It’s Camping Season! Follow These Tips for a Great Experience Camping With a Disability

It’s Camping Season! Follow These Tips for a Great Experience Camping With a Disability

Camping with a disability is very manageable if you plan in advance.

Spending time in nature is one of my all-time favorite forms of recreation. Whether I’m kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, or camping, nature is my happy place. 

Maybe you love the outdoors as much as I do, but you’re hesitant to try camping because you live with paralysis and think it just won’t work. Well, I can tell you from personal experience that camping with a disability – even if you use a wheelchair – isn’t just possible; it can be amazing. 

That said, camping with a disability does require more planning. But if you follow these tips and check out the resources below, you can have a terrific experience in the great outdoors.

Find an Accessible Campground

Many campgrounds are more accessible than you might think. Of course, you need to choose one that you can drive up to, rather than one that requires you to haul in all of your camping gear. And make sure the campground has accessible trails, paved pathways or boardwalks, and bathrooms that can accommodate a wheelchair.

Although you can glean some information from campground websites, it’s best to call ahead of time and ask specific questions. Some campgrounds may claim that they’re “accessible”, but in reality there could still be plenty of barriers. Everyone has different abilities, so when you call, ask about things you know you will need. To get you started, here’s a checklist of things you might need:

  • Accessible restrooms 
  • Roll-in shower 
  • Paved or accessible paths to the restroom and shower 
  • Accessible parking 
  • Electricity for charging equipment 
  • Outdoor recreation equipment rental 
  • Accessible trails and trail width 
  • Accessible docks and kayaking 
  • Accessible fishing spaces 
  • Navigable slope and terrain of the camping area 
  • Accessible picnic tables and fire pits 
  • Hard-surfaced picnic areas
  • Access to an off-road wheelchair

(Thanks to the United Spinal Association for this list.)

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. For example, I recently went camping with my son’s scout troup, and the campground’s website said it was “accessible”. That was true, sort of. For example, there were paved roads and accessible bathrooms. However, the group site that the scouts used was about 200 yards from the parking lot (oops). 

Fortunately I could make the trek because I don’t need a wheelchair full time, but I still needed other people to carry all my gear. And it was a lot more walking than I had counted on. If I had called ahead, I could have found this out beforehand and asked the leader of the scout troop to pick another campground, or at least I would have been more mentally prepared.

Pack Everything You Will Need

Living with paralysis requires a lot of gear, from your wheelchair and accessories to bathroom supplies to medications. Forgetting anything crucial can ruin your camping experience, so pack carefully. In particular, don’t forget:

  • Spare parts for your wheelchair, such as tubes in case you get a flat, a tire repair kit, tools for making adjustments, etc.
  • Seat cushions, attachable bags for carrying gear, and other wheelchair accessories
  • Backup power if you have a power wheelchair
  • Extra crutch tips if you walk on crutches. I’ve lost more than one crutch tip in the mud on hikes, and I’ve also made the mistake of going on outdoor adventures with crutch tips that were nearly worn out without bringing replacements.
  • Medications (Bring extra incase you lose some or drop it in the dirt.)
  • Bathroom supplies, including adult-sized body wipes to use if the bathrooms aren’t as accessible as you’d hoped
  • A headlamp, which is crucial for those of us who use a wheelchair or crutches because we can’t easily hold a flashlight 
  • A cot, which is much easier to transfer onto than a camping mattress on the ground
  • A tent that’s big enough to accommodate both your wheelchair and the cot. I’d suggest something with large doors like the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6-Person Tent. That way, you can get your wheelchair at least halfway in and transfer to the cot. Also make sure the tent has a large vestibule for storing your wheelchair overnight protected from the weather
  • Something like the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment (if you have the budget), which attaches to the footrest and makes it much easier to push over rougher terrain.

Book an Accessible Campsite, and Set it up Right

The campground itself may be accessible, but that doesn’t mean that any random campsite at the campground will be. Book a campsite that:

  • Has an accessible parking space nearby and plenty of space at the site itself
  • Is close to potable water and bathroom facilities, with paved surfaces (and no stairs) to both
  • Ideally has a raised platform for your tent, which will make it easier to transfer into

Once you’ve found a good campsite, set it up so there’s plenty of room to maneuver your wheelchair between the tent, picnic table, and fire pit. And don’t forget to place anything you need to use, such as kitchen utensils or trash bags, low enough to reach. 

Bring a Friend (or Two or Three)

Outdoor adventures are always more fun when they’re shared, but that’s especially true if you live with a disability. The fact is that you probably will need some help setting up the tent, cooking, getting around, etc. And that’s OK – just bring some understanding companions along with you to provide assistance when needed, and you all will have a great time.

Plan Outdoor Activities in Advance

There’s nothing worse than getting all set up at a campground and then finding out that the hike or other activity you’d been planning isn’t actually accessible. Figure out ahead of time what you will and won’t be able to do. Park rangers and other personnel will be happy to help you identify accessible hiking trails, wheelchair-friendly places to fish, etc.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you don’t have much experience with travel or outdoor activities, camping for the first time may seem intimidating. And honestly, I understand how you feel. I’ve pushed my limits enough times to know that it can be uncomfortable.

But I also firmly believe that doing things that make you a little uncomfortable from time to time is how you grow. So if you’d like to go camping, but it seems too difficult, go anyway. Just get out there and give it a shot. Chances are, you’ll have a great time and learn something about yourself along the way — like the fact that you’re not as limited as you thought.

Resources

Here are plenty of other resources to help you plan your next great camping adventure. 

Accessible Cabins and Campsites: 

Accessible Camping Tips: 

Accessible Camping Equipment: 

New Mobility: 

Remember, the outdoors is for everyone. With a little planning, camping is something that anyone can enjoy. If you recently went on a great (or not so great) camping trip, I’d love to hear about it! Please share your experience in the comments.

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