Traveling in the winter is fun, but it presents many challenges. When you use a wheelchair or walker, you may worry about finding accessible destinations once the weather gets cold, but there are many disability-friendly winter vacations you can take all over the world.
Here are 12 holiday getaways ideal for walker and wheelchair users, plus some tips on how to make the most of your vacation and avoid delays.
Prep For Your Winter Getaway
Here’s a checklist for wheelchair accessible winter vacations. It’s not that different from the list for general passengers, but you need to do a lot more research when planning your itinerary than the average traveler.
Try to book direct flights when possible. Getting on and off connecting flights takes up a lot of time, and can leave you feeling tired and frustrated. Direct flights tend to be more expensive, but they prevent wear and tear on your health.
Plan to ensure you receive the accommodations and assistance you need. Research accessibility options before booking. Planning will save you time when you arrive at your destination. You’ll be more likely to avoid problems due to lack of accessible rooms or transportation.
Be honest about your limitations. Make a list of where you want to go and what you want to do. While many tourist attractions are wheelchair accessible, the particular one you’re interested in may not be suitable for disabled people. Replace it with another destination that’s similar and accessible.
Consider purchasing travel insurance to protect against accidents and medical problems. Check with your travel insurance company to learn more about their coverage for wheelchair users and people with pre-existing conditions.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) covers air travel rules for people with disabilities. It spells what airlines must provide. The act states that airlines may not refuse passengers with disabilities, require that they travel with a companion, or keep a passenger out of a particular seat due to a disability. Airlines may ask for up to 48 hours notice for respirator hookup and other accommodations that require preparation time.
Let the TSA know ahead of time if you can’t walk through the metal detector. You’ll be wanded and receive a manual pat-down instead. The TSA website has a drop-down menu with information on security procedures for travelers with medical conditions.
The hotel industry lacks standard accessibility rules, so you’ll need to call in advance to determine if an establishment has a room right for your needs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 states that hotels with over 50 rooms need to have one room with a roll-in shower and at least three accessible rooms without a roll-in shower. Larger hotel chains tend to renovate every ten to fifteen years so that they will have more rooms up to standard than smaller hotels.
Although large chains like Marriott, Sheraton, and Hilton claim that all of their hotels offer accessible accommodations, remember that service will vary from hotel to hotel. Always call or email to make sure they have accessible rooms available before booking.
A hotel should have the following accommodations for disabled patrons:
- Accessible parking near the entrance
- Automated doors
- Elevator to upper floors
- Level or ramped access to public areas
- Wide entry doors to room and bathroom
- Grab bars in bathtub
- Lever door handles
- Low-hanging closet
- Roll-in shower
Staying in a hotel without all or most of these features may be doable if you have a friend or family member traveling with you. Solo travelers should take time to find an accessible hotel room, even if it means making a lot of phone calls and sending several emails.
Taxis, Uber and Specialty Transportation
When you arrive at your location, will you rent a wheelchair accessible car or be dependant on taxis, Uber, and local shuttle services? Uber offers UberWAV for people with mobility disabilities. Ask your hotel concierge about accessible private and public shuttle services.
Most city and suburban bus and subway lines can accommodate passengers with wheelchairs. Find out more by checking your destination city’s office for disabled people or “accessible city” page.
For example, some cities such as Chicago, provide information that makes this process much easier, see the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Longdon, England provides one of the best guides I’ve seen to date, check it out at Visit London.com.
Many organizations can help you with planning trips. Some, like Challenge Aspen, provide for disabled travelers going to a specific location. Wilderness Inquiry offers outdoor adventure travel packages all over North America to people with disabilities.
Others offer help for individuals with specific disabilities. Tripsinc offers supervised vacation packages throughout the US with people with mental or physical developmental disabilities.
Contact Accessible Journeys for international trips. This group is affiliated with the Access Network, a group of operators that handle tours for the disabled. Accessible Journeys offers tours to Amsterdam at Christmas, Israel in November and Antarctica.
10 Disability Friendly Winter Vacations
Below, we’ll share a few of our favorite spots for you to consider.
U.S. National Parks
The U.S. National Park Service offers many locations that make great wheelchair friendly winter vacations.
The Rocky Mountain National Park has accessible trails and campsites. Any foot trail is open to individuals in wheelchairs, or people who use walkers. You need to take care when walking or guiding your wheelchair along paths in any national park, since they may contain rocks, loose gravel and tree roots. Your wheelchair should be deemed suitable for indoor use by the manufacturer.
There are about 25 accessible visitor centers, with disabled parking and restrooms. Get maps and learn about the wildlife and natural attractions from friendly Rangers at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center or see the life-sized wildlife displays at the Fall River Visitor Center.
Located near Estes Park, Colorado, it offers winter recreation lead by Rangers, camping and wildlife watching. See bighorn sheep on the east side of the park and elk or mule deer in the meadows.
Congaree National Park close to Gadsden, South Carolina offers a boardwalk loop through a hardwood forest and accessible tours. The one-story Harry Hampton Visitor Center has accessible restrooms and water fountains.
Glacier National Park near West Glacier, Montana, has made a variety of improvements to make the park more accessible to disabled individuals. There are many accessible nature trails, including the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, an easy loop trail, and the Running Eagle Falls trail.
Sun Tours can accommodate people using wheelchairs and walkers.
The U.S. National Park System offers a free lifetime pass to citizens with a permanent disability. You or your loved one will have access to ADD of parks and natural attractions, including:
Visit Alaska in the winter to get the full view of the state’s picturesque mountains, quaint towns, and the famous Iditarod Dog Sled Race. Many regions offer accessible train rides and bus tours through the wilderness, with a close-up look at mountains, trails, and wildlife.
Ride the White Pass and Yukon Railway, a narrow gauge train that travels on a trestle bridge in Skagway. It has an accessible train car for wheelchair and walker passengers.
View the swirling arcs and colors of the Northern Lights near Anchorage. The Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are caused by electrons colliding with the upper part of the atmosphere. Weather conditions significantly influence when and to what extent the Northern Lights will color the skies, so enlist the aid of a tour guide or expert to help you find the right location for viewing.
In Sitka, Watch some of the best new films at the Banff Film Festival in or attend the town’s Jazz Festival. Visit Building 29, one of the last log structures from Russian-era Alaska. Take a ride on the Mt. Roberts Tramway in Juneau and shop in stores run by native Alaskans.
Not all disability friendly winter vacations take place (mostly) on land.
Winter cruises head for sunny destinations like the Middle East, the Caribbean, Australia, Mexico and even the exotic Galapagos Islands, and For more wintry weather, take a cruise to Antarctica via South America.
A few of the most disability-friendly cruise ships:
The Grand Princess from Princess Cruises has accessible staterooms and suites. There’s wheelchair access on vehicles for shore-side tours. Princess offers getaways to Hawaii via Vancouver, British Columbia or Los Angeles, with stops in Honolulu. Hilo and Maui.
The Celebrity Solstice from Celebrity Cruises offers a buffet restaurant, open-air theater, and in-room interactive TV system. Disabled cabins have ramped bathroom thresholds, roll-in showers and lower sink and vanity.
Take a winter cruise to the distinctly non-wintry Galopogos Islands on Silversea Cruises. The seven-day Silversea cruise includes flights between Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. The voyage highlights include a trip to Bird Island to see over 30 bird species and a chance to see tortoises at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center.
While most parts of the Galapagos Islands are hard or impossible to maneuver in a wheelchair due to the terrain, you can see the sights from a boat or tour bus and visit the Charles Darwin Research Center. Alert the company at the time of booking if you have limited mobility. You must bring your wheelchair or walker.
The Pocono Mountains consists of 2,400 square miles of woodland, mountain terrain, waterfalls and winding rivers in Pike, Monroe, Wayne and Carbon counties in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Enjoy the picturesque trees and mountains, or take a sleigh ride to celebrate the holiday season. Check the calendar of events at poconomountains.com for winter sports at Delaware State Forest, sales at outlet stores, or plays and concerts at the region’s many resorts and nightclubs.
Stay in accessible villas at Fernwood Resort. The resort rooms offer 36-inch wide doorways and accessible sink and toilet with grab bars. Other wheelchair and walker friendly accommodations include the Black Bear Lodge in Barrett Township (private vacation rental) or the Mount Airy Casino Resort.
The Mount Airy Casino Resort has slots, poker, and table games if you’re the gambling types. See a play, concert or standup comic at one of the resort’s nightclubs or concert venues. Dine at one of the resorts many restaurants or visit the spa. The rooms have roll-in showers, accessible bathrooms, and hypo-allergenic bedding is available.
Points of interest include the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, which features several steam locomotives and a repair shop, and the Eckley Miners Village Museum, which highlights the history of coal mining in Pennsylvania in the 19th and early 20th century.
Accessible motorcoach tours of the Poconos are available year-round, many with customized itineraries.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver is one of the best places for disability-friendly winter vacations. It has audible crosswalk signals for blind travelers, and wheelchair and scooter accessible buses. Parks and recreation programs are open to disabled. Vancouver also makes it easy for wheelchair-users to enjoy its sights, with curb cuts on the sidewalk.
Taxis must be adapted to accommodate wheelchair-bound passengers. TransLink provides buses, Skytrain, SeaBus and other accessible travel options throughout the area, and HandyDart offers door-to-door service when you book in advance.
Visit the Vancouver Christmas Market or enjoy the lights and decorations at the Festival of Lights and Enchanted Nights. Take a Snow Limo ride to get a close-up look at the trails without hiking, or tour Maplewood Farm in North Vancouver.
Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports offers snowboarding and skiing programs for people with disabilities. The organization has conducted adaptive skiing lessons at Grouse Mountain since 1974 and also offers lessons at Cypress and Seymour Mountains.
The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah offers adaptive winter sports including Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. Participants must fill out a Physician Statement, Medical Acknowledgment form and Participant Package to be accepted for the program.
Check out the Ice Castles in the Heber Valley near Park City or take a sleigh ride at the Homestead Resort.
Visit Temple Square, the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and attend a free concert by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs on Sunday morning in the Tabernacle. Finish off your day trip with a visit to one of the many restaurants and shops in the vicinity.
New York City
New York City is the city that never sleeps in the winter as well as the summer. Enjoy the Big Apple with a light frosting of snow.
Order wheelchair accessible taxis from Wheels on Wheels free mobile app, which offers pickups and drop-offs in all five boroughs. Enjoy the Christmas shops at Bryant Park or marvel at the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.
Most museums, including the Met and Museum of Modern Art, are wheelchair accessible as are some of the newer Broadway theatres.
The City of New York offers a list of accessible attractions and resources for disabled visitors.
One of the most wheelchair-accessible cities in Europe, Berlin offers historical sites including the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag parliament building the Berlin Wall. In 2013, the European Commission called Berlin a “Barrier-free” city. While not all buildings and attractions are accessible, the city has a better track record than most of its EU counterparts.
Visit the Berlin Zoo, tropical greenhouses at the Botanical Gardens or one of the city’s 80 Christmas markets. (The city’s outdoor markets are accessible but may be difficult to maneuver when crowded.) After a day of sightseeing, eat a meal at one of Berlin’s walker and wheelchair accessible restaurants.
Enjoy omelets at the Restaurant Rienäcker in City West or take in dinner and a scary play at Nocti Vagus Dark Restaurant & Dark Stage.
To find other wheelchair-friendly events and sights use access berlin, a free app to guide the top accessible attractions in the city.
The Helsinki Cathedral and 700-year-old Turku Castle each have at least one accessible entrance. The Jumbo shopping center offers 86,100 square meters of stores and restaurants. The adjacent Flamingo entertainment district has a spa, hotel, bowling center, movie theater and other accessible venues.
Santa Claus Village, in Rovaniemi, is open year-round. It features Santa’s post office, the Arctic Circle line, and Santa’s office, as well as restaurants and shops. The Christmas theme park, Santa Park, is next door. People in wheelchairs and walkers can travel on maintained walkways and roads, and some accessible sleds may be available.
Finland’s public transit system contains ramps, lifts and wheelchair seats for the disabled Your companion or assistant rides for free. Many national parks and wilderness areas are accessible to the handicapped, including Hossa National Park, the indoor Finnish Nature Centre Haltia or the Kovero Heritage Farm, which recreates life in a farm circa 1900.
Vienna’s central district is designed for pedestrians, so you’ll have no trouble getting around with a wheelchair or walker. The city has sloped sidewalks and guiding strips for the blind in subways.
Vienna Hotels and Info, part of the Vienna Tourist Board, can help you book an accessible hotel.
See historical sites including its historic center, with its Baroque castles and the buildings and monuments of late-19th-century Ringstrasse. Vienna’s cobblestone streets are smoother than those in Paris or Rome, making sightseeing easier for people using walkers or wheelchairs.
The 862-foot Danube Tower is accessible via an elevator. The Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum) has a barrier-free entrance for wheelchair users.
The Schonbrunn Palace, a 1441-room Baroque imperial residence, has sprawling gardens and contains an array of ornate furnishings from several of the Habsburg dynasties. There is barrier-free access to the display rooms and free admission for a person accompanying a wheelchair visitor.
Colorado is a winter wonderland, and Denver is at the epicenter of all the snowy fun.
The National Sports Center for the Disabled is open year-round. It offers group and private lessons in adaptive alpine skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at Winter Park Resort or Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Denver. Family lessons, which include teaching a parent or spouse on how to assist a disabled individual, are available.
The Wilderness on Wheels Foundation provides access to nature through campsites, cabins and a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk near the Continental Divide.
The Colorado State Park system offers winter fishing, sports and nature trails. At Navajo State Park in the southern part of the state, you may see bald eagles or Canadian geese. Mueller State Park, west of Colorado Springs, is a great spot for watching elk, mule deer and black bears. The park offers cabins, cottages and winter sports.
Mueller State Park is close to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which protects one of the most important fossil beds in the world. Pike’s Pike Cog Railway, the world’s highest cog railway, travels to the top of Pike’s Peak at 14,115 feet. You will need to let the ticket agents know in advance if you use a wheelchair.
Check out performances at the Buell Theater or Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver if indoor fun is more your style. Both venues have wheelchairs for rent and accessible drinking fountains and restrooms.
For walker-accessible winter vacations, consider London around Christmas.
Check out a list of the top 20 accessible attractions, including the British Museum and Buckingham Palace. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland has many shows, including the Nutcracker on Ice and Circus Megadome. All public walkways and attractions have disabled access and disable people can park free of charge.
Located in the center of the city, the London Eye offers 360-degree views of the House of Parliament and the River Thames from its “capsules.” Book a wheelchair-accessible time slot to enjoy the view. Mobility scooters are also acceptable as long as they can fit in the 37-inch boarding gate and ramp.
Outside London, you can mark the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge. Stonehenge Tours offer accessible trails and a grass path and tarmac around the outer circle, weather permitting.
Explore the English countryside outside London by visiting one of the many National Trust properties. In the Midlands, Attingham Park in Shropshire has wheelchair access to all areas but the first floor. This 18th-century mansion has Regency interiors, with a deer park and accessible trails on the grounds.
Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, one of Britain’s great Elizabethan houses, has a ramped entrance. The ground floor is accessible, with an accessible outdoor garden and trails. Objects in the hall include a 16th-century German jewel chest and carved stone strap work.