Wheelchair Accessible Hiking
by Chris Trzcinski
Great Wheelchair Accessible Hikes.com
Looking for something to do this weekend? Need a change of pace? Want to recharge your batteries without breaking the bank? Then it's time for you to hit the trails! The walking or hiking trail that is.
I'm by no means an expert hiker. (I'm not even sure what an expert hiker really is.) I'm a teenager who loves being outside and cruising the trails. My favorite way to spend an afternoon is out exploring. Just being outside in is both relaxing and invigorating.
Hikes are usually categorized as nature trails or urban trails. Nature trails wander through woods, meadows, along shorelines, and other undeveloped areas. Examples of nature trails include the Rainbow Trail at Big Brook Dam in Pemberton, the boardwalk at the Tamar Island Wetland Reserve in Tasmania, and the Falls Walk in the Minnamurra Rainforest in Budderoo National Park in New South Wales. Urban trails lead through developed areas such as historic districts or walkways through cities. The Lithgow City Heritage Walk in New South Wales is an urban walk. Both kinds of trails are enjoyable and interesting. Try them both and see which is for you.
To get you started, I'm including a few tips:
1. Research your hike. I suggest starting with trails that you know are accessible. It's really disappointing to be set for a great afternoon of hiking and ten minutes into your hike to encounter steps, a stream you have to forge or a steep incline.
To find wheelchair accessible hikes, search on the internet, contact park rangers or information centers at parks, and talk to family and friends who hike or bike. Another suggestion is to visit local sporting good stores that carry hiking supplies. There's a good chance the employees hike and can give you suggestions. When I was on vacation in Lake Tahoe last summer, a lady who worked in an outer wear store told me about a really cool hike. I never would have found it on my own because it was on an unmarked road.
On the flip side, if you're feeling really adventurous, you can always explore new trails to see if they are accessible. I can't tell you how many times my dad and I have tried a new trail, and I've ended up tilted on two wheels to get through! However, I don't advocate that.
2. Be realistic about your hiking abilities. If you know that a hike is very strenuous, don't attempt it unless you think you can physically handle it. You can always work up to more challenging hikes.
3. Don't hike alone. This is really important. If you have a wheelchair malfunction or run into another problem, you don't want to be alone.
4. Keep hydrated - bring water even if you're going for a short hike.
5. Wear sunblock and a hat.
6. Leave your hiking route/destination with someone or leave a note on the dashboard of your car. If you run into trouble, people can search for you! At some trailheads there are bulletin boards or message boards where you can leave your registration information.
7. Share your trail information. This way we can all learn about new trails. The easier it is for people to find accessible trail information, the more wheelchair users will hike. Hopefully, this will lead to the development of more accessible trails for everyone to enjoy.
So make a promise to yourself to try something new and hike this weekend. I think once you start, you'll be hooked.
For more information
Chris is a student and developer of Great Wheelchair Accessible Hikes, an informational website for wheelchair hikers and families who hike. There are 33 Australian accessible hikes currently listed on this site, as well as many others from America and Canada. First hand reviews of the trails are always welcome.
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