides in an accessible way. Please stay tuned for more details and let us know how this process works for you in the meantime.

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