Finding Wheelchair-Accessible Restrooms on Public Lands in COVID-19 Times


Accessible trail to overlook at Donnell Vista

The general line of thought for travel in these COVID-19 times is to take a road trip and try and steer clear of crowds. In other words, stay away from theme parks and instead head to our national parks and other public outdoor spaces. So that’s exactly what we did a few weeks ago – we packed the car and hit the road to the Eastern Sierras.

And although it was a lovely trip, I did notice a huge disparity in the availability of accessible restrooms on public lands. To be honest, these facilities are something we all take for granted, but quite frankly some agencies do a better job than others of providing and maintaining them. To that end, here’s my report card on how each agency fared on our recent trip.

USDA Forest Service — F

Our route took us over Sonora Pass, and included several stops along the way, which are under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. I wasn’t sure if any of them would be open, so I checked the internet for the latest updates. According to the websites, the sites were open but that there were “no services to the toilet facilities”. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, so I packed along some toilet paper just in case.

We stopped at Donnell Vista (which has a nice accessible trail to the overlook), Column of the Giants and Douglas Picnic Area along Highway 108, and we found the same thing at each site. The accessible vault toilets were cordoned off, and in their place were clean and well stocked porta potties. The problem? In all cases the accessible vault toilets had been replaced with inaccessible porta potties. In my humble opinion, this is totally unacceptable, especially when accessible porta potties are widely available.

We also visited the Mono Lake Visitor Center, just north of Lee Vining, which is also managed by the Forest Service. The visitor center itself was closed, but the trails and outside exhibits were open. So were the restrooms – sort of. There was a sign at the entrance to the women’s restroom that stated there was a limit of two people at a time. I wasn’t really sure how that was suppose to work, so I kind of creeped on in and found I had the place to myself. Apparently they were enforcing the limit by closing off all but two stalls. Good idea, but unfortunately the accessible stall was among those closed.

Total fail for the Forest Service.

California State Parks – A

We only visited one California State Park site, but I was happy with my experience. The Picnic Ground Roads site, which is just up the road from the visitor center had an accessible vault toilet that was open and clean. That’s a win-win in my book, which is why they got an A!

Mono County – B

We also visited one site that Mono County Parks was in charge of, and I have to say that I was pretty happy with my experience. Mono Lake County Park, which is located on the north side of the lake, includes accessible restrooms that were open. Even better, the accessible stall was also open. Unfortunately the restrooms hadn’t  been serviced recently and there was no toilet paper, which is why they got a B.

National Park Service – A+

South Tufa Area at Mono Lake

Last but not least, we also visited one National Park Service site – the South Tufa Area at Mono Lake. This is a great place to get a look at some of the unusual tufa formations, and there is even an accessible trail down to the lakeshore.

As far as facilities go, I was totally impressed. The accessible vault toilets were clean and operational, and there was even an employee on site to keep things tidy. So in my book, that’s an A+!

Bottom line, the availability of accessible restrooms varies greatly on public lands, and while the National Park Service does an excellent job, some Forest Service sites are severely lacking in accessible restroom facilities during these COVID-19 times. Plan ahead, and of course always carry along some emergency toilet paper, just in case. Trust me, it doesn’t take up much room, and when you need it, you’ll be very glad that you have it.