In the beginning I didn’t set out to write an access guide on Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks. I just thought they would be cool places to visit, and I planned to cover them in Emerging Horizons. Truth be told, I had a few of my favorite California national parks pegged for the second title in my Barrier-Free Travel series. But sometimes fate has a way of intervening; and as I set out on my Washington state press trip, things began to take on a life of their own.
To be honest I was captivated with the diversity and natural beauty of both parks. Mount Rainier National Park offers a 14,000-foot high snow capped volcano, with wildflower-filled meadows and an ancient forest at the lower elevations. And over in Olympic National Park there are crystal clear mountain lakes, dense rain forests, refreshing hot springs and the rugged Pacific coast. And since the parks are close to each other, it’s easy to include them both on the same itinerary.
I was also wowed by the lodging selection in both parks. As with the scenery, it was diverse; however all the lodges and cabins managed to retain their historic nature, yet still offer modern access features. Even better, they really fit in with the natural surroundings. And although you could do both parks as day trips from the surrounding communities, it’s really nice to be able to overnight with Mother Nature.
All that aside, one of the real reasons I decided to publish this title is because of the glut of misinformation out there about access in these two national parks. When I was researching my trip it was difficult, if not impossible, to find accurate and updated access information on Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks. I even reached out to locals on Facebook, and I contacted my fellow writers in hopes that someone had visited the parks recently. In the end, I got some good first-hand information from the combination of the two, but not without a lot of hard work.
I also have to say there wasn’t a high degree of employee awareness about access in the parks. I discovered that early on in my trip, when I asked a ranger about accessible trails in the area, and she looked at her notes and directed me to one that wasn’t too far away. She called the trail “mostly accessible”, and warned me that a wheelchair-user might need a bit of assistance in a few places.
You can imagine my shock when I reached the trail, only to find 24 steps up to the trailhead. I remember thinking, “What kind of assistance was the ranger talking about — a mountain goat?” In any case, that wasn’t my only encounter with “mostly accessible”. It seems that a large number of trails in these parks are rated as “accessible with assistance”; and without any description of the access obstacles or shortcomings, it’s really hard for visitors to determine if these trails will work for them.
That’s where I come in.
I realized a long time ago, that just telling people that something is or isn’t accessible is pretty pointless. After all, we all have different abilities, so what’s accessible for one person may be insurmountable to another. That’s why I’ve always described the access in all of my books and articles. And that’s exactly what I did with everything in this book, including many “accessible with assistance trails.”
But I do have my standards, so the trail with 24 steps didn’t make the cut. I did however mention it in the Mount Rainier section, as a warning to unsuspecting visitors. In fact none of the trails that I included have any steps. Now some of them do have a few obstacles, but I described them completely, so folks will have a good idea if the trail is doable for them.
I also have to add, that there are some exciting changes on the horizon in Olympic National Park — changes that will effectively triple the accessible trail options in that park.
In the end, this book is about access adequately described — now and in the future — for these two spectacular Washington state national parks. And that’s something that’s sorely needed in the resource department. So go ahead and explore these gems, and let me know if they work for you.