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How people with disabilities can enjoy accessible camping

Camping isn’t just for able-bodied and able-minded people.

If you’re planning a camping trip, and you or someone you know has a disability, it’s understandable that you might have some concerns.

Nowadays, many campgrounds and parks are prioritizing accessibility, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other regulations.

A wheelchair accessible campsite with a sign

This means that you’ll likely find camping facilities that have made efforts to accommodate people with various disabilities, ranging from wheelchair ramps and accessible bathroom stalls to ADA-compliant campsites and more.

If you’re planning a camping trip and need to scout out accessible resources, here’s what you can do.

Consider the needs of the person with a disability or disabilities

The first thing you need to do is consider the diverse forms of disabilities that you or a fellow camper may experience.

Different types of disabilities require different accommodations and modifications to have an enjoyable and accessible camping experience.

For instance, people with mobility impairments might prefer camping sites with accessible trails and restrooms.

A special needs child in a wheelchair with his parents outdoors

It might also be wise for them to opt for RV campgrounds, ensuring a comfortable bed, bathroom, storage for assistive devices, and an accessible means of transportation in case of emergency.

On the other hand, campers with sensory impairments might require additional equipment, such as assisted listening devices or braille maps, to navigate the camping grounds.

Here are five steps you can take toward securing the appropriate accommodations for your camping trip:

  1. Research which campgrounds and parks have accessible features before you book a camping spot.
  2. Confirm that the campsite has enough space to accommodate any mobility devices, like wheelchairs or walkers.
  3. Check with the campground or park staff about disability-related policies and inquire whether they offer any specialized services or accommodations for people with disabilities.
  4. Look into renting or borrowing assistive devices if needed, like wheelchairs and portable ramps.
  5. Check with your local organizations for additional resources and support.

The benefits of camping for people with disabilities

A man with disabilities taking a selfie

Although there may be extra steps involved in planning a camping trip for people with disabilities, the rewards make it all worth it.

Camping allows provides the opportunity to build self-confidence and independence by learning new skills and overcoming challenges.

Being outdoors and connecting with nature also reduces stress and encourages social interaction, which is great for mental health.

As far as physical health benefits go, people with disabilities who go camping may benefit from improved balance and coordination, increased strength and flexibility, and even reduced pain levels.

Choosing the right camping location

When choosing the best possible camping spot for people with disabilities, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Accessibility features

Wheelchair accessible camping restrooms

Look for ADA-compliant campgrounds, which typically have features such as paved pathways, sturdy ramps, and accessible restroom facilities.

Some of these campgrounds also provide accessible tent and picnic areas for your convenience.

You can also search for accessible campsites through by checking the accessible camping checkbox at the top of your search.

For Canadians, Parks Canada offers a list of accessible national parks by province/region.

Nearby amenities

A car driving on a road in a wooded area.

It can be super helpful to choose a location that has nearby amenities to make your trip more enjoyable and less stressful.

Campgrounds near supermarkets, medical facilities, and restaurants can offer an additional layer of convenience, especially during unexpected situations.

You may also want to consider the availability of adaptive or accessible outdoor activities in the surrounding area.

This way, you can enjoy your camping experience without feeling limited.

Look for campgrounds that offer wheelchair hiking trails, accessible picnic spots, or nearby fishing opportunities that cater to people with disabilities.

Terrain and weather

A hiking boot stepping in a puddle.

Lastly, don’t forget to take into account the difficulty and accessibility of the terrain as well as the seasonal weather conditions, which can have a significant impact on the overall accessibility and safety of your trip.

Choose a location with stable and level ground for easier maneuverability, and consider the time of year to avoid extreme temperatures or harsh conditions that could make camping more challenging.

Adapted camping gear and equipment

When it comes to going camping with a person or multiple people who have disabilities, the right equipment is essential.

Fortunately, there are a variety of adapted camping gear and equipment out there that can help make your trip much easier—and more enjoyable!

Tents and sleeping arrangements

A tent and a hammock on a backcountry campsite.

Look for tents with spacious doors, as they’re easier to access for people using wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

The Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6-person tent is a great example of a tent with accessibility in mind.

In addition to a well-designed tent, consider these options for sleeping arrangements:

Adaptive cots: Specially designed cots that adjust in height, making them more accessible and comfortable.

Air mattresses: Get one that’s durable and easy to inflate or deflate as needed.

Opt for a higher profile mattress for added height and ease of transfer.

Sleeping mats: Choose a thick and wide mat for extra stability and comfort.

Assistive devices and tools

A wheelchair on a paved path outside

Make sure to bring what you or your fellow camper needs for your/their specific disability:

Portable ramps: These can help overcome obstacles in the campground like stairs or uneven ground. 

ADA-approved campsites often have ramps, but having a portable one can come in handy just in case.

Walking aids: If you or your fellow camper uses crutches, a walker, or a cane, don’t forget them.

They’re essential for navigating rough terrain or uneven paths.

Wheelchair accessories: Wheelchair users should consider all-terrain tires and other adaptive accessories to make it easier to move around the campground.

Here are some other helpful devices and tools you may want to bring:

Adaptive cooking utensils: Items with built-in grips or extended handles can make preparing meals easier.

Headlamps and lanterns: Extra lighting is essential for navigating the campsite safely at night, especially for those with limited vision or mobility.

Compact folding chairs: Lightweight chairs with armrests and back support can provide much-needed comfort during your camping trip.

Remember, everyone’s needs are unique, so be sure to cater your camping equipment to suit your specific requirements.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to adaptive camping services or inclusive programs like CampAbility for expert advice and support in planning your trip.

Camping activity ideas for people with disabilities

A girl with down syndrome smelling a flower

Whether you’re in the woods or at an RV campground, there are plenty of camping activities for people with disabilities.

Here are some fun and accessible ideas:

Outdoor sports: Tailor-made sports like wheelchair basketball, adapted golfing, and bocce ball can be enjoyed by all.

You can also create DIY outdoor games like cornhole and tic-tac-toe.

Bird watching: This can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own campsite or wheelchair.

Bring a field guide and a pair of binoculars to make it even more enjoyable!

Adaptive stargazing: Look up at the night sky from your campsite with an adapted telescope or star chart for a unique experience.

Some campgrounds even offer special night sky events for visitors to enjoy.

Arts and crafts: Have some fun with arts and crafts projects like making birdhouses, jewelry making, painting stones, and more.

Photography: Capture the beauty of your environment with a camera or smartphone.

Nature journaling: Jot down your observations and feelings as you experience the outdoors.

Camping is also a great opportunity to bond with friends and family.

Plan interactive activities that are accessible for everyone, like group games or storytelling sessions around the campfire.

Don’t forget to bring your favourite accessible board games or card games to play together, creating fun memories and fostering connection in the great outdoors.

Another option is joining an inclusive camping program where campers with and without disabilities can participate together in various activities.

Organizations like Easterseals offer dedicated camping and recreational programs for people with disabilities, providing additional support and specialized activities to ensure a memorable camping experience for all.

Safety tips and precautions

first aid kit and hiking boots

When camping with people who have disabilities, it’s important to take the necessary safety precautions.

Alert the campground staff or park rangers of any special needs so that they can help in case of an emergency. It’s also a good idea to carry basic first-aid supplies and some snacks just in case.

Make sure everyone is wearing appropriate clothing for the season and terrain—this includes sturdy shoes, hats, gloves, and jackets as needed—and pack plenty of sun protection (like sunscreen and sunglasses) if you’re headed out into sunny weather.

If possible, travel with someone else who can provide assistance if needed; this could be a family member or friend or another camper from your inclusive program.

Always bring a fully stocked first aid kit, any necessary medications, and a means to contact help in case of emergencies.

Don’t forget about your mobility devices, too.

Make sure they’re fully charged, and bring extra batteries or chargers if needed.

Adapting to changing conditions

A camper wearing a raincoat in the rain.

Camping environments can change rapidly, and unpredictable weather and terrain conditions can pose challenges for anyone, especially people with disabilities.

Be prepared for these changes and adapt as needed.

Bring items that will provide extra insulation, like a waterproof tarp or additional blankets.

Look into campsites with wide pathways and ramps to make it easier to maneuver around the campsite.

Keep an eye on the weather forecasts and adjust your activities accordingly—if you’re expecting rain, bring an umbrella or raincoat.

And if it’s too hot, seek out shaded spots where you can relax away from direct sunlight.

Above all else, listen to your body and take breaks when needed; don’t overexert yourself in any activity.

Next up: How to beat camping anxiety

 Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What are some essential adaptive camping gear items?

It depends on your/your fellow camper’s needs, but some essential items include portable ramps, walking aids, wheelchair accessories, adaptive cooking utensils, headlamps and lanterns, compact folding chairs, waterproof tarp, blankets, umbrellas or raincoats.

Which tents are best for wheelchair users?

For wheelchair users, choosing a tent with extra space and wide doorways is important.

Tents with accessible features, such as the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6-person tent provide ample interior space and specially designed entrances to make maneuvering a wheelchair easier.

Are there any camping cots specially designed for people with disabilities?

Certain camping cots are designed with accessibility in mind, such as the tent cot by Kamp-Rite.

This cot elevates the sleeping area off the ground, making transfers from a wheelchair easier.

Additionally, some cots feature side openings or height adjustments to accommodate various disabilities.

Research different options to find the camping cot that best meets your needs.

Which national parks offer accessible camping options?

Many national parks provide accessible camping options, but you’ll have to do your own research for specifics.

For example, Yellowstone National Park offers ADA-compliant campsites and facilities, as well as accessible trails and overlooks.

Before your trip, visit the park’s website or contact their visitor center to confirm accessibility and make any necessary reservations.

What should I look for in a campsite to ensure it’s accessible?

To ensure a campsite is accessible, look for level terrain, nearby accessible restrooms, and parking areas with designated accessible parking spots.

You may also want to find campsites that offer paved pathways and hard-surfaced picnic areas.

Websites like AmeriDisability provide helpful information on accessible camping and often list campsites that cater to those with disabilities.

How can I make camping more enjoyable for someone with a disability?

To make camping more enjoyable for someone with a disability, plan ahead and involve them in the process.

Research accessible campgrounds, trails, and activities that suit their interests and abilities.

Additionally, ensure that all essential adaptive camping gear is packed and ready.

Most importantly, remain patient, flexible, and open to adapting plans or offering assistance as needed.