What Makes an Accessible Camping Experience?

Published April 23, 2022

Camping is a one-of-a-kind experience, and it offers the chance to take a much-needed break from the bustle of day-to-day life. It's a great way to recharge, get in touch with nature, and get in touch with yourself. We review camping and accessibility.

What is an accessible campsite?

The United States Access Board is responsible for developing accessibility guidelines for constructing and altering accessible facilities by covered entities. Two critical pieces of legislation that provide prescriptive guidelines for campsite accessibility are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). 

Approximately 4% (+1) of campsites should be designated as accessible (or "Camping Units with Mobility Features") for the first 200 sites. The +1 is essential as it ensures that smaller campgrounds (with less than 25 campsites) have at least one campsite with mobility features.

For example, a park with 1 campsite must ensure that the single campsite is accessible. After that, the number of campsites with mobility features increases for every 25 sites. So a campsite that has 50 spaces would have 3 accessible campsites (1 for every 25 plus 1). Campgrounds with 201 campsites or more are required to have at least 8 sites with mobility features and an additional 2% for over the number 200. 

The U.S. Access Board has specific requirements for a campsite to be considered accessible, including parking space, table height, surface and slope requirements, and more. 

Reserve an accessible campsite

It's usually best to make reservations ahead of time. Despite their prevalence, accessible campsites are often limited and in high demand. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service (NPS) has excellent resources on accessible campsites. For example, the NPS has dedicated pages that include scoping and site information like accessible parking, accessible restrooms, types of picnic tables, and even slopes and terrain navigability. 

The Rocky Mountain section of the NPS page even gives descriptive information about trails and accessibility on their campgrounds. Here's a snippet from NPS' Bear Lake Park Section: 

Bear Lake is about 200 yards from the parking area. A ½-mile packed gravel trail circles Bear Lake. The first portion of the trail is accessible in either direction; farther along, trail grades exceed 8% in places. The trail on the southwest side of the lake has log "steps;" go counterclockwise to go down these steps or clockwise to go up them; assistance may be needed.

If the information provided online isn't sufficient, it may be best to call the park to inquire about the site's accessibility features. Be sure to ask park staff about their accommodation process, what their policies are, and the types of terrain or protected land that require special attention (some are even off-limits to service animals − for example, those with protected species that may attack or scare easily with domestic animals present). 

Pick the right gear

The difference between a memorable trip and a regrettable one can often be chalked up to preparation.

This means packing all the right gear, including food, personal protective equipment, medication, backup power, toiletries (especially for primitive campsites), sufficient clothing, and a proper tent (if tent camping). 

Disabilitease.com published a great list of accessible tents that include accessible routes into the tent and hydraulic technology for tent construction. Ultimately, choosing a tent is a personal choice. Still, we'd advocate that lightweight tents with mobility features that provide sufficient shade are best (weather can be a significant factor in the outdoors). 

Another thing to consider is the sleeping situation. A good option may be to use an air mattress rather than floor pads. That said, transferring in a tent can also be a challenge, so ensuring sufficient room for equipment is important as well. 

Plan your meals. While many people use open fires, this is not always the best choice. Not only are open fires risky, but they're also a challenge to start and maintain. A safer and more accessible option is to use an all-in-one canister stove, which can be placed anywhere on the campsite (on the picnic table for example) and easily managed.

Consider preparing as many meals as possible before your trip to avoid the challenges of cooking and cleaning in an environment with limited resources (it can be more challenging than you'd expect − do you have enough water to clean raw food, sufficient utensils, napkins, dishes?). 

For campers who use mobility devices, keep in mind that while many parks publish details about the navigability of their campsites and trails, it is always possible (and likely) that you'll encounter rough terrain that could not have been anticipated. For individuals who like accessories, NuMotion's Freedom Trax, which adds power to manual wheelchairs for off-road hikes, boasts a 7-mile battery life and is excellent for vacations. 

If you're planning on dragging along the old rod-n-reel, don't forget to ask about the site's fishing facilities. While many parks have made great strides in accessibility, fishing facilities are often primitive. In areas where decks or walkways are attached to a pond, river, or lake, be sure to inquire whether the site has accessible fishing spaces with lowered handrails for access. 

Finally, it may make sense for a reconnaissance trip to the site prior to your visit to ensure all boxes have been checked. Remember that many campsites (especially those considered to be primitive) are often located in the bush and away from accessible bathrooms, showers, and power − so selecting a site that has the amenities you need is critical to a pleasant trip. 

Preparation is paramount 

You know yourself best. Though the camping experience has come a long way, it's never without risks or challenges. That's not to say that you should feel deterred, but planning is critical.

Properly preparing, planning meals, packing emergency kits and necessities like insect repellants and medical equipment, and selecting the most appropriate campsite and accommodations will ensure your experience is peaceful and relaxing.  

Remember, the goal is to have fun. Enjoy! 


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