At first glance, Utah's red rock country doesn't appear to be very accessible. After all, wheelchairs and rugged terrain aren't exactly the perfect mix. So does that mean wheelchair-users and slow walkers should just cross Arches and Canyonlands National Parks off their must-see list? Absolutely not. Although there are certainly some inaccessible areas in both parks, there are also enough accessible trails, viewpoints, and scenic drives to cobble together an itinerary. So slather on the sunscreen, stock up on the water, and get ready to explore Utah's red rock country.
Arches National Park
Located about five miles north of Moab, Arches National Park (tel. 435/719-2299; www.nps.gov/arch) features more than 2,000 sandstone arches, plus a healthy smattering of pinnacles, spires, and windblown cliffs. For a good orientation of the park, stop by the Visitors Center near the park entrance, just off Highway 191. And while you're there, be sure and pick up a park map so you can enjoy these accessible sites.
Don't miss Balanced Rock, which features a .3-mile trail out to the viewpoint. There's also an accessible picnic table on a cement pad in the picnic area across the street. It's the perfect place for a lunch stop.
Drive through the Windows Section of the park, one of the most scenic drives in the area. Although there aren't any accessible trails here, there are several accessible pullouts along the way.
Stop at Delicate Arch, the most photographed formation in the park. The trail out to this arch is not accessible, but you can get a great view of the arch from the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. There is level access to the viewpoint from the accessible parking area, and it's definitely worth the 50-yard walk, as it's one of the most scenic views in the park.
Save some time for a stop at Park Avenue Viewpoint, which features accessible parking near the short trail out to the viewpoint. Although there's a slight incline in this trail, it's doable for most folks. It's also an excellent place to enjoy the sunset.
Canyonlands National Park
Save another day for a visit to Canyonlands National Park (tel. 435/719-2313; www.nps.gov/cany), located just north of Arches off of Highway 191. The most accessible section of the Park -- Islands in the Sky -- is a large mesa wedged in between the Green and Colorado Rivers. The best strategy for an accessible visit to this park is to pick up the CD audio tour ($10) at the Visitors Center. You can do the tour at your own pace and enjoy the views.
Don't miss Grand View Point Overlook, which features plenty of accessible parking and a paved trail out to the overlook. It's the best spot for a panoramic view of the park.
Buck Canyon Overlook and Green River Overlook are also worth a stop for more spectacular canyon views. Buck Canyon Overlook features accessible parking and a 200-foot paved pathway that leads out to the overlook.Most folks will be able to handle it the slight incline. Green River Overlook also has accessible parking, with level access out to a spectacular canyon view.
Save some time for a little detour out to Upheaval Dome. Although there's no wheelchair access at this site, you can get some great windshield views by driving slowly through the picnic area. The small dome actually sits inside a larger crater, and although it's scenic, it's also rather eerie. It's also just another example of the geologic diversity found in Utah's most rugged national park.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of 101 Accessible Vacations: Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.