Author Q & A
How do you decide what national parks to cover, and why did you pick Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton to include in this book?
I rely a lot on reader feedback and inquiries that I receive about the national parks. That’s why I started with Grand Canyon, as I had the most comments and questions about that park. Yellowstone is also very popular, but most folks forget about Grand Teton and Glacier — which are nearby — so I thought it would be a good idea to group them together. Plus there are a lot of accessible trails and lodging options in these parks.
What’s the best time to visit these parks?
That’s a tricky question. Summer is very crowded in these parks, but weather can be an issue in Spring and Fall. In fact, one year the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was not open until July. That said, on my last visit to Yellowstone we hit a very unseasonable snowstorm in early September. Still, if I had my pick I’d go in the Fall. On the other hand, if you absolutely have to visit in the summer, try to plan a mid-week visit, as weekends and holidays are an absolute zoo in the parks.
I’d like to visit all three parks in one trip. Is that possible?
Absolutely — that’s why I grouped them together. I even included some sample itineraries at barrierfreeyellowstone.com/suggested-itineraries.
I don’t drive and I use a manual wheelchair. Is there any way for me to visit at least one of these national parks without a car?
My suggestion is to take Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, which runs from Spokane to Chicago, and get off in West Glacier. From there you can take Xanterra’s accessible West Side Shuttle to Lake McDonald Lodge or the Village Inn at Apgar — both of which have accessible rooms. Lake McDonald and Apgar are easy to get around without a vehicle, and you can also take an accessible Red Bus Tour that goes up to Logan Pass and the accessible Trail of the Cedars. It’s a very accessible way to enjoy the park without your own vehicle.
Were any of the accessible facilities damaged or destroyed in the 2017 fires in Glacier?
Thankfully none were damaged but a few were threatened. In fact, during on our visit, Lake McDonald Lodge was evacuated and hose lays we set up around the structure for protection. The Trail of the Cedars was also closed, and sprinklers were installed around it to deter the flames. Unfortunately the historic Sperry Chalet was lost in the fire, but that is located in the back country and it’s not wheelchair-accessible.
I’d love to visit Old Faithful in Yellowstone. Is it accessible?
Yes, it is. A level boardwalk encircles it, and there are benches to sit and watch the eruption, or to just take a break. And if heat is an issue for you, there’s a seating area inside the new visitor center which offers a good view of the geyser.
That said, even though Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the park, there are some that are much more spectacular. I recommend a visit to Midway Geyser Basin, which features a mile-long accessible boardwalk that winds past Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool and Grand Prismatic Spring — the largest hot spring in the park. It’s very nicely done access-wise and a great photo op.
You never hear much about Grand Teton National Park. Are there any accessible trails there?
Absolutely. The eight-mile Multiuse Trail runs from Jenny Lake to the park entrance. This paved trail is wide and mostly level, with several access points along its length. There’s also an accessible trail along Colter Bay. And finally, thanks the $19 million Jenny Lake Renewal Project, a portion of Jenny Lake Trail is now accessible. From the Jenny Lake Visitor Center this accessible half-mile loop leads out to the lakeshore. past the boat dock and back to the visitor center. And if you’d like to stop and admire the view, there are also benches along the shore.
How did you decide what properties to include in this book?
Well first I included all of the properties inside the national parks that have accessible rooms. Then I went to the nearby gateway communities, and picked out some of the more accessible choices. It basically boiled down to location and access. The properties inside the parks are great, but I wanted to give my readers more options in case they were booked.
How did you determine what was “accessible” as far as hotels are concerned? Do all of the included properties have roll-in showers?
“Accessible” is a very broad term, because what may work for one person may be totally unsuitable for another person. Basically I looked at what the property managers indicated were their accessible rooms, and then I described the access so my readers can determine if it will or won’t work for them. No, not all of the included properties have roll-in showers, but then again not everyone requires one. Additionally, under the law, a room can be “accessible” and not have a roll-in shower. In the end I included a wide range of properties, so my readers would have choices.
How long did it take you to research the book?
I’ve visited the parks many times over the past 10 years, but my final research trip in 2017 took about three months. Of course the pre-trip research and planning for that visit was extensive, so let’s just say that I have a lot time invested in this book.
Did you encounter any problems while researching this book?
Mother Nature certainly threw a wrench into our plans with an early snowstorm in Yellowstone. I had to reschedule nearly all of my site visits due to road closures. Thankfully we built in extra time to our itinerary. Then there were the wildfires up in Glacier, and the evacuations associated with that disaster. And in Grand Teton we ran into more snow. It was a challenge — at one point I was walking through a campground covered in two feet of snow — but we managed to get it all done. Now I can look back on it and laugh!
Out of all the places you visited while researching this book, do you have a favorite?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I really love the Faces of the Northern Range trail in Yellowstone. It’s trucked away along the road between Tower Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs, and it’s rarely crowded. Everyone just passes it right by! The half-mile accessible boardwalk winds through the sagebrush and shrub-lined landscape and features scenic views of Yellowstone’s Northern Range in the distance. It’s a very well designed trail, with magnificent views of the surrounding landscape.
If you could offer one piece of advice about visiting these parks, what would it be?
Plan ahead, but be flexible in case of weather delays. And make your lodging reservations early, especially if you want to stay inside one of the parks.
What’s next for you book-wise?
I’m currently working on the second edition of Barrier-Free Travel; Grand Canyon National Park for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. It will include access updates, additional lodgings, and information about lodgings and attractions along Route 66 and the I-40 corridor in Western Arizona.