For families, it can be a challenge to find local handicap-friendly ways to explore the great outdoors. We’re working to make it a little easier! Here are some fantastic places to hike with the whole family.
READ MORE: The Best Playgrounds In Fox Valley For Children With Safety Needs
For parents of children with disabilities, being in the great outdoors can feel like an overwhelming task, but the benefits of outdoor exercise, fresh air, and sunshine are even more important for adults and children with disabilities.
A study by psychologists at Stanford University found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting experienced a significant positive change in brain activity compared to people who walked in urban settings.
Because people with disabilities and their carers are at greater risk of depression, planning time outdoors is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. Hiking is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to incorporate the outdoors into a family’s schedule.
Click the name of the trail to jump!
- City and suburb settings
- Rural environment, nature centers, parks
Plan your hike
Jennifer Allen, mother of one child with spina bifida, blogs for Cascade Mountain Tech, an outdoor recreational equipment company. Jennifer has a lot of experience hiking with her three children and has the following recommendations:
- Just do it. Allen writes that hiking is worth it, even if it may be difficult at first. Prioritize time outside for your family.
- Prepare well in advance. Allen recommends expressly teaching children what to expect on hikes. Practice “hiking” in your neighborhood or just in your garden. Think about the barriers your family might face and make a plan. Common barriers include
- Fear of wildlife. Find out about the wildlife you might see along the way. Hike It Baby, a club that promotes hiking with children, has a comprehensive article on safety when encountering wildlife along the way. Practice their safety tips with your family before you leave. Connect with your local Hike It Baby group to meet other parents.
- Afraid of getting lost. Definitely don’t start with Yellowstone! Small hikes near the house on well-marked trails are the best choice. Rails-to-Trails routes are often the best way to get lost as it is almost impossible to get lost on this type of trail and it is usually well marked. If you are concerned that your child will run away, consider a leash and choose paths with natural obstacles on either side, such as a walkway. B. dense vegetation or wooden walkways.
- Lack of knowledge of trail etiquette. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources publishes a brochure on trail etiquette and safety. Before you set off, educate and practice hiker expectations with your family.
- Low stamina. Indeed, this can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Children and adults today do not have many opportunities to practice long walks without a break. Although your child can easily cover a mile while playing, this type of distance can be overwhelming. If you’re concerned about your stamina, use maps and tracking apps to point out places to rest, and try planning hikes that end with a motivational activity like a beach, ice cream parlor, or playground.
- Physical strength. Know your limits and seek physical support. Consider bikes, backpack racks, and all-terrain strollers if you can’t get far on your own. Two of the local nature centers, Mosquito Hill and 1000 Islands, have wheelchairs that you can borrow for your visit.
- Explore the trail. Allen writes: “Paths that are marked as child-friendly may not be wheelchair accessible. Paths marked as wheelchair accessible may not be smooth enough for the visually impaired. A perfectly smooth path that runs along a river may not be ideal for a kid on the spectrum with an irresistible attraction to water. National and state parks often have the most accommodations, but trails in each location can have what you need. ”Choose trails that best suit your family’s needs. And don’t be afraid to call park offices to inquire about specific routes and accommodations.
- Be flexible. Don’t be discouraged if the hike isn’t what you want, writes Allen. Nature is unpredictable and it can happen that a tree blocks your path or a washed-out path. The most important thing is to get out of there. Syren Nagakyrie, disability attorney and founder of Disabled Hikers, writes, “… Teach your family to mindfully enjoy their time outside, rather than focusing on how far or how fast you can go.
Trestle Trail Bridge on Loop-The-Little-Lake
Where to hike in the Fox Valley
Now that you’re ready for your hike, it’s time to choose a trail and get started! The following are local trails with a variety of accommodations.
City and suburb settings
You don’t have to get in the car for a long time to get to these trails, which are perfect for short, easy hikes for beginners, young and old. These paths are paved, which makes it easier for wheelchairs, strollers and bicycle trailers. They are well used but usually not overcrowded.
Newberry Trail, Appleton – This urban walkway runs along the Fox River in downtown Appleton and passes through Telulah Park, with access to bathrooms in warm weather and good lighting. It is connected to the Appleton Trail system and allows users to explore trestle bridges and downtown amenities, as well as seeing eagles, pelicans, ducks, geese, and many other species. The trail is a back and forth hike. Parking is available in Telulah Park.
Loop-The-Little-Lake, Neenah / Menasha – There is so much to see on the Loop-The-Little-Lake-Trail! The trail includes a large trestle bridge over Little Lake Butte Des Morts with spots for wildlife viewing and fishing. The trestle floor can be a little uneven, but there are tall fenced railings along the way that make it safe for young children. Muskrats, herons, ducks, loons, eagles and many other species can be seen. The entire trail is 3.5 miles over the trestle and around the southern end of the lake, but an easy walk across the lake on the trestle bridge is an excellent option for beginners. Parking and restrooms are available at Fritse Park and Smith Park, and parking is also available at Arrowhead Park.
Apple Creek Trail, Appleton – A little further out of town is the Apple Creek Trail, which stretches between Edgewood Drive and Mead Street. Scheels USA Youth Sports Complex, 3300 E Evergreen Dr. The trail has portable toilets and garbage bins spaced apart but doesn’t intersect with a park or indoor facilities. The path meanders through residential areas, but also offers nature and game viewing. It’s 3.9 miles long, but with parking in the middle of the trail, it’s really kind of a “back and forth” hike.
Old Stone Bridge Trail, Appleton – Connected to a hiking trail around Fox Valley Technical College, the Old Stone Bridge Trail is one of Appleton’s best kept secrets. The two trails combined are 5.4 miles of paved trails through a variety of ecosystems that are perfect for wildlife viewing. Parking is available at the trailhead at 3404 W Brewster St. One downside to this trail is that there aren’t any toilets along the way, although there are shops in several places near the tech.
Spring at the 1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukaun
Rural environment & parks
When you’re ready for a quieter, more natural setting, there are many options for accessible hiking trails in natural areas and state parks. Although these trails are paved and barrier-free, it’s always a good idea to call the park or nature reserve in advance to find out about the condition of the trails.
HHigh Cliff State Park, State Park Road, Sherwood – High Cliff is popular and can get downright crowded on summer weekends, but the loops of the Butterfly Pond Trail make the excursion worthwhile. The trail is easy to find, with parking right on the main entrance road and near the beach. Butterfly Pond Trail has two short loops: a 0.4 mile loop and a 0.7 mile loop. The trail, while short, features multiple ecosystems and plenty of wildlife. High Cliff can also be enjoyed from the car by driving up the paved roads and around the cliff itself. Stop by the Red Bird statue for breathtaking views of Lake Winnebago, and check out the new ADA-accessible playground at the top of the park.
1000 Islands Environmental Center, Beaulieu Court, Kaukaun – The 1000 Islands Center building is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. The building and promenade are wheelchair and stroller accessible, and the organization can even borrow a wheelchair and walker. The center has a paved path (the Black Top Loop, 0.75 miles) that connects to a 2,000-foot “barrier-free boardwalk”. Although originally designed for people with reduced mobility, we should point out that “barrier-free” means no railings or walls and the promenade is only 1.5 meters wide, making it difficult to pass others walking in the opposite direction. People who have difficulty controlling their direction should avoid this area. In addition, the cracked sidewalk was filled with gravel in places along the Black Top Loop. But the boardwalk and hiking trails definitely get you close to the river, with incredible wildlife views and remain relatively easy to navigate. The center also offers many family-friendly educational programs throughout the year.
Mosquito Hill Nature Center, N3880 Rogers Rd, New London – Buildings open Tuesday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Masks are compulsory in the interpretation center and in barrier-free toilets. Although the information center is unfortunately closed at this time, Mosquito Hill has an accessible trail called the All People’s Trail. Does not meet the ADA requirements due to the changed grade requirements. This paved 1 mile (1.6 km) trail passes two ponds, passes the woods, and crosses the prairie. Natural exhibits are marked. A push and electric wheelchair are available for checking out in the center. Binoculars are available for checking out. Junior naturalist program for children.
Brillion Nature Center, W1135 Deer View Road, Brillion – While the focus is on helping older visitors, anyone with limited mobility can enjoy the accessible Cottonwood Trail (0.6 miles) or the Marsh Platform Trail, which ends at the wildlife viewing platform. Note: While the paths are open every day from morning to evening, the nature center building is generally closed on weekends.
Curious about other accessible hiking trails in Wisconsin? Go to the Trail Link map of accessible hiking trails in Wisconsin and create a free account.