California’s Easy-Access Parks: Sequoia and Yosemite

California's Easy-Access Parks: Sequoia and Yosemite
Wheelchair users can now enjoy a spectacular view of Yosemite Falls, with recent access upgrades.
The great outdoors has long been considered the last frontier, as far as access is concerned. However, two of California’s largest national parks have made significant access improvements over the past decade.

As a result of this cooperative effort between the National Park Service and concessionaires in Sequoia and Yosemite national parks, today visitors not only have more accessible in-park lodging options, they can also access trails and overlooks that were previously off limits to wheelchair-users and slow walkers.

Access improvements in Sequoia National Park, most famous for its groves of giant sequoia trees, began with the opening of the Giant Forest Museum in November 2001. The museum features interpretive, hands-on exhibits that tell the story of the sequoias.

The accessible Big Trees Trail at Sequoia National Park makes it easy for everyone to see the giant sequoias.
The accessible Big Trees Trail at Sequoia National Park makes it easy for everyone to see the giant sequoias.

Giant sequoia trees are known for having the greatest mass of all living forms. The park’s General Sherman Tree, 275 feet (84 m) high and 36.4 feet (11.1 m) in diameter, is estimated to weigh some 2,500 metric tons. Research suggests that the tree is 2,100 to 2,200 years old.

Access is excellent in the museum building, as it has a level entry, hardwood floors and plenty of room to maneuver. Accessible restrooms are located inside the museum, and there is plenty of accessible parking in the designated lot near the front entrance.

The Giant Forest Museum serves as a hub for a series of connected hiking trails, many of which have been re-graded to meet accessibility standards. As ranger Malinee Crapsey puts it, “We want to make it easy for everyone to enjoy the big trees.” Although many trails have accessible sections, by far the crown jewel of accessibility is the Big Trees Trail.

In 2002, the Big Trees Trail was lengthened and re-paved to improve access. A little over a mile (1.6 km) long, this interpretive trail circles Round Meadow and provides a good introduction to sequoia ecology. It’s a great place to view wildflowers and to get an up-close-and-personal look at the giant sequoias.

The nicely done five-foot-wide (1.5 m) paved trail features many benches and turnouts along the route, in addition to a few newly constructed boardwalk sections. Accessible restrooms are located near the end of the trail.

Sequoia National Park lodging was also given an access facelift in 1999, when Wuksachi Lodge was rebuilt. Conveniently located in the Giant Forest area, this 102-room property features six accessible guest rooms.

Wuksachi Lodge, in Sequoia National Park, has six accessible guest rooms.
Wuksachi Lodge, in Sequoia National Park, has six accessible guest rooms.

The accessible guest rooms are located in the Stewart Building. They feature wide doorways, lowered thermostats and a 36-inch (91 cm) clearance space on both sides of the beds.

The accessible bathrooms have a roll-under sink, grab bars near the toilet and in the shower, and a low-step shower with a fold-down, padded shower seat. There is a two-inch (5 cm) lip at the shower threshold, however it’s still possible to transfer to the fold-down seat.

Yosemite National Park, with spectacular glacier-scoured mountain and valley scenery, has been a World Heritage site since 1984. Major access upgrades began in 1997 with the Glacier Point renovation project. Located just 45 minutes from the valley floor, Glacier Point affords a spectacular view of the entire park.

Prior to the access improvements, steep grades and inaccessible pathways made it impossible for wheelchair-users to get much farther than the parking lot. All that’s changed today as the overlook is accessible via a 300-yard (274 m) paved switch-back trail from the main parking lot. It’s very nicely done.

Over the years there have been many access upgrades to Yosemite Valley accommodations. Accessible offerings with private bathrooms include seven rooms at The Ahwahnee, four rooms at Yosemite Lodge and two cabins and a hotel room at Curry Village. Eight of these rooms have roll-in showers.

Accessible options with shared bath facilities include six cabins, seven canvas tents and two housekeeping units. All of these Curry Village units share community bathrooms with roll-in showers.

The newest access upgrade at Yosemite, the culmination of the massive, 10-year US$ 13.5 million Yosemite Falls Restoration Project, was unveiled in April 2005. The project includes a new three-quarter-mile (1.2 km) paved trail to the bridge at lower Yosemite Falls, North America’s highest waterfall, with a drop of 2,425 feet (739 m) in two segments.

A new paved trail to the bridge at lower Yosemite Falls allows for close-up views.
A new paved trail to the bridge at lower Yosemite Falls allows for close-up views.

The gentle grade allows for wheelchair access, and this wide trail has many pull-outs, resting spots and benches along the way. Indeed, for the first time there is barrier-free access to the base of Yosemite Falls. This new trail not only gets high marks in the access department, but it also helps ease overcrowding at this popular valley landmark. It’s a great reason to visit (or re-visit) Yosemite.

And of course, no matter which national park you visit, don’t leave home without your Golden Access Passport. This free lifetime pass is available to any U.S. resident with a permanent disability, regardless of age. Pass-holders get free admission to all U.S. national parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas and wildlife refuges. Pick one up at any national park entrance.

If You Go

Sequoia National Park


Wuksachi Lodge


Yosemite National Park


Yosemite Lodging


Golden Access Passport