Tourism Abroad - Disabled Accessibility

Epic Cities and Picturesque Parks - Part Two

Chicago to Seattle Road Trip - June 2017

Dubois, Wyoming

On arrival in small town Dubois, we checked into Longhorn Ranch Lodge & RV Resort for the night. Access to the reception area was by a ramp and we were greeted by two friendly staff members.  We stayed in a nice Lodge Cabin which was quite basic but had all the required amenities.  We benefitted from the free Wi-Fi which was very important, due to no reception on our phones.

The next morning after breakfast, we continued with our adventure heading into the spectacular Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is a vast park, located in northwest Wyoming taking up a total of 480 square miles.  There are stunning views at Jackson Lake which is one of the highest elevated lakes in the US, with an altitude of 6772 feet!  Snake River Overlook, made famous by the photographer Ansel Adams, had beautiful views which were easily accessible from the roadside car park.

We drove up the Signal Mountain Road to an elevation of 7727 feet to Signal Mountain.  Once we had parked, there was a short walk up quite a steep slope to the viewpoint.  The views at the top are absolutely breath-taking and well worth a visit.

The drive along Teton Park Road was astonishing with amazing views of the Teton Range.  We stopped off in Jackson Hole for some lunch and a look around town, which all seemed accessible before hitting the road heading north into Idaho.

For more information on accessibility at Grand Teton, please take a look at this link https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm

Island Park, Idaho

After a two hour drive, we arrived and checked into Sawtelle Mountain Resort, Island Park for two nights.  This seemed accessible with a ramp up to reception, but our section of the hotel was up a few steps.  This hotel was located on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park

The next morning, we ventured into one of America’s largest national parks, Yellowstone.  The park is the oldest in the United States, established in 1872.  It is enormous; with 2.2 million acres in size, just under half the size of Wales!

We admired Bison roaming the grasslands then went to see the famous geyser of Old Faithful.  There is plenty of seating that surround the geyser, where visitors can wait for it to erupt.  The viewing platform is on a flat wooden surface with wooden benches.  It takes a bit of patience to wait for the show as the geyser erupts every 92 minutes on average.

After admiring an incredible natural event, we then headed into the gift shop for some souvenirs.  All is accessible in the shop and with disabled toilets, however, it is quite compact and space between items can be a bit tight.

We then proceeded onto the Grand Prismatic Spring, a short drive from Old Faithful.  The Spring is described as a rainbow of colours, and is 110 metres in diameter which is the third largest thermal spring in the world.

There was parking available with a few disabled bays which were taken up so we parked in a normal space.  The spring has an accessible trail encircling it, with several benches to sit but there are no safety barriers in place.  This spring is very hot with a temperature of seventy degrees Celsius in the centre.  Also this viewpoint has a high elevation of 7,270 feet, and with no trees around, it can be rather windy.

Unfortunately, a full day in Yellowstone was not enough.  To fully appreciate the enormity and beauty of the park, I would suggest at least three to four days.  Please check out this link https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm for more information on accessibility.

The next day, we headed north across the state line into Montana, known as the Treasure State due to its rich mineral reserves.  We drove through Bitterroot National Forest to Hamilton; a distance of 281 miles was recorded.

Hamilton, Montana

After more than five hours on the road, we checked into Bitterroot River Inn & Conference Center for the night, this was a planned pit stop.  Bitterroot River Inn had all the basic amenities with air conditioning, coffee maker and a fridge.

After a good night’s rest and a very hearty breakfast at the famous American diner, Dennys, we were fuelled up and ready for a 145 mile journey heading north to Bigfork.

Bigfork, Montana

After a three hour drive from Hamilton, we arrived in small town Bigfork around mid-afternoon.  We checked into the Swan River Inn for the night.  Although this hotel offers stunning views of Swan River, it does not have the amenities for wheelchair users.  The reception area was up a flight of stairs with a hand rail in place; however, there is one disabled parking bay outside this hotel.  Getting to our room was difficult; we had to use steps or a steep grassed slope.  This hotel was worth the effort, due to its elegant location by the lake in a rather romantic setting.

Our room was very comfortable, with two large double beds and enough space to move around.  The bathroom was basic with the shower and bath tub in one; there were not enough handrails for support.

As we arrived at the Hotel early in the day, and with not much to do around town, we headed up to Glacier National Park, which was around an hour’s drive. 

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana.  This is another vast park, over a million acres in size, with majestic mountain ranges, magnificent lakes and tall amber Alpine trees.

As camping is common in the park, there is a camping shop, with food and essentials before entering the park.  There is also a gift shop with toilet facilities.

There was a hotel in the park, Lake Macdonald Lodge where we had a drink in the bar area. This hotel also had a nice gift shop.  There was a disabled toilet located in each of the main toilet areas.

Lake Macdonald is the first view point we saw upon entering the park.  It offers spectacular picturesque views, with the back drop of the mountains and the water is so clear. This is an open space and can be quite windy around the lake.  Access to the lake could be rated as average, to get as close to the lake as possible, the surface is sandy with lots of stones and this could be difficult to push a wheelchair.

At Lake Macdonald there are boat tours that can take you around the lake.  We enquired about concessions, they did not provide this service and we felt it was expensive for me and my support worker to take this trip.

The next morning in Bigfork, we had a nice fry-up at one of the town’s diners, before heading back to Glacier.  We wanted to finish our trip of Glacier as the weather was much better.  Unfortunately, we could not venture further into the park, as the main road was closed due to the disturbance of bears.  Grrr!

After making the most of sightseeing at the park, we headed towards Essex, located on the outskirts of Glacier, for an overnight stay at the Half Way Motel.

Essex, Montana

The Half Way Motel was more of a lodge than a motel and there was a few steps leading up to the cabins.  This accommodation was split into two parts with the main hotel a few miles up the road.  We collected our key from the main reception and then headed back to our lodge.

Our room was very compact with a double bed and a foldup single bed.  The bathroom was small so the sink was in our main room; the shower had a small step up to enter.  I would not recommend this part of the hotel to a wheelchair user.

The next morning, we woke up very early ready to depart on one of the longest drives of the trip; a 300 mile journey heading west bound for Spokane.

After an hours drive we stopped off at IHOP for breakfast, an American diner very similar to Dennys.  All was accessible with disabled toilets and plenty of space between tables.  We were then eager to head straight for Spokane, for our next big adventure.

Spokane, Washington

On arrival in Spokane, we checked into the Davenport Hotel, a 4 star luxury hotel. This hotel is a high rise building and our room was on the 19th floor.  The room was large and spacious with two queen beds; the bathroom was a wet room with plenty of space.  I would recommend this hotel for a wheelchair user.

Spokane is a city, located on the east side of Washington State.  A few miles from the hotel, we decided to try out our luck in a casino called Quest, where Lady Luck smiled on me.  After losing track of time in the casino, we headed back to the hotel for a late supper and a couple of craft beers.

After a pleasant night’s sleep, we packed up and visited Spokane Falls.  This attraction was free to visit with a flat promenade which goes over the falls.  The Falls are rated as one of the top places to visit in Spokane.

As the drive from Spokane to Portland was too far, around 352 miles, it was planned to stop at Kennewick, a 140 mile journey south west.

Kennewick, Washington

Kennewick is a very small city with a few outdoor attractions.  We checked into SpringHill Suites by Marriott Kennewick.  This was a low rise hotel with a lift to all floors and the car park had disabled parking.  Our room was spacious, but did not look as glitzy as the Davenport.  The room contained a double bed with a sofa bed, the bathroom was easily accessible, but not for a wheelchair user.

After a short nap, we logged onto Google to see where the best restaurants were and the Texas Roadhouse got our vote.  The prices were reasonable; it was clean and friendly with disabled parking and toilets onsite.  The steaks and beers were fantastic, and the atmosphere was very enjoyable.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed to Maryhill, a 105 mile drive to see Sam Hill’s Stonehenge.  On arrival it was free to enter, there was parking available, however, the toilet facilities were in a nearby Museum.  The surface for this attraction was not wheelchair friendly due to it consisting of pebbles and sand, even I found it difficult to mobilise myself.

After visiting Sam Hill’s Stonehenge, we then mounted up into The Beast, bound for the city of Portland.

Portland, Oregon

We hit the city of Portland early evening and checked into AC Hotel by Marriott Portland Downtown for two nights.  There was disabled parking across the road from the hotel but it was meter operated; therefore we used the valet parking provided by the hotel.  The reception area was spacious with a very nice bar at the opposite end. 

Our room was similar to the one in Kennewick with a double bed and a sofa bed.  The bathroom had adequate space with a small step into the shower.  The room was equipped with air-conditioning and a fridge. 

Portland is famous for its craft beers and we headed out to sample some mighty fine ales.  After half an hour wandering around in 32 degrees heat, and with lack of taxis, my support worker signed me up for Uber.

After arriving at Rogue Pearl Public House, we enjoyed sampling some fine strong beers.  This joint had classic American food ranging from Burgers, Ribs and Steaks.  There was plenty of space between tables to manoeuvre a wheelchair, and the lighting was adequate, with disabled toilets on site.

The next morning, we headed out in the Beast for an interesting breakfast at Voodoo Doughnut; this consisted of bacon in a doughnut.  There was a long queue for this popular bakery with no seating area inside so we sat outside where there were a few tables and chairs.

After a sweet and salty breakfast, we visited a top attraction in Portland, The International Rose Test Garden, situated in Washington Park.  Disabled parking is on site but unfortunately this is not free, everyone has to pay $10.

The Rose Garden was all accessible with footpaths and grassy slopes.  There were quite a handful of steps to navigate in the centre but there was a slope going down the perimeter.  This attraction may pose difficulty for someone pushing a manual wheelchair.  Please check out the link for further information:  https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/finder/index.cfm?action=ViewPark&PropertyID=1113

After having a bite at Macdonald’s, we had a drive around town then headed off to the Lloyd Center for some retail therapy.  The mall had ample disabled parking bays all free of charge.  There are disabled toilets with wheelchair rental available.  In various shops there was enough space to enable a wheelchair to move around.

The next morning after an amazing two days in Portland, it was time to depart for Mount St. Helens. After driving for a while towards the mountain, we encountered road closure due to heavy snowfall.  So we doubled back to the interstate, heading northbound to the final destination of our epic adventure, the city of Seattle, Washington.

Seattle, Washington

After more than five hours on the road with several pit stops and encountering some heavy traffic, we arrived in Seattle.  We checked into Holiday Inn Express for the last three nights of our adventure. The hotel had disabled parking bays with a flat and spacious lobby.  There was two lifts in place and our room was clean and comfy with air conditioning and a fridge.

The hotel is located north of the city centre and the surrounding area seemed rough and run down.  We were not aware of this when we booked it.

Attractions

We drove to check out the famous attraction, Space Needle, as the morning was misty and cloudy, and with admission being $30 each.  We decided to visit the Colombia Center instead, later in the day when the mist had cleared.  

We had a typical American lunch at the Old Seattle Café.  Despite it being old the access was mostly flat with disabled toilets.  Parking is free and on the main road.

Colombia Center is the tallest building in Seattle at 937 feet, 300 feet taller than the Space Needle.  The Sky View Observatory offers panoramic views of the city with easy access.  When we arrived on the 73rd floor, a staff member was adamant that I pay $14.95 each.  However, with a few minutes of negotiating my support worker was able to get in for free where I paid full admission.

On our second day in Seattle, we visited the Aquarium which was mostly flat with ramps and disabled toilets, with an accessible gift shop and a café.  This aquarium had marine exhibits inside and outside, some of the indoor displays were rather dark.  There was disabled parking in the DPS car park across the street.

This aquarium has a dedicated website detailing accessible information; please take a look at the link for more details https://www.seattleaquarium.org/accessibility

The day before we visited Beneath the Streets Tour, we enquired how much the tickets were, they were $22 each with no concessions.  My support worker had been emailing this attraction to make them aware of my disabilities.  The manager emailed back offering us both free admission and an ASL interpreter, which we politely declined as American Sign Language is not our preferred form of communication.

The tour was an hour long and we were in a large group of around fifteen people.  This tour gives you an idea of what the old Seattle was like before the Great Seattle Fire back in 1889. I would not recommend this attraction to wheelchair users as there were a lot of steps involved, some sections were dark but they did have lighting in place.   My support worker and I found this tour difficult to follow, as we are both deaf and we left before the tour finished.

On the last day, we decided to visit Pike’s Market Place, a large farmer’s market with lots of restaurants and souvenir stalls.  It was very busy with large queues and parking was quite difficult.  We were only in the market a short time as we needed to get to the airport for our flight home. 

At the Airport

Seattle International Airport is all fully accessible, with lifts, escalators and disabled toilets.  After losing track of time in the airport and being late for our flight, a member of staff found us and escorted us to the plane, which we boarded via a walkway.  On booking the airline, in this case Virgin Atlantic, it is advisable to make them aware of your disabilities. 

I sat in my seat, buckled in and smiled to myself, whilst reflecting back on a most epic adventure with many memories treasured…

Overall

Twenty-one days, sixteen hotels, ten states and 4,188 miles recorded, this trip totally exceeded my expectations.  It was an unprecedented adventure and I felt so lucky that my designated driver survived such a long journey on the road.

I took my Blue Badge with me which I put on display every time we parked in a handicapped zone (disabled bay).  I had no problems whatsoever with parking, however, some places are free and others you will have to pay. 

From my experience, I would like to bring to your attention, that most of the attractions do not take concessions into consideration.  I would advise disabled travellers to email the attraction beforehand to find out whether they offer concessions.  We encountered a few minor issues in this area. 

As the United States is immense, it is important to remember to take regular pit stops, plenty of drinks and rest.  On average, 220 miles was driven a day, therefore, it is essential to plan accordingly.

This was a fantastic trip; it was enjoyable from start to finish.  If I had time to do this trip again, the only thing I would change would be to spend more time in Yellowstone National Park.