five wheelchair activities

It’s not easy growing up in a world that isn’t always designed with your needs in mind. The challenges of everyday life can be considerable for kids with disabilities, and they also have to learn how to operate in a world that can be inaccessible while at the same time learning all of the other standard kid things that are part of becoming an adult. Time spent outdoors can bolster mental and physical health, build resiliency, provide educational opportunities, and contribute to a kid’s overall wellbeing, but finding ways to spend time in nature can be a challenge for those with limited mobility.

If your kid has trouble with balance and proprioception, or if they use crutches, a wheelchair, or another mobility aid to get around, there are a lot of opportunities to still get outside in safe and accessible ways here on the Western Slope.

We have a number of excellent parks in and around Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction. The Fish Tale trail in Ridgway State Park provides wheelchair accessible fishing access on the shores of Ridgway Reservoir. Fishing is a wonderful and fun outdoor activity to share with your kids, and provides hours of entertainment as well as a direct connection to nature when you do catch a fish. See our previous article on fishing with kids for more details on equipment, fishing licenses, and other things you need to know if you’re planning to take your kids fishing. Ridgway State Park also has wheelchair-accessible campsites and picnic areas if you want to make a longer weekend trip.

You have to love the Uncompahgre River Walk in Montrose. What a highlight of our community thanks to the efforts and planning of the Montrose Recreation Department. There are two paved designated access point to the river trail that are van-accessible with striped access aisles. A good map and description can be found on All Trails. One of the access points is the West Main Trailhead, just beyond the W. Main Street (State Route 90) bridge over the Uncompahgre River. The path heads north for approximately 1.5 miles and ends just beyond the Colorado Outdoors development. To the south, the trail crosses the river twice as it runs through Cerise Park, Baldridge Park, and Ute Park. For most of the route, the trail remains on-corridor and passes behind the Ute Indian Museum where the surface changes from concrete to gravel shortly after. The trail provides spectacular vistas of the San Juan Mountains to the south, the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west, Grand Mesa to the north, and the Cimarron Ridge and rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to the east. You may spot a bald eagle or two fishing the river during the winter!

Confluence Park in Delta provides 7 miles of trails along the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers through the riparian cottonwood galleries. Approximately 4 miles of the trails are four feet wide, on grade and constructed with smoother surfacing that doesn’t get muddy. There is an ADA accessible fishing peninsula to entice your child to try a little fishing; and it’s a great place to spy snow geese and other winter waterfowl on the lake.

Don’t forget about our incredible National Parks. While some of them have truly accessible trails that allow people with limited mobility to experience the parks, there are always beautiful views to be had at the various lookouts and visitors centers. Our own Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park here in Colorado is not accessible as far as the interior goes, but most folks go just to look at it anyway—it’s a pretty incredible view! There are a number of accessible viewpoints where you can get the full experience including the Visitors Center, Pulpit Rock, Chasm View, Sunset View, Tomichi Point, and just driving along the canyon looking out the car window.

Venturing a little farther afield, to the top of Colorado National Monument, the National Park Service has not only a nice paved path around the Saddlehorn Campground that provides a pretty outdoor setting and beautiful views, but they also have the wheelchair-accessible Alcove Nature Trail. This is a dirt trail, but it’s wide and level to allow access for people with limited mobility. Note: As of November 2021 the park rangers said the trail has experienced some damage from runoff during recent rain events, so it may not be as accessible as usual right now. They do plan to fix it, but could not provide an estimated timeframe.

Arches National Park out in Utah has a number of stunning scenic areas along the loop road that will provide quite a view, and they also have a fair amount of trails and facilities that are wheelchair accessible (a detailed list can be found on the NPS website, and park staff can always guide you in the right direction once you’re there).

National Parks are fee-based, so you do have to pay to get in. However, be aware of the Interagency Access Pass; this pass is honored nationwide at all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Fish & Wildlife Service sites and is free to those with a medical determination and documentation of blindness or permanent disability. This pass grants access for the pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private (non-commercial) vehicle, as well as significant discounts on camping and other amenities.

There are some great opportunities to spend time outdoors, without the need to navigate sometimes treacherous terrain found on many hiking trails in Grand Junction area. Canyon View Park and Lincoln Park both have nice, long paved trails, as does Long Family Memorial Park in the Fruitvale area.

And don’t forget about the wonderful Riverfront Trail we’re so lucky to have here, it’s a great and accessible way to cover a lot of ground on a comfortable trail right by the beautiful Colorado River. Take a detour onto Watson Island, a popular place to play disc golf, and you can meander around several pathways while spending time outside.

A little farther west, in the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park, is Connected Lakes. This is a beautiful area with paved trails that meander around several inviting lakes, which is an excellent place for anyone to walk and is wonderfully accessible for wheelchair users. Since it’s in a state park the visit does require paying for a state parks pass; if that’s a limiting factor, Colorado Parks & Wildlife has the Centennial Program to provide parks passes at very low rates for income eligible Colorado residents (more information is on their website at cpw.state.co.us/centennialprogram).

If you’re looking for something a bit more rugged than the paved trails mentioned so far, there is a dirt trail out at the Lunch Loops area that’s been specifically designed for handcycles called “Short & Cranky” which is more accessible than your typical Tabeguache-area trail. It is still a mountain bike trail, though, so don’t expect perfectly smooth sailing—but that’s part of the fun! If you don’t have access to a handcycle, it also makes a good hiking trail that’s a bit more mellow and less steep than other trails at Lunch Loops.

Even farther west, the Fruita Paleo Area provides a short (under a mile) sandy but level trail with over 20 interpretive signs describing the area’s geology, fossils that have been found there, and the dinosaurs that once inhabited the area. The trail isn’t perfectly even and may not be entirely accessible for wheelchairs, but it does provide a short, easy hike with some very interesting natural finds for those with limited mobility.

While not on the Western Slope exactly, our neighbors to the east in Aspen have a few options that could be a new venture and worth the drive!

You may have heard of the iconic Maroon Bells, a breathtaking pair of peaks that have been the muse of many a photographer and painter. Below their towering, majestic forms lies Maroon Lake, which is worth a trip of its own just to see the incredible views. The upper part of the trail is paved and entirely wheelchair accessible; the lower section is gravel and fairly level, and may be suitable for wheelchair access as well with some assistance.

Also near Aspen are the Braille and Discovery Trails. They start from one parking area, but are two separate trails. The Braille Trail was designed specifically to be used by people with visual impairments, with a rope along the trail to serve as a tactile guide and interpretive signs for both sighted individuals and braille readers that teach about plants and animals in the area. The Braille Trail is not wheelchair accessible. Its partner, the Discovery Trail, is a short loop (around a quarter mile) with a packed sand/rock surface providing accessibility to wheelchair users. It also has several wheelchair accessible picnic areas along the route, so be sure to pack a good lunch to enjoy!

It’s important for anyone to have access to and spend time on our public lands and in the outdoors, and even more so for kids with disabilities who are facing some unique challenges as they grow up in a world that isn’t always easily accessible to them. Whether you’re visiting a local city park or one of our 63 incredible National Parks, take the time to get your whole family outdoors to experience our awe-inspiring natural world. Everyone is happier when they spend time outside!

Looking for ideas on getting kids with disabilities outside? Check out: Fabulous Wheelchair Activities for Kids (passionatepeople.invacare.eu.com), Plant a Seed and See What Grows (seewhatgrowas.org) and Outdoor Activities for Kids with Special Needs (https://www.cerebralpalsy.org/blog/outdoor-activities-for-children-with-special-needs)

Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) is a nonprofit organization that promotes opportunities for youth and families to go outside, experience outdoor activities and explore nature. For outdoor safety tips, trail game ideas, hiking trails, and other ways to get young people involved in the outdoors, visit the FOYAN website at www.friendsofyouthandnature.org

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