How Yosemite National Park is Working to Welcome Disabled Visitors

When the Americans with Disabilities Act required better trail access for all, Yosemite saw an opportunity.
yosemite falls

Lower Yosemite Falls (Photo by Michael Doss

Every Yosemite visitor should be able to feel the spray from 320-foot Lower Yosemite Fall on his or her face. If this is everyone’s park, everyone deserves to touch the house-size granite boulders just off the paved trails and learn from the educational presentations provided by videos and interpretive rangers. But a key demographic of guests would not have this opportunity without Yosemite’s 2005 effort to make this iconic cascade fully accessible to the disabled. Part of the existing trail reaches a 13.8-percent grade—too steep for many, especially in wheelchairs.

Solution: The park built an alternate route to the base of the falls that climbs through the forest at no more than a 5-percent grade. Crossing braided streams on rock-lined boardwalks, the half-mile trail has several resting logs and an accessible bathroom. But it’s not just accessible to those with mobility limitations. The trail serves the vision- and hearing-impaired with 3D tactile displays like the 3-foot bronze relief map of the watershed built to scale. Information packets come in Braille and films like Spirit of Yosemite have captions. You can even arrange for a sign language interpreter. While not all national parks are this welcoming, expect more accommodations soon with the NPS’s five-year strategic plan to upgrade old facilities and ensure any new projects meet accessibility standards. The magic of the national parks is for everyone, no exceptions.