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More Yosemite for Wheelchair Users

By Wheelchair Traveling

In early May 2012, I spent two nights in Yosemite National Park. I gathered more accessible information and revisited some attractions that I had surveyed before to see how they had transformed with the season. The last time I was in Yosemite was during the Fall so the peak of Spring brings bright colors and an abundance of water.

After arriving and inspecting the accessible overnight accommodations at Curry Village and the Housekeeping Camp, I checked into the Yosemite Lodge, which is undergoing a lot of ADA renovations. On my last visit I was told the hand-cycle that is available at either the Yosemite Lodge or Curry Village bike rental shop was MIA. However, I was in luck and got pictures of the bike this time.

I briefly unpacked, had a real early dinner at the Yosemite Lodge cafeteria and jumped back into  car. I was off to 

Glacier Point, which overlooks the valley, two waterfalls and Half Dome. The goal was to reach my destination at sunset. The drive to Glacier Point from the Valley Floor took approximately 45 minutes. The road was often windy while hugging cliffs or plowing through forests. On the way to Glacier Point you will pass two other important overlooks. One is the Wawona Tunnel View Vista, which is right before you enter the tunnel and the other is Washburn Point and this vista is less than 2 miles from Glacier Point.

There are several handicapped parking spots near the entrance to Glacier Point along with accessible uni-sex restrooms. These restrooms, unfortunately, do not flush so as the day progresses the caliber of cleanliness declines. When you follow the paved trail you will first arrive at one lookout point, which is spectacular. A small paved trail to the right leads you to the top of the stone outdoor amphitheater. At the floor of the amphitheater is a fire-pit. To the left of this overlook, you’ll see that the paved trail continues in two directions and both are considered to be accessible as the sign will say. However, the pathway to the right is a dramatic incline whereas the one to the left is much more gradual. Even though the trail to the left is easier than the right, it is still up-hill and a good workout (300 yards). This section of the trail is what leads to what is known as Glacier Point and is a flat platform to enjoy the breathtaking views and take photos. A portion is not accessible due to stairs but there is still plenty of visibility. Photographers alike align the rails snapping dozens of shots, trying capture the natural beauty of this national park. In the evening, the way the light dances on the rocks is the focus for photographers and in the late morning, it is the illumination of waterfalls that are captured.

On the way to Glacier Point you will reach a fork in the road just past the Wawona Tunnel. One way leads to Glacier point and the other to Mariposa Grove. The following day in Yosemite my friend and I ventured to see some of the giant sequoias of Yosemite located at Mariposa Grove. All the hiking trails at Mariposa Grove are not wheelchair accessible, even the paved trail is too steep and too long for power wheelchairs; it goes to the top of the mountain. However, for a fee you can take the 1 hour tour in an open-air tram that is wheelchair accessible; headphones are available. With a handicapped placard you can actually follow the tram for free and purchase the use of the headphones if desired. Multiple trams travel up and down the designated one-way road and this involves coordination by radio when trams need to pass one another at specific spots. This is why the ranger will tell you that it is important to follow the tram exactly three car-lengths behind but no more because you may interfere with another tram’s passage.      

The reason why you follow 3 car-lengths behind is because the tram stops frequently while the guide points out and describes the most well-known trees of the forest, including the Clothespin, Telescope and Grizzly Tree. It’s easy to fall behind the tram if you are taking pictures but do your best to keep up. Further up the mountain you will run into a fork at the road, the tram takes the one on the left and then loops around and stops at the Mariposa Grove Museum. This is the first of two 10 minute stops the tram makes. The museum is actually a replica of Galen Clark's cabin with a few small displays of information. For those riding the tram or following behind, you have the option of waiting an hour for the next tram to stop at the museum which will then escort you down the mountain. My friend and I took advantage of this and enjoyed a long lunch on our laps under the canopy of redwoods. On the way down the mountain, the second stop is at the Grizzly Tree, the most famous sequoia at Mariposa Grove. It is the oldest tree in the grove at 1900–2400-years-old and the 25th biggest in the world. Some of the Grizzly’s branches are even bigger than the trees surrounding it. The pathway to the Grizzly is bordered and made up of packed granite rock. The trail is real short, about 100ft, and has only a few small dips. The size of it is so surreal. The Grizzly Tree is a giant, taking over all that’s around it.

The road through Mariposa Grove is only open April-November and is closed during winter due to unsafe conditions caused by natural elements. During the summer months, when the tourist season is at its peak, the two handicapped parking spots fill up fast but there is an accessible tram that can take you from the bus stop next to Wawona Hotel store and gift shop to the Mariposa Grove parking lot. If you do get one of the handicapped parking spots then please note that they are on a 5.4% cross-slope. Wheelchair accessible uni-sex restrooms are right near these parking spots but like many natural attractions around Yosemite, they are not flush toilets. So hold your breath and bring a hand-sanitizer.

Later that night my friend and I witnessed a natural marvel, known as a moonbow. Basically, a glowing white arch (like a rainbow) that appears out of the mist of a waterfall when the moon’s light is strong. We took off to Lower Yosemite Falls around 11:30pm cause we were told the moon’s light is the brightest later at night as opposed to when it’s rising. When we reached the foot of the falls we were not alone, many others had the same idea which added to the lively energy of the full moon. This was reported to be the biggest full moon of 2012. Some were taking photos of the glowing waterfall and the moonbows that would appear then disappear and reappear again and again. I was not successful so I howled at the moon. It was great fun. We retired late.

The next morning I spent a little time strolling on the Yosemite Valley Floor. In a previous trip, I had circled the whole 12-mile loop but this time I took it easy. I went to one of many accessible trails that goes across a meadow. There are still a few trails I have not experienced, but in time I will. After a hearty oatmeal breakfast my friend and I checked out of our room and headed up to Mirror Lake for one last rendezvous. With a handicapped placard displayed we took the restricted road to the lake. Mirror Lake is a short 15 minute drive from the valley floor. The lake was beautiful when I saw it in the Fall but the Spring transforms it to its full body self. I borrowed a Renegade Wheelchair from a fellow wheelchair traveler for some serious off-roading fun. The chair was more work than I had imagined though. We hung around the lake for about an hour, grabbed some lunch at the café in the Ahwahnee Hotel and headed home. What another amazing time here at Yosemite National Park in California. I’ll be back.

Tours and Shuttle Service on the Valley Floor

All around the park are stations for the Yosemite Shuttle, which is free and accessible via ramp. If looking for an organized tour you pay for (other than the one described above at Mariposa Grove) then try either the open-air tram or the Grand Tour. The Grand Tours runs once a day and takes visitors around the Yosemite Valley Floor, to Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove. The Grand Tour operates in an enclosed shuttle with a lift. The open-air tram takes you around the Yosemite Valley Floor and to either Tuolumne Meadows or Glacier Point. This tour requires an external ramp, so notifying the staff when purchasing the tickets is a must. This tour runs every 2 hours. Both tours depart from the Yosemite Lodge. You can purchase tickets at either the Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village or by calling 209-372-4386.

2012 ADA Upgrades Reported by the National Park Service

• Accessible upgrades to restrooms at Wawona Service Station, Yosemite Village Breezeway, and either Stables or Tuolumne Service Station.
 Path-of-travel at Yosemite Village - YTS Garage, Village Store to Degnan's, and Village shuttle stops.
 Accessibility  is the eastern  shore of Lake Tenaya: YNP is implementing a Yosemite  Conservancy project that will add a boardwalk from the parking lot to the beach. This is expected to be completed summer of 2012.

WATCH VIDEO: Yosemite National Park Wheelchair Adventure
WATCH VIDEO: More Yosemite for Wheelchair Travel

MORE REVIEWS: Yosemite Wheelchair Access Reivew - My Day Trip to Yosemite - Yosemite Lodge - 
More Places to Stay
 - Sunday Brunch at the Awhahnee

This article is republished from the web site of 



with the permission of Ashley Lyn Olson. Thank you.