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Photo credit Christa Johnston

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Inclusive Outdoor Experiences

Accessible trails worth exploring

The fine gravel beneath Angel’s wheelchair tires makes crunching and crinkling sounds as she powers along the Historic Railroad Trail at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. She has now completed the five-mile roll twice with the team of Las Vegas nonprofits DRIVEN NeuroRecovery Center and Trail Access Project. As we come to the end of the group adaptive hike, Angel asks me, “Where can we hike next?”

When Southern Nevadans and tourists want to go for a hike on gorgeous trails outside of Las Vegas, where should they go? The favorite choices are typically the Historic Railroad Trail near Boulder City; Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area; and Mount Charleston in the Spring Mountains. But, if you, a family member, or a friend with a disability want to explore our local natural trails, where can you go?  

Could you answer Angel’s question about where she could hike next in her wheelchair?

The National Park Service estimates that approximately one-fifth of Americans have a physical disability that affects their enjoyment of our nation’s parks. Even beyond disability, we each have our own strengths, weaknesses, and hiking abilities. If you have paraplegia (can’t fully use your legs) or quadriplegia (can’t fully use your legs, arms, and hands), you most likely rely on a wheelchair and additional help to enable you to enjoy the outdoors. When people with disabilities visit a scenic area, they are likely accompanied by family, friends, family dogs, or service dogs. The disabilities often control the activities of the entire group.

Historic Railroad Trail

The Historic Railroad Trail is a wide and leveled trail along an abandoned railroad bed with five short tunnels and great views of Lake Mead. The trail traverses and tunnels through volcanic rocks, the same as those underneath Hoover Dam. The firm surface of crushed granite provides stability for rolling wheelchairs, biking, and hiking for 2.4 miles each way. Dogs are always permitted to hike along, but there is no shade except in the tunnels, so this trail is not recommended during the hot summer.

Trails at Corn Creek

Corn Creek is a spring-fed oasis in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, 17 miles northwest of the suburban sprawl of Las Vegas. Of the four hiking trails at Corn Creek, there are three interconnected loop trails (about 0.7 miles), which were built to be accessible to most adaptive hikers and were recently resurfaced with stabilized crushed natural stone for firm footing and to increase accessibility. Dogs are welcome. 

 

Clark County Wetlands Park

Wetlands Park has numerous paved and dirt trails circulating through trees and wetlands with an ultimate destination of a bridge over the Las Vegas Wash, a year-round river. The trails are flat, except for a 4 percent climb immediately adjacent to the bridge. Across the bridge a paved, but hilly, bike path continues for about six miles across the desert with views to the west of the entire Las Vegas Valley.

Desert Overlook Trail

The Desert Overlook Trail in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area is a wonderful escape from the summer heat in the valley. The mountain trail is located near the edge of the pinyon-juniper forest at an elevation near 8,200 feet. It descends along a concrete path with a few switchbacks to an interpretive overlook, toward the desert and mountains. While trekking the switchbacks, keep to the outside of the curves — the insides reach a 10 percent grade. 

Most hiking trails in the past have been designed only for the non-disabled. This may be because the natural terrain makes people, or trail builders, assume it’s too difficult for hikers with disabilities. Or it may be because trail users with disabilities simply were not considered at all. Regulations now require that new trails on federal lands be built with certain accessibility characteristics, such as moderate gradient on hills.

People with disabilities, and their families, are now displaying their pent-up demand to enjoy being in nature and are realizing its healing effects. But, like Angel asked, “Where can we go?”

While there are numerous, wonderfully paved paths in the Las Vegas Valley, finding “wheelchair-accessible trails” away from traffic and crowds in the surrounding scenic public lands is not easy. It’s also important to note that “paved” does not always mean that a trail is wheelchair-friendly, and “wheelchair-friendly” or “accessible” does not always mean paved.  

Managers of federal lands sincerely want to create greater access, but budgets and resources are usually prioritized elsewhere. While we continue to wait for trail access improvements, a few gems of “accessible” trails are worth experiencing now, whether you have a disability or not. For more details about these trails and their accessibility features, visit www.trailaccessproject.org.

A geologist and professor, Ed Price founded the Trail Access Project in 2015. The volunteer-run 501(c)3 non-profit organization helps those with physical disabilities have safer, more meaningful outdoor experiences in public lands and parks, including facilitating the removal of barriers to recreational trail use.

If someone with a disability wants to explore our local natural trails, where should they go?  

  • Corn Creek
  • Corn Creek
  • Desert Overlook Trail
  • Desert Overlook Trail
  • Photo credit Christa Johnston
  • Desert Overlook Trail
  • Historic Railroad Trail at Lake Mead National Recreation Area
  • Historic Railroad Trail at Lake Mead National Recreation Area
  • Historic Railroad Trail
  • Historic Railroad Trail
  • Wetlands
  • Wetlands
  • Historic Railroad Trail at Lake Mead National Recreation Area