ADA Access in Mt Rainier NP
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008, is designed to provide access for people with physically disabilities in various activities and places, such as work, public spaces, housing, transportation, and public and government facilities. This include National Parks (NP's) as much as possible within the conditions in any NP.
Since the enactment of the ADA, the National Park Service (NPS) has been implementing the provisions of the ADA with policies and changes to buildings, parking areas, restrooms, and viewing areas, and working to provide trails where it can to accommodate visitors with physical limitations or need assistance, such as wheelchairs.
In many NP's and areas in NP's, this has provided many opportunities for visitors to see more of the NP's than just from the road or existing roadside rest stop and viewing areas, parking lots, and visitors centers. In some cases, however, there are limitations if not restrictions on the extent of changes possible to accommodate everyone.
In Mt Rainier National Park the NPS has been making every effort to implement the mandates in the ADA for all the services, activities and accommodations in the NP. To that end, there are only a very few places outside the backcountry and wilderness areas where visitors will encounter difficulties or problems during their visits, and there are a few short trails which can accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, etc.
You can find a map of access to Mt Rainier NP with additional information, below. While the NPS has made extensive changes for compliance with the ADA, there are limitations in the NP which limits visitors with disabilities, which is evident with two entrances in the northwest area and the network or hundreds of miles of trails and backcountry campgrounds in the NP.
These limitations are what makes Mt Rainier and the NP what it is, the landscape, meaning the terrain, meadows, forest, creeks and rivers, forests and Mt Rainier itself. Simply put, very little of the NP is amenable to accomoodate more than hikers and mountain bikers in selected areas. But the NPS has made some of the initial sections of a few trails accessible.
Access under the ADA can be described by the areas in the NP with the respective entrance where three of the five entrance have the range of facilities, etc. for access while the two in the northwest area have little or no accommodation for a number of reasons, but mostly lack of available services and facilities for all visitors.
The three other entrances, the Nisqually (southwest), the Stevens Canyon/Ohanapecosh (southeast), and the White River (northeast), have accommodations for the facilities (visitors center, inns, stores, etc.), roadside locations (roadside rest stops, viewing areas), and a few trails.
The southwest, with the Longmire and Paradise areas, the southeast with the Stevens Canyon Road and Ohanapecosh Hot Springs areas and the northeast with the White River and Sunrise area and Chinook and Cayuse Pass areas, will be described in more detail and more is available on the map of access.
One consideration for visitors is the timing of their visit to the NP. This isn't important as from the Independence holiday through the Labor Day holiday weekend, every entrance to the NP and all the areas are open for the season. From late September into November, the NPS closes all but the Nisqually entrance and the southwest area.
From November to late May only the Nisqually entrance and the southwest area are open, weather dependent. May to the Independence Day holiday is when the NPS opens the four other entrance and the areas for the season depending on the snowpack and snowmelt, and the late spring weather, in addition to the State DOT clearing the major highways to and over the passes one the east side and the NPS clearing the Stevens Canyon Road.
You can get additional information on the current conditions.
Below are brief descriptions of the areas in Mt Rainier NP for acommodations and access under the ADA. You can get more information from the NPS Website.
The southwest areas is the most visited area and has the most attractions for visitors and the most accmmodations under the ADA with two vistors area, one campground, one roadside rest stop & picnic area, several viewing areas, and several trails. Before all of that, the Westside Road, when open, offers ~3.5 miles of a view of Tahoma Creek with glimples of Mt. Rainier. There are no facilities on the dirt/gravel road with turnouts.
The first vistors area in the southwest is Longmire, about 8 miles into the NP from the Nisqually entrance on highway 706. The area at Longmire has a museum and visitors center, the National Park Inn, restaurant and store, open year-around except for extreme weather and NP closures, a store, see description for more information. In between the entrance and longmire is the Kautz Creek picnic area.
The most visited place in Mt Rainier NP is the Paradise area, which also has the most places with accmmodations for the people under the ADA. This includes the Jackson Visitors Center and snack bar, and Paradise Inn, restaurant and store. In addition visitors have the Paradise Valley Road (one way from the visitors center back to highway 706) with viewing areas of Paradise Valley.
Also there are two trails in the Paradise area, the Nisqually Vista trail to the overlook of the Nisqually Glacier, and the Skyline trail to Edith Falls to the meadows above Paradise. These trails are wide, paved for some distance. And between Longmire and Paradise is the Cougar Rock campground with some ADA-compliant campsites, restrooms, and amphitheater.
In addition to the areas on highway 706 between Longmire and Paradise are three parking turnouts with viewing areas. These are Christine falls, with limited parking but a good viewing area, Nisqually Bridge, with picnic and viewing area, and Ricksecker Point, which a picnic and viewing area. These areas area wheelchair accessible, but restricted at Christine Falls to a narrow highway and limited parking.
The southeast area via highway 123 norheast of Packwood off highway 12 over White Pass has one area, the Ohanapecosh visitors center and campground, and the Stevens Canyon Road and entrance to the NP off highway 123, which has several viewing areas and trails before connecting with highway 706 to Paradise.
Along the Stevens Canyon road there are three parking and viewing areas, some with exhibits and trails. The Grove of the Patriarchs is the first just east past the Stevens Canyon entrance. The second is Box Canyon, about 9 miles past the entrance. And the third is Reflection Lake, about 1 1/2 miles before the intersection with the Paradise Valley road and 2 miles before the intersection with the highway to Paradise.
Not all of the facilities at Ohanapecosh area are fully compliant with the ADA, with restricted or limited wheelchair access, but the area still offer some worthwhile visitor experience. The same is true for the areas along the Stevens Canyon Road from the entrance to Paradise for both the limited access and visitor experience.
Past the Stevens Canyon Road (highway 706) highway 123 continues north to meet highway 410 from the northeast area of the NP at Chinook Pass, where highway 123 ends and highway 410 continues east over Cayuse Pass to Yakima with the Tipsoo Lake picnic with viewing area and several trails, the trails not wheelchair accessible.
The second most visited area in the NP is the Sunrise area and the White River campground from the White River entrance off highway 410 from the north, which continues on to Chinook and Cayuse Passes. The White River campground has ADA accessible campsites and restrooms. The road past the campground continues to Sunrise Point with a viewing area and the Sunrise area.
The Sunrise area has a fully accessible visitors center, snack bar along with accessible picnic area and several short trails from the parking lot. The trails are paved for a short distance to continue as wide dirt-gravel trails farther east to Sunrise Point or west to the backcountry on the north and east side of Mt Rainier.
The northwest area with two entrances, the Carbon River and Mowich Lake entrances, is the one area with little or no accommodation for visitors under the ADA. The Carbon River area, at the end of the Carbon River road off highway 165 to Mowich Lake, is closed at the NP boundary to all but hikers and mountain bikers (main trail only).
The Mowich Lake entrance at the end of highway 165 continues to the Mowich Lake parking lot, campground and trailheads. The only accommodation under the ADA is the parking lot and some access for viewing Mowich Lake. The Mowich Lake area, along with the Carbon River entrance were designed for access to the backcountry with limited facilities.
It's clear the Longmire-Paradise and the Sunrise areas were developed for accommodations for people under the ADA with full access, along with a variety of facilities (visitor centers, lodges, stores, restaurants/snack bars, restrooms), viewing areas, and some trails for wheelchair access. The rest of the NP provides some accommodation at facilities, rest stops, picnic and viewing areas, campgrounds, and trails in some areas.
While the accommodations seem small compared to the whole NP, it should be remembered the NP was not desiginated as a National Park for people under the ADA, but the NPS has done a great job providing the maximum accommodations in areas where there is the greatest visitor experience for everyone.
The operation of each of the places described here and shown on the map varys during the year with the needs of the National Park Service for managing and operating the resources in the NP, and the seasonal and weather conditions in the NP during the year, and especially from fall through winter to the following (late) spring.
This requires the NPS to close entrances, roads, facilities, campgrounds for the winer, and restrict operation through the winter based on seasonal, weather and road conditions until the following spring. The actual dates each year varys with those conditions and NPS resources. This is outlined in the NP Newsletter.
The only book in print I've found on ADA access for the NP, list below, is a good resource for some of the specific conditions for ADA compliance with respect to facilities, campgrounds, trails, etc. The book, however, has some significant inaccuracies in the general information about the NP, described here, which makes a recommendation conditional depending on your needs for the information in the book.
Below are some additional resources for Mt Rainier NP and the available ADA complaint facilities, campgrounds, rest/picnic areas, lodges, trails, etc.
Please use the contact link to send e-mail.
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