"I can't climb a mountain in my wheelchair?" "What are you talking about? You have been climbing a mountain all your life, this one should be easy!" Andrew Conway-Hyde

Camping in the National Parks with a Disability

Camping is an enjoyable experience. Taking away the technology that surrounds us every day and getting back to the basics of what natural living is supposed to be is an unparalleled experience. It also takes a considerable amount of planning no matter when or where you intend to camp. It can also take a lot more consideration and planning if you intend on camping with a disabled person depending on the disability.

When camping with a physically disabled person you want to make sure that there is easy and accessible access to any bathroom facility and also maintain at least 100 yards’ distance from any potential hazards such as rocky cliff faces or large bodies of water. A fall into water or an unexpected rock slide could be disastrous.

National Parks Accessibility, man wheelchair

A mentally disabled person or even a blind individual will have considerably more challenges to keep in mind in addition to the ones already mentioned above. Both of these types of disabilities call for the person to become attuned to their surroundings. This enables them to become more comfortable and therefore enjoy themselves much more throughout the experience.

The first step is to limit the number of physical objects on the ground that could be a hazard to trip over. Remove any large rocks or sticks that could pose a falling hazard. The second step is to put up a guidewire around the area to ensure that the limits of the campsite are defined physically. The guidewire can also be used to show the way to the bathroom to ensure that they are not forced to ask for help to use the facilities. Once the person is comfortable with the guidewire it may be expanded to encourage limited exploration.

Supplies for Disability

National parks are often in very remote areas without access to extra supplies. That means that if you believe you will need anything, you had better bring it with you. The most important supplies, especially when camping with anyone with a disability, is any medication they take on a regular basis. Bring more than what you think you will need just in case you find yourself in a situation where you need to stay longer than expected. Also, lock up the medication to keep animals or children from getting into it.

First-Aid Kit

It is not uncommon for people to bring along a basic first aid kit on any activity, but it becomes a vital piece of equipment when camping. If you are planning on a backcountry campout, medical assistance will not be readily available and therefore pre-emptive training on first aid as well as a well-stocked first aid kit will be your lifeline. Antibacterial ointment, bandages, water purification tablets, alcohol, a splint, and cloth tape are just a few of the items you need to pack. In addition to the first aid kit, you need to have an emergency action plan.

The emergency action plan can be packed with the first aid kit and should give a detailed description of the location you plan on hiking, the expected length of the hike, locations of roads, rivers, and phones, and doctor’s numbers. You may want to also include details about everyone in the group including names, phone numbers of relative, and specifics on anything needed to know for medical attention pertaining to the disabled person. This will help rescue teams assess the situation much better should there be any problems with the hike.

A Satellite Phone

Even if you have the top of the line smartphone, you are not likely to get any reception when enjoying the backcountry of the national parks. Satellite phones are used for emergency purposes and do not rely on cell towers to make a call. They instead rely on the satellites orbiting earth and are never without a signal. Backpackers use these and they have been proven to save lives in an emergency situation.

Layers of Clothes

The weather can be particularly finicky at times. The mornings may be cool while the afternoons can be like an inferno, so you need to be able to adjust your clothing to the weather. Layering clothing is highly recommended on any hike through the wilderness or camping excursion.

Your first layer should always be an absorbent layer to shed any sweat from the body. The dryer the body is able to be kept, the warmer it can be and the less likely you will have to worry about hypothermia. Your second layer is the insolation layer and that needs to be adjusted depending on the overall temperature of the climate you are in. The third layer should be a waterproof barrier to keep water from soaking into the other two layers.

The layer system has proven to save lives and can be adjusted depending on the circumstances. The thing to remember however when camping with a mentally disabled person is that they may not be able to tell you if they are too hot or begin to get cold, so a constant monitoring of their temperature as well as any perspiration is vital to the comfort and safety of the individual.

Added Safety

Hiking and climbing in the National Parks can be dangerous. Proper precautions should always be taken to maintain the safety of the entire group. Guarding specific points such as joints in the knees and arms with padding can ensure the safety of any climber and particularly one that may have a disability. Head injuries can be one of the worst accidents to have when hiking through the backcountry, so never neglect the need to wear a helmet when climbing or hiking on surfaces that may not be so stable.

Ample Water Supply

It has been previously stated that water purification tablets should be in your first aid kit. These are of vital importance. Stranded hikers can last for quite a long time in the wilderness if they have ample water and the tablets allow you to purify practically any water source into drinkable water. There are also other devices that will help such as life straws that purify water as it is sucked through the straw or many other water purification devices that are portable as well as life saving

Some national parks do not have water sources within the park during the hotter months. These desert climates do not have adequate rainfall during that part of the year and therefore they require that all hikers bring in enough water for their entire group. It is recommended that each person get at least one gallon of water per day, so always make sure that your water supply is never in question.

Pack it in Pack It Out



The national parks are protected places that need to be respected at all times. We as a human race have diminished the life quality of many animal habitats through constant pollution and there is an effort by park staff and individuals that frequent the national parks to not let that happen within the borders. Therefore, they require that any camper maintain the park as it was when they arrived. That means that anything that you bring with you on a hike or to a campsite must be taken when you leave.

The regulations surrounding this philosophy are there to protect the environment. The animals that come upon human food can become used to it and neglect to hunt for themselves. Human food also has additives that can be harmful to animals and these animals do not understand that the packaging is not the food and therefore when they ingest it, it can become a true hazard for them, so any trash should always be taken out of the park with you.

This also includes human waste. It is not something that most people talk about, but human waste can contain smells that attract animals and when eaten they can become sick. The national parks ask that you bury any human waste at least 6 inches into the ground. This enables the scent to be masked by the dirt and also assists in decomposing of the waste.

Know Your Limits

It is common to believe that we have no limits provided that we are physically fit and able to accomplish most tasks with ease. The truth is that we all have limits no matter our abilities and having a keen understanding of those limits will allow the outdoors to become a fun and safe environment to be in. Understanding limits becomes of particular importance when talking about people with disabilities. Whether the disability is physical or mental, there may be specific limits on what they are able to do.

When camping with a disabled person, it is a good idea to be in tune with their physical abilities. Allow them to stretch the limits of their ability and see what they can do, but do it in a way that will not physically harm the person. There are really no limits when it comes to disabilities as many people have overcome seemingly impossible odds and done amazing things. It is however important to keep in mind that the people that have done the impossible have done so with an understanding of the situation, intense planning, and at their own physical risk. Physical limits are there to keep us from harm and if you are facing a challenge and you have a gut instinct telling you that you should not try, there is a reason and you should always listen to that instinct.

Nature is for All

Both mental and physically disabled people are often looked down on for being different, but it is important to remember that we are all different from one another. If we were all the same, the world would be quite a boring place to be. It is our differences that make us unique and individuals. No one should ever be made to feel less than others just because of a physical or mental disability.

Nature has been made for all of us to enjoy. There should never be limits on what a disabled person is allowed to do. The National Parks Accessibility system is working with individuals with disabilities to better understand their needs and make adjustments to the parks to ensure that no one ever has to be left out of the fun and there are plenty of ways that you can help.

If you have a disability and notice that a part of any national park is not accessible to you, do not be silent. Talk with the park rangers and offer solutions to help them adapt the park to your individual needs. The more ideas we can have about to help one another, the better the national parks will be for all. The rangers are there to help all visitors regardless of their physical or mental abilities, so be sure to thank them for their efforts as well as help them find new solutions that work for all individuals. The national parks were established for all people and all people should be allowed to enjoy them to the fullest.

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