As a writer who has spent the last 20-some years visiting and writing about wheelchair access in our US national parks, (and just released a book about accessible national park lodges — www.BFNationalParkLodges.com), I’ve seen a lot of changes in the parks over the years. Some of the changes are due to the availability of new technology and equipment, but the bulk of them have been spurred on by increased visitation to these national treasures.
On the plus side, our national parks certainly are more accessible than they were 20 years ago, and the concessionaires are making a concentrated effort to improve wheelchair-access at their national park facilities. More accessible rooms are being added to the lodges, and outdated access obstacles are being removed.
And again, that’s a very good thing.
More lodging facilities are also being built in gateway communities surrounding the national parks. And on the surface that appears to be a good thing, but upon closer examination it may actually cause some confusion.
Don’t get me wrong, more lodging means more accessible lodging, and that by itself is a plus. That said it’s the way that some of this new lodging is being promoted and marketed that could be problematic.
For example, if you do an internet search on lodging in a specific national park, the official park concessionaire won’t always come up first. That’s because some third-party booking companies pay to have their websites come up at the top of the list. Even worse, some of the hotel listings on these third-party websites include the national park name in the name of their property, yet they are located outside the national park. In some cases the properties are a two or three-hour drive from the parks. And that can be very deceiving to potential visitors.
So what’s a traveler to do?
Well obviously, look at the address of the property and then bring it up on Google maps to see if it’s inside the park or a substantial drive away from it.
Second, check to see if the website you are using belongs to an official national park concessionaire. Why? Well first off you really do get the best deals when dealing directly with national park concessionaires; but more important, the concessionaires can give you specific access details about their properties and they can block the wheelchair-accessible rooms. After all, it’s not really a good deal if that accessible room isn’t there for you when you arrive.
Most concessionaires state on their website that they are an official National Park Service concessionaire, but if you want to be sure your dealing directly, I’ve listed all of the official concessionaires in my National Park Primer for Seniors, Wheelchair-Users and Slow Walkers.
Be smart – always deal with an official concessionaire.
Oh, and check out my new book too!