Everyone deserves access to the Pacific Northwest's great outdoors—but accessibility has different levels and components. Washington trails include paved, flat gravel, and boardwalk routes, many with broad wilderness views and epic natural settings.
Local disability advocates collect information on accessible hiking trails, including Disabled Hikers and Wheelchair Wandering. Washington State Parks maintains an interactive map of ADA facilities across its network. And in September, Disabled Hikers founder Syren Nagakyrie will release the Falcon Guides book The Disabled Hiker's Guide to Western Washington and Oregon.
While our region is full of accessible urban trails, these destinations capture the wilder side of the Pacific Northwest.
Departing from the spectacular Paradise Inn at the foot of Mount Rainier, the paved one-mile section of the Skyline Trail leads to a tumbling waterfall along Kautz Creek. While one main waterfall viewpoint is down a short, steep (but still paved) path, the falls are visible from the bridge above—and so are the famed Paradise meadows full of wildflowers and wildlife.
Located a mile east of Seattle, this picturesque lake hides in the trees just north of the interstate. A one-mile circuit, a combination of paved trail and boardwalk, offers peeks into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to the north, particularly Chikamin Peak. Picnic tables sit at one end of the pond, and wildflowers bloom in summer.
A flat and paved trail, one mile each way, leads to a classic Cascade lake, cupped on every side by steep mountains and with meadows that tumble down to the water's edge. Though the water is clear and inviting, the high elevations here mean that the snow-fed lakes are cold even on the hottest summer days and may not be suitable for swimming. The route includes a few benches and stays in the shade.
Clocking in at a half-mile each way, this paved route at Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center ends at a viewpoint that takes in the towering peaks of the Olympics. Several other trails around the visitor center are paved or partially paved, best visited after snow melts around Hurricane Ridge in early summer. Despite its name, this location can be serene on sunny days, with even bits of Canada visible from the overlook.
Mount Baker Ski Area
There's a reason one part of this Baker-area landscape is known as Artist Point; the entire vista is crammed with jagged peaks, bright snowfields, and lush meadows. A few of these Heather Meadows trails are flat and the Fire and Ice one is even paved, but steep sections may require assistance for wheelchair users. Interpretive signs tell the story of how volcanoes and glaciers shaped the wilderness.
The Nisqually River delta is forever in flux, water levels shifting dramatically to fill the South Sound basin or leave mud flats bare. Fortunately the boardwalks at the wildlife refuge keep human traffic on a steady level. While about five miles of trails wind through the area, some are dirt and gravel, and wheelchair users may require assistance. Frequent viewpoints over the estuary offer bird spotting; binoculars are recommended.