Despite its apparent ruggedness, Bryce Canyon National Park (tel. 435-834-5322; www.nps.gov/brca) is a great destination for wheelchair-users and slow walkers; as some of the most spectacular red rock formations can be seen right from the road, or from a number of roadside viewpoints. Add in a paved canyon-view trail and some top-drawer accessible in-park lodging, and you have all the makings of a very accessible Southern Utah getaway.
Leave the Driving to Them
Although personal vehicles are not banned in Bryce, like they are in neighboring Zion; it just makes sense to park your car and take the park shuttle during the busy summer months. You can find plenty of accessible parking at the Bryce Canyon Visitors Center or at Bryce Canyon Lodge, and all of the buses are lift-equipped. They run every 15 minutes, so it's a very convenient option.
How you explore the park, depends entirely on your energy level. You can just take the shuttle as a loop driving tour; or you can hop off at the viewpoints and trailheads along the way. The most accessible viewpoint is Sunset Point, which has a short paved pathway to the viewing area; while Bryce Point and Inspiration Point both have paved access to their lower overlooks. Between the three, you'll come away with some spectacular canyon views!
Explore on Foot
If you'd like to go it on foot, then give the Rim Trail a try. Although the whole length of this paved trail is not accessible, a half-mile section near the lodge offers good access. The best way to get to it is from nearby Sunset Point. From there, it's a level walk or roll along the canyon rim to Sunrise Point; and along the way, you'll take in some beautiful views of the Queen's Garden and the Bryce Amphitheater below.
For a good education on Bryce Canyon geology and wildlife, join a park ranger for a 1.5-hour interpretive program or a half-hour Geology Talk. Both programs start at Sunset Point, and they're available from spring to fall. Best of all, they're free.
And if you're still around after sunset, then stop by the Sunset Campground campfire circle for their evening program. There's a paved pathway from the shuttle stop to the seating area, and the rangers always put on a good show.
Sleeping in the Canyon
Staying in the park allows you to get the most out of your Bryce visit. Even though the original park lodge was built in the 1920s, access upgrades have been added over the years; and today The Lodge at Bryce Canyon (tel. 877-386-4383; www.brycecanyonforever.com) is an excellent choice for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
The property boasts four accessible rooms -- two with roll-in showers and two with tub/shower combinations. There's accessible parking in the paved lot near the entrance, with a level pathway leading to the building. The accessible rooms are located on the ground floor of the new Sunset Building, and feature barrier-free pathways to all areas, including the private decks.
The rooms with the roll-in showers have two queen-sized beds, while the rooms with the tub/shower combinations have one. Other access features include grab bars in the showers and around the toilets, roll-under sinks and hand-held showerheads. The roll-in showers also have fold-down shower seats.
All in all it's a very comfortable, quiet and accessible lodging option. But plan ahead as it's a very popular place to stay. It should also be noted that the property is only open from April 1 to October 31; but then again, that's also the best time to visit the 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