Into the Accessible Wild
I don’t actually think it’s fair to claim anything as the best, unless you have, in fact, tried everything. I can say, however, that this was hands down the best outdoor experience we’ve ever had with a wheelchair.
The Adirondacks blew me away with the multiple opportunities for experiencing the diversity of the mountains without barriers. I’m used to sprawling parks with one, small accessible trail. The almost 12 million acres of the Adirondacks offers a lot of wild. In the small corner we were able to explore over a long weekend, we found enough to keep us rolling from morning ’til night.
Here are my top six reasons that the Adirondacks should be your next mountain trip – just in time for fall foliage!
1. The Wild Center
The Wild Center is what drew us to the Adirondacks. I saw an Instagram post of a treetop boardwalk through the forest, and added it to my bucket list. The Wild Walk is an accessible trail with a bird’s eye view of the forest. I’ve seen treetop walks before, but never one that we could just roll onto!
I didn’t know what else was at the Wild Center when I added it to my list, but apparently the Wild Walk is just a highlight feature of an entire nature center. We played on the natural playground, danced with the otters, designed and built vehicles and homes for better sustainability (toy sized, of course), hung out with wildlife, watched a panoramic film, immersed ourselves in larger than life stick art and sculptures, and walked the indoor living river trail. Don’t make this a quick stop. We played from open to… meltdown. We would’ve enjoyed a second day, but we were short on time.
2. John Dillon Park
Anyone else struggle to find campgrounds with accessible camp sites??
What if there were a campground, deep in the forest, with fully accessible lean-tos (essentially a three-walled cabin, for other camping novices), accessible bathrooms, only accessible paths and trails, and… well, fully accessible everything from adventures like fishing and boating to essentials like sleeping and eating?
I know it sounds like a dream, but John Dillon Park is a real place. It has all of those things. You can read about Jason’s experience camping independently as a quadriplegic. If there’s anything that you can’t do on your own in a wheelchair, ask for help. The staff are amazing and they’ll help as much as they can (including lugging your things to the camp site). Now it’s starting to sound like one of those luxury camping spots, but it’s actually completely free. If you’re not into camping, you can also just use a day pass for hiking, fishing, boating, picnicking, or whatever style of outdoor retreat you need!
3. Paul Smith’s VIC
The fact that there are multiple destinations with accessible trails through diverse terrains is just icing on the cake. Paul Smith’s VIC takes you through the marsh on boardwalk trails. Their goal is to connect people with nature through outdoor recreation that explores the history and ecology of the Adirondacks. Barnum Brook Trail is the perfect accessible trail with a beautiful overlook of the marsh. The Boreal Trail is a little more rugged with some brief inclines and small tree roots to navigate, but still manageable by most wheelchairs.
Start with the indoor exhibits and bird watching window and you can borrow some binoculars for your hike! Pick up a junior ranger book to earn a badge as you complete tasks during your visit. From there, head to the butterfly house and you can read all about butterflies along the way. It’s a mulch path, but it’s downhill and ends at the paved road near the butterfly house, so it’s an easy transition to the trails from there.
4. Saranac Lake
A mountain town is an essential part of the mountain vibe, even if your focus is outdoor adventure. I can’t speak for all the small towns in the region, but I was impressed by the accessibility in Saranac Lake.
Saranac Lake is all the charming eateries, organic goods, artisan shops, dive bars, and hometown restaurants you would hope for in a small mountain town. Extra bonus for the carousel with unique, hand carved animals representing local wildlife (entrance is ramped and you can roll right into the lake boat on the carousel). We did the bug crawl through town, which kept it interesting and educational for the kids, and took us through most of town. This is the best downtown scavenger hunt we’ve done… because the maps and clues made it possible for us to actually find everything on the list!
Most of the shops were easily accessible, which surprised me for a location like this! The toy shop is multi-level, but it also has two entrances. You can still see most of what’s inside, but you’ll have to exit and come back in through the other door. Our favorites were Campfire Adirondack Grill and Bar and Blue Moon Cafe. Campfire brings the mountain vibe up a notch with a nostalgic, yet classy, mountain camping atmosphere. They serve delicious locally sourced comfort fare and a selection of craft beers and signature cocktails. Blue Moon is a classy mountain diner with brilliant breakfast options.
Mountain Mist Ice Cream has incredible sunset views over the water.
Origin Coffee Company was recommended by all the locals, but it was never open when we stopped by!
Nori’s Village Market is another honorable mention, with a great selection of organic goods and freshly made café treats and beverages.
5. History and Luxury
Perhaps neither of those words are typically associated with a trip to the mountains, but now they can be!
Hotel Saranac stood out to me because it’s not often that we can stay in boutique or historic hotels. Hotel Saranac has seen many changes since it opened nearly a hundred years ago. It’s maintained it’s luxurious architecture, but it’s improved in accessibility.
The key here seems to be in the attitude of the owners and staff. When we arrived, we were handed a door stop to make it easier getting bags in and out with a wheelchair. This is a small thing, but it’s never been offered to us before! The staff checked in with us to make sure everything was ok, and asked for our open feedback on how they could improve. The accessibility of the hotel shows that this has been their attitude from the start, because there was very little room for improvement.
6. The Coolest Non-Restaurant Ever
I’ve never been to a brewery that I didn’t like (I don’t even like beer, but they always have the best, locally sourced menu options), but Raquette River Brewing blew me away like no one has before. The brewery brews small batch specialty ales to serve their local communities. They only serve drinks and small appetizers, but their massive outdoor seating area is lined with food trucks. How brilliant is this?!? Each kid ordered from a different truck. Everyone got what they wanted. It’s a laid back space that welcomes kids and pets, with a chill atmosphere to hang out and enjoy the live music. I honestly cannot think of a food option that’s better for the whole family.