Access is key to enjoying the outdoors. For a mountain, that can mean clearing a trailhead; for a river, installing a boat launch. Accessibility also has a very literal definition: The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) uses detailed criteria to design trails accessible to people with disabilities. An increasing number of trails meet these specifications, creating access for everyone to enjoy vistas, wildlife, and even mountain summits. Here are five of the best accessible trails in the AMC region.
Dutton Brook Trail | Crotched Mountain, N.H.
Crotched Mountain, an organization that offers educational, residential, and rehabilitation opportunities for people with disabilities, also oversees one of the most extensive accessible trail systems in the country. The property includes more than 1,200 acres of forests, fields, and wetlands, with two very different accessible trails to choose from. The Gregg Trail (1.6 miles round trip) climbs to a panoramic view via a series of switchbacks, while the Dutton Brook Trail (2 miles round trip) winds through forest and wetland. The trails are open to the public and free to use.
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Info: Crotched Mountain
Fort River Birding and Nature Trail | Hadley, Mass.
Located on the Fort River, within the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, this trail provides views of a wildlife-rich habitat. It took a team of volunteers and students three years to build the trail, which was completed in 2014 and is accessible from start to finish. Boardwalks and platforms with firmly packed gravel and dirt create the accessible surface. The boardwalk was built on top of existing ground, rather than dug into it, making it one of the more environmentally friendly boardwalk trails.
Distance: 1.2 miles
Info: Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge–Fort River Division
Appalachian Trail | Bear Mountain, N.Y.
Bear Mountain State Park offers the rare chance to experience an accessible portion of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the park where the very first AT segment was completed more than 90 years ago. This 0.4-mile stretch opened in 2011 and is part of a larger rehabilitation and rerouting of the AT on Bear Mountain. The accessible segment runs from a parking area near Perkins Tower to a view of the Hudson Valley and is part of a larger 1.4-mile AT loop near the mountain’s summit.
Distance: 0.8 miles out and back
Info: New York State Parks
Dingmans Creek Trail | Dingmans Ferry, Pa.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is known for its wealth of recreational opportunities, including hiking, biking, and paddling. One of the park’s great natural wonders is Dingmans Falls. The Dingmans Creek Trail winds from the Dingmans Falls Visitor Center, past Silverthread Falls, through a lush forest of rhododendron and hemlock, and opens up to a view of Pennsylvania’s second tallest waterfall. The accessible portion of the trail is a boardwalk that passes through thick forest. An additional stretch, up a staircase to the top of the falls, is not accessible.
Distance: 0.8 mile round trip
Info: Dingmans Creek Trail
Mount Vernon Trail | Alexandria, Va.
Virginia’s Mount Vernon Trail is an 18-mile multiuse trail connecting the town of Rosslyn to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s former estate. Although mostly paved, the trail features an accessible boardwalk that extends over the water in the 485-acre Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. It’s a great spot to take in views of the Potomac River. Start from the Belle Haven Park parking area and follow the paved path for 0.6 miles to reach the quarter-mile long boardwalk. The nearby Dyke Marsh Trail, which also begins at Belle Haven, extends even deeper into the wetlands. This flat trail consists of paved, gravel, and boardwalk segments. Staff at the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which manages both trails, are working to update accessibility details. Contact them with any questions.
Distance: 2 miles round trip (Mount Vernon Trail) or 1.6 miles round trip (Dyke Marsh Trail)
Info: Mount Vernon Trail; Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve