Nothing can ruin a vacation faster than spending time in jail. That said, there are a few former lock-ups that are worth a vacation time visit. And although these historic prisons weren't built to be accessible, many have added access upgrades over the years. With that in mind, here a few good choices for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.

World's First Penitentiary

Located in downtown Philadelphia, Eastern State Penitentiary (tel. 215/236-3300; was built in 1830. Billed as the world's first penitentiary, it was designed to isolate inmates, so they could reflect on their crimes. Truly it was a dark, dank and depressing existence. That said, if you've got a interest in the evolution of the penal system and can stomach a few sobering stories, it's a fascinating place to visit.

Although there are a few steps at the main entrance, the guard can open the gate for level access to the prison yard. Inside the fortress-like walls, there is ramped access to the cell blocks, with level access to most cells. There are a few areas that have a step, but you can still get a good look from the outside. Additionally, there is one upstairs area that is only accessible by a flight of stairs.

An excellent audio tour is included in the admission price, and it features former inmates describing their prison experiences. All in all it's a fairly accessible tour; however, restroom facilities are somewhat limited. On the plus side, they do have an accessible porta potty.

Big House and Botanical Gardens

For an unusual prison tour combo, check out the Old Idaho Penitentiary (tel. 208/334-2844; and the adjacent Idaho Botanical Gardens (tel. 208/343-8649; Located in east Boise, these unlikely neighbors offer visitors a little history, a dash of culture and a pleasant place to relax and reflect.

Accessible parking is available in the upper lot, with level access to the prison. To be honest, this prison has a lot of ruins, some damaged walkways and a few steps here and there: however it's still possible for most wheelers to get a good look at things. There is level access to the first-floor cell blocks and many other buildings; however the women's ward is inaccessible, with five steps at the entrance.

Next door, the Botanical Gardens offers accessible pathways to most areas. And for a different view of the penitentiary, be sure and catch a glimpse of the old guard towers from the gardens.

The Rock

Last but not least, no prison roundup would be complete without including Alcatraz (tel. 415/561-4900;, otherwise known as The Rock. Transportation to Alcatraz Island is provided by Alcatraz Cruises (tel. 415/981-7625;, and departs from Pier 33, just a short walk from Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. There is level access to the ticketing and boarding areas, and all of the Alcatraz Cruises boats feature roll-on ramped access.

After the 15-minute bay crossing, visitors are given a short orientation by a National Park Service Ranger. Then it's a quarter-mile hike uphill to the cell block. Visitors unable to make the trek can take the electric tram, which features roll-on access. There is level access to the cell block, with wheelchair-access to most sites on the self-guided audio tour.

Bear in mind, Alcatraz is an old site and it has some uneven patches of concrete and a few tight spots here and there; but relatively speaking the access is good. All in all it's a fun tour, but be sure to get your tickets early, as same-day tickets are rarely available for this popular attraction.

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