Friday, July 15, 2022

Top Wheelchair Hiking Trails - Northern California

Back when we were based in the Los Angeles area, we came up with a list of Southern California's Top Wheelchair hiking trails. Now that we live in the northern half of the state, we figure it's time to start another list up here. We're also lucky that Tim is finally starting to show an interest in the world outdoors so we're able to attack it a little better now than we were back in L.A. 

This will be an ongoing list, with additions as we find and experience them. Here is our list of the best wheelchair accessible hiking trails in Northern California.

ELFIN FOREST, Baywood Park (Morro Bay) - So called because the coastal live oaks that grow here are stunted due to poor soil conditions and consant winds. They rarely get over 10 feet tall here.

A one mile interpretive, boardwalk train winds through the dunes here in the southern end of Morro Bay. 

Although the trail has many trailheads, only the entrance on 16th Street is accessible. There are two handicapped parking spots, neither are paved but should not prove to be a problem.

In addition to exploring the little oak trees, interpretive stations explain the flora and fauna of the region in addition to telling stories of the Native Americans that used to live here. QR codes that you scan on your phone are used to explain each stop.

Along the trail, there are also a couple of spurs to viewpoints where you can get great views of the estuary and Morro Rock in the distance.

EARTHQUAKE TRAIL, Point Reyes National Seashore - A flat, paved, quarter-mile loop takes you to the San Andreas Fault and back.

You can see where a fence was torn in two during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the two sections displaces 16 feet from each other along with many other interpretive exhibits of tectonic geology.

It's shady with a few meadows to transit but be aware of poison oak. Handicapped parking,  accessible restrooms, and a picnic area with tables are at the trailhead.

CALAVERAS BIG TREES, Arnold - A not quite two mile long trail runs through the North Grove in this state park giving you an up close and personal look at the largest living things on earth, the Giant Sequoia trees of California. Paved in parts, boardwalked in others, but mostly hard packed dirt, this mostly level trail can have some minor bumps along the way but almost any chair user can handle it.

COOKS MESA, Campo Seco - Part of the Coast to Crest Trail, this spartan, rural trail along the banks of Lake Camanche in Calaveras County will give you a bit of a test.

It's not paved but most of it is smooth graded. You share the trail with horses and bikes. The path from the trailhead (on Buena Vista Road south of Valley Springs) is the bumpiest part but can be handled by most chairs.

There are a few hills that can be a bit of a challenge along the way. The day we went, Tim's chair (which can usually go 5+ miles on a charge) barely made 3 miles...1.5 miles each way...and it was close. This is one of the toughest trails on this list. It is accessible but will challenge power chair batteries and manual users need to be in good shape or have pushers in good shape to come along.

Still, the scenery is very nice...rolling oak hills, a lake, seasonal streams...and views of wildlife can be had. We saw many hawks, vultures, a couple of bald eagles, jays, deer, squirrels. In the warmer months, snakes are not uncommon.

The area is owned by the East Bay Municipal Utility District and you must buy a pass online before using. Click on the links to get your pass.

COAST TRAIL, Half Moon Bay - This 11 mile, mostly paved and all-accessible trail runs from Half Moon Bay Golf Links at the south end of the bay to Maverick's Beach at the north. Along the way, you'll travel on top of cliffs, roll through nature preserves, get in some bird watching, get close to the water, and...if you're lucky...see surfers tackle some of the biggest and most dangerous waves in the world.

CONSUMNES RIVER PRESERVE, Galt - A one and a half mile accessible trail leads to wetlands, ponds, forests, and river habitat.

In the fall, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate to the ponds here. The trails are either paved, hard packed, or boardwalk and are very easy on wheelchairs.

DONNER CAMP HISTORICAL TRAIL, Truckee - Most people have heard of the Donner Party tragedy that took place in the brutal winter of 1846-47 and a lot of people have visited the Donner Memorial near Donner Lake next to Interstate 80. There was also another camp, where the Donner's split off from the rest of the party, 6 miles away at Alder Creek, just north of Truckee.

A 1/3 mile loop trail with interpretive markers map out the area the the Donner family made camp at, including a dead tree trunk marking where they made shelter. It is here that George Donner and his wife, Tamsen, met their ends, along with several others.

The trail can get narrow and a little rough at times but most wheelchairs can get through the hard packed dirt and occasional boardwalk. Tim is navigating the roughest and narrowest part of the trail, above.

FRAZIER FALLS TRAIL, Plumas National Forest - A true, high-altitude mountain trail to a large, Alpine waterfall is usually off-limits to wheelers but someone found a way to pave a trail that climbs over a rocky, boulder strewn ridge to get to two very nice viewing platforms for this fall.

Frazier Falls drops 176 feet down a glacier carved cliff 6,000 feet up into the Sierras. Just getting to the parking lot is an adventure. You'll need your own car to drive off of highway 89 near Graeagle to head west on Gold Lake Highway for a couple of miles, and then pay close attention to find Frazier Creek Road. It's another five miles on basically a single lane, potholed road where you will finally find a small parking lot with half a dozen spaces, one handicapped, and two accessible pit toilets. 

This is the trailhead. It's a quarter mile to a wooden bridge crossing Frazier Creek...the source of the falls...and another quarter over the ridge to the platform across the canyon to see the falls for a mile round trip.

The trail is smooth and paved the entire way and fairly level. There are a couple of small uphill sections that might challenge solo manual chair users but if you have someone to help push or are confident of your upper body strength, you should be fine. Power chairs will have no problems, just make sure your battery is charged.

SUNDIAL BRIDGE, Redding - A stunning landmark which is an actual and giant sundial, crosses the Sacramento River here in Redding and connects to the 12 mile accessible Sacramento River Trail on the other side. There's also a zoo and botanical garden here on either side of the bridge (bridge and trails are free, entrance fees apply to the zoo and garden).

EL DORADO TRAIL, Placerville - El Dorado County has a goal to build a trail that goes all the way from the county line in the west end of the county, near Latrobe, to Lake Tahoe at the eastern end. So far, they have made it to Camino, which is the home of the famous and popular Apple Hill area.

The part of the trail that runs from the western side of Placerville to Camino is paved and is wheelchair accessible. That section is a little less than 15 miles.

We hiked the five mile section from Missouri Flat Road, on the west end, to downtown Placerville in the east. There are no bathrooms on this route, althought there are at the downtown end.

A small parking lot is at the trailhead here (nextdoor to Sierra Door company but do not park in their lot) with two handicapped parking spaces. If the lot is full, you can also park at the Walmart, across the street.

With very little elevation to speak of, it's not a hard trail. We chose it because we could end up on a street with several good restaurant options to finish up our hike with.

It's a very scenic trail leading past cow pastures, forests, and peoples backyards. 

The highlight of the trail is crossing the old railroad trestle that crosses high over Weber Creek.

It's been upgraded with a flat, wooden deck and fence on each side that people leave "love locks" on.

JOHNNY CASH TRAIL, Folsom - A 6.3 mile trail that debuted in 2017 in this city just east of Sacramento. Starting at the Folsom Powerhouse State Park, this smooth, wheelchair accessible trail has an 839 foot elevation gain but most of that comes in the far eastern portion of the trail near Folsom Lake.

You can avoid most of that by taking the spur that leads to the gate of Folsom State Prison, where the namesake of this trail...Johnny Cash...performed two very historic concerts for the prisoners here.

Yes, the city is kind of cashing in on this by dropping his name on this trail but it is still a very nice trail, crossing a gurgling seasonal creek at Robber's Ravine and winding through hillside filled with wildlife.

The day we hiked it we saw great blue herons, wild turkeys, numerous mule deer, a coyote, and several grazing cattle. Parking is available near the Powerhouse trailhead and by the city library and zoo on Sutton Street a little east of the Powerhouse State Park.

SUTTER AMADOR HOSPITAL WALKING TRAIL, Jackson - Not advertised (you won't find it on the Sutter hospital or Sutter Health websites) but there is a very nice little one mile, hard packed dirt loop next to the hospital that starts in a small meadow next to the outpatient parking lot where a sign denotes the start of the trail.

It loops down to the banks of Jackson Creek then up into the rolling hills behind the hospital. Free parking is available at the outpatient parking lot.

MOUNT ZION STATE FOREST, Pine Grove - At about 3,000 feet, just south of the town of Pine Grove, sits this 1.5 mile (out and back) trail to a mountain top.

From Highway 88, turn south on Mt. Zion Road, just past the Shell Station, for an easy 1 mile drive to the parking area. There are no restrooms, trash cans, or accessible parking but the regular parking area should be sufficient. A break in the fence allows access to the trail.

The "official" trail is not accessible but just follow the immediate left fork to go the the access road that is adjacent. Follow this road for 3/4 of a mile. 

It's uphill but should pose no problem for power chairs. Manual users do need to be strong or have a strong pusher to help.

A fire lookout sits atop the mountain.

There are a number of areas to check out the view through the trees to the valley below or the mountains around Lake Tahoe to the east.

A lookout gazebo with a picnic table, built by a local Eagle Scout, provides a good rest stop for a picnic before heading back down.

TRUCKEE RIVER BIKE TRAIL, Tahoe City - Starting at the outflow of the Truckee River as it drains Lake Tahoe, this trail goes for seven and half miles along the banks of the river. Traffic can get a bit heavy with bikes so keep you wits about you as you enjoy the river scenery filled with rafters heading down the gentle rapids.

YOSEMITE VALLEY, Yosemite National Park - Not a single trail but a series made of of miles of accessible trails crisscross the Yosemite Valley taking you over the Merced River and affording million-dollar views of the sheer cliffs of the valley mountains and stunning waterfalls, including the tallest waterfall in the nation, Yosemite Falls (pictured behind Tim, above).

Darryl Musick
Copyrigh 2021 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 11, 2022


UpTake Travel Gem

If you haven’t read Tim’s reports on preparing for this trip (this is his first time planning a trip), be sure to check out what it took to plan and prepare for this trip in a wheelchair.

In Part 1 of this report, we arrive in St. Louis to a fabulous hotel, get frustrated at a very inaccessible national park, and take a cruise on the Mighty Mississippi.  Now, it's game time.

Watch the Video!

It’s a short, two block walk to Busch Stadium from our hotel. Knowing us though, we walk to the part of the stadium furthest from our seats, so we need to walk around it back to home plate to find the Will Call booth to pick up our tickets. We do and head on inside.

Our tickets today are in the Infield Redbird Club. This is a semi-private (meaning anyone can buy tickets to it but only ticket holders have access to it) section next to the press box overlooking homeplate from the first base side to the third base side. It’s the second deck up. We sit on the third base side in the closest accessible seats to home plate. There is an overhang from the deck above but it does not block our view in any way. We have great views of the city, the arch, and our hotel just beyond center field.

The club also has an expansive indoor area with tables and booths. There is a large food court with ballpark staples like hot dogs, beer, and popcorn. There are also more specialty foods like pulled pork, barbecue, salad bar, and an Asian stir-fry bar that my wife took advantage of.
Each end of the food court area features a full bar. Unfortunately as you might expect of a team owned by InBev (and Anheiser Busch), all the tap beer is Budweiser, Bud Lite, Bud Select or some other variety of the town’s most famous product. It all tastes like water to me. They do serve a nice selection of microbrews and other brands, but only in the bottle.

Another knock on the stadium is that the food and drink prices are the highest we’ll encounter on the trip. Knocks aside, this is still a great stadium in one of the great baseball towns. Stadium toured, food and drinks purchased, it’s time to play ball as the Cardinals are hosting the Houston Astros…one of the worst teams in the league right now.

Ryan Ludwick scores in the first inning on a Matt Holliday ground out to give the Cards a quick 1-0 lead. Houston kills the no-hitter hopes in the third as Tommy Manzella gets a single but no runs are scored. Ludwick scores again as David Freese gets an RBI single.

That’s where the game stays until it all comes apart for St. Louis in the 7th. Carlos Lee of the Astros gets on first due to a throwing error. Hunter Pence doubles, sending Lee to third. Starter Brad Penny loads the bases by hitting Houston third baseman Geoff Blum. Two runs score on a Tommy Manzella sacrifice fly to right field. Pinch hitter Cory Sullivan brings Pence home on a single. Sullivan scores when center fielder Michael Bourn bunts a single.

Penny is taken out after this inning and replaced by Jason Motte. While the Cards were able to get another run in the bottom of the 7th, Motte gives up solo homers to Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence bringing the final score of the Cardinals loss to 6-2.

As any fan can tell you, a loss is tough but it’s still better than not being at the game. Being out-of-towners, we aren’t heartbroken and still have a fun time. On the walk back, we see this strange looking truck. A closer look shows there are two (clothed) strippers working a pole. It’s a moving billboard for several local strip clubs.

On a warm morning, fortified from our hotel breakfast, it’s time to explore the city. There’s a riverfront district called Lacledes Landing that looked interesting when we first got into town. We walk to the nearest Metrolink station about 3 blocks from the hotel. Metrolink is the trolley system here in St. Louis. My wife complains that it was just as far to walk to the station as it was to Lacledes Landing. Close, but I still think the trolley was closer plus I wanted to check it out for a future transit report.

Metrolink is 100% accessible. Every station has an elevator or is ramped. Each car has 4 locations where a seat can be folded up and a wheelchair put in its place.

We get day passes for my wife and I. It’s cheaper to buy each ticket separately for disabled riders ($1.10 for the trolley and $1 for the bus vs. $8 for a day pass) for the amount of rides we will take.

At Lacledes Landing, it’s a bumpy, cobblestoned area full of restaurants, bars, and just a few shops. Mostly closed restaurants, bars, and a few shops. I guess it’s more of a late night destination rather than a daytime jaunt.

Back on the trolley, we head to the end of the line at Shrewsbury on the southwest side of the city. By this time it was hot and muggy making the ½ mile walk we took excruciating. We were going to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard shop on the old Route 66.

We’ve heard about this place on many shows on the Food Network and the Travel Network as one of the icons of Route 66. This is particularly interesting to us because we live adjacent to a stretch of the Mother Road.

It’s hot and the custard is good but it’s halfway melted before we find a place to sit and eat it. By the way, Ted Drewes does not have a dining room, a dining area, or anywhere with tables or chairs. There are some bus stop benches on a nearby sidewalk, but that’s it. A bit of a disappointment after coming all the way out here.

On the way back, we stop at Union Station which used to be the massive St. Louis railroad station. It’s still massive and the old train barn is as huge as some of the stations I’ve seen in Europe such as Munich or London. Only thing is, it’s not a train station anymore. Now, it’s a mall with a small man-made lake, some restaurants, and a Marriott hotel. It’s very quiet and not bustling with life at all. It would have been nice if at least one or two platforms could have been saved. Amtrak now stops and a small platform near Busch Stadium.

I’m a bit disappointed in it.

We go back to the hotel, have dinner, and take a swim in the 8th floor pool and call it a leg.

Stay tuned as we head out to leg three of this Midwest Baseball Tour…Kansas City, Missouri.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved