Why a book about Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks? What’s so special about them?
Well they certainly each offer their own rugged beauty, and they are close enough together to do in one trip; but the driving force behind this book was the glut of misinformation out there regarding access in these two parks. This was reinforced on my last visit when I was directed to a “mostly accessible” trail that had 24 steps up to the trailhead. The ranger told me that someone in a wheelchair might need a “little assistance”, and when I saw the steps the only thing that came to my mind was, “What was she thinking?” To be honest, I put another title on the back burner, when I realized there was such an extreme need for accurate access information about these two parks.
Why did you also include lodges that were outside of the parks?
Because these parks are so remote, I wanted to give my readers more choices. After all, most of the lodging offerings in the parks only have a few accessible rooms. But it’s not like I covered lodging options in Seattle — truly the properties that I selected are close to the parks, and very convenient for day visits.
These parks seem pretty rugged. Were you actually able to find accessible things to see and do there?
Part of what makes these parks so beautiful is their rugged nature. I mean Mt. Rainier is over 14,000 feet high and some 10,000 climbers attempt to summit it every year. But the great thing is, you can also enjoy its beauty from afar, and there’s a great view of the mountain from the end of the accessible Kautz Creek Trail. You can also get a good view of it from the Visitor Center at Sunrise — they even have an accessible scope trained on the mountain. So yes, even though the parks are rugged, there are still lots of offerings for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
I’ve heard that access is improving in the near future in Olympic National Park. Is that true?
Most definitely. When the upgrades to the Spruce Railroad Trail are complete in 2018, it will effectively triple the length of accessible trail offerings in Olympic National Park.
Did you encounter any problems while researching these parks for the book?
Unfortunately yes. Because of the misinformation out there I had a lot of false leads, which made my site visits all that more time consuming. I put a lot of time in on my research and I trekked down every possible trail to see if it might be suitable for my readers. It was a lot of work, but on the plus side, the weather was good and I discovered some absolutely beautiful places.
How would you rate the access in these parks compared with that of the Grand Canyon (your last book)?
Well that’s like comparing apples to oranges. The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most visited national parks, while Olympic and Mount Rainier are more remote. There are more accessible facilities in the Grand Canyon, but on the other hand there are more people competing for them. In Washington I strolled through peaceful rainforests, and lingered at scenic overlooks that were virtually deserted; and that’s something I just can’t do in the Grand Canyon. On the other hand, there’s no Skywalk in Washington. If you just look at the accessible trails, facilities and lodges, the Grand Canyon certainly has more; however if you look at the remoteness and peaceful quality of the those features, then the Washington parks definitely win.
Did you actually look at all the hotels you covered, or did you just interview the managers?
I inspected each and every property that I covered. I never rely on second-hand information in any of my work, and although it takes a bit more effort, I feel it’s worth it.
Are there hotels with roll in showers in the parks?
Absolutely — in both parks!
What is your favorite thing to see or do in Mount Rainier and Olympic NP?
I really love the diversity in both parks, but if I have to pick one favorite place it’s got to be Lake Crescent. The accessible room is near the lakeshore and it’s pleasant to sit on the back porch and enjoy the view. There is also a nice accessible trail nearby, that winds through the forest and out along the shore. Plus there is a cool glassed-in porch in the main lodge that’s the perfect place to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine. I came down with a nasty cold on my last visit there, and I still enjoyed my stay!
What national park will you cover next in your Barrier-Free Travel series?
Actually I’m going to cover the whole state of Utah — Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. I’m spending the month of September in Utah doing my last bit of research, and the book — Barrier-Free Travel; Utah National Parks for Wheelers and Slow Walkers — will be out in the spring of 2016.