Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Wheelchair Accessible Trails and Outings on Cape Cod

Fall is a fabulous time to visit Cape Cod - the weather is often milder than on the mainland and the crowds tend to thin out. I just spent Columbus Day weekend in the mid-cape area and discovered that there are quite a few wheelchair accessible trail outings available to those seeking quiet time in nature. Freshwater ponds and wetlands, cedar swamps, and salt marshes are just some of the exciting options to explore. You never know what you'll find on the way to such places too. I lucked out and came upon a cranberry harvest along the roadside!

Key information for visitors with disabilities to Cape Cod include two foundational opportunities. The 22 mile Cape Cod Rail Trail offers a paved linear bike trail through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans  Eastham and Wellfleet, passing through Nickerson State Park about mid-way in Brewster. Both of these state parks offer accessible opportunities managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Wheelchair accessible yurts at Nickerson State Park provide a comfortable base in the summer and early fall for accessible explorations of the region. Yurts are canvas-sided cabin-like structures with furniture, limited electricity and a water spigot. If this sounds appealing, consider reserving one of these popular sites for 2021 six months prior to the date you'd like to go via Reserve America

From Nickerson State Park, you can explore either direction on the rail trail. If you don't have your own adaptive bike, no worries. Spaulding Adaptive Sports' McGraw Center offers adaptive biking on the Cape Cod Rail Trail a few times a week from spring through mid-October. Check out their full menu of adaptive recreation programs at Nickerson State Park as well as eastern Massachusetts year round here

There are some noteworthy shorter accessible trail excursions scattered around the mid-cape area. Checking those in Chatham and Harwich will get you exploring off the main highway through small towns. I especially appreciate small town conservation properties for quieter trails but restrooms are usually not available. Wellfleet's trails are easy to find off Route 6 and will likely have restrooms, but check websites to find out whether they are open during the pandemic and/or off season.


Chase Park - short accessible trail in a town park to view a historic grist mill and chartres-style labyrinth.

Sylvan Gardens Conservation Area - the quarter mile Sylvan Path ends at an accessible viewing platform overlooking two ponds.


A. Janet DeFulvio Wildlife Sanctuary Boardwalk - takes you to a salt marsh and view of an osprey nesting platform.

Lee Baldwin Memorial Woodlands - red maple swamp trail with boardwalk and bench honors local conservationist.


Cape Cod National Seashore - Doane Trail is a half mile loop trail through an pine oak woodland with interpretive stops near the Salt Pond Visitor Center. A picnic area is adjacent to the parking lot for the trail. The Buttonbush Trail is next to the Visitor Center, with a quarter mile length oriented towards people with vision impairment - only the first half is wheelchair accessible.

Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary - a quarter mile wheelchair accessible sensory trail to Goose Pond, right on the edge of the bayside salt marsh. A self-guided audio tour with 13 stops provides excellent highlights of nature along the way, including the chance to view and touch whale bones. You can listen to the audio tour online prior to coming and/or download it to bring with you. It conveys a wonderful sense of the history of land use in addition to featuring the various habitats here. This trail is designed to include people with vision impairments and is one of a dozen or more accessible sensory trails Mass Audubon has established at sanctuaries around the state.

Other noteworthy trail opportunities closer to the mainland: 


Shining Sea Bikeway - an 11 mile bike path travels from Woods Hole north through Falmouth near the coastline of Buzzards Bay. This is a very popular bike path but well worth the venture - spring, fall and early in the morning are your best bets for a less crowded experience.

Two Ponds Conservation Area - a new short accessible trail with low visitation travels alongside an Atlantic white cedar swamp and ponds and is especially lovely in fall.

Additional Accessible Camping and Lodging:


Wellfleet Hollow State Campground - accessible campsites in quieter newly renovated campground


SMILE Mass Beach House - accessible town house on the beach includes floating beach wheelchair

Planning an Accessible Vacation on Cape Cod:

Cape Cod Days - Your GoTo Cape Cod Guide

DCR (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation) advocates for people to stay close to home and visit parks within walking distance or a short drive. If you plan to venture further afield, as well as on any outing, please protect yourself and others. In addition to following safe practices outlined by the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, please be sure to follow these additional DCR guidelines for safe park visiting:

  • Minimize outdoor recreational time to limit potential exposure to COVID-19;
  • Stay within solitary or small groups, and avoid gatherings of ten or more people;
  • Practice social distancing of at least six feet between individuals;
  • Administer healthy personal hygiene, such as handwashing for at least 20 seconds;
  • Participate in only non-contact recreational activities;
  • Leave a park or area should large gatherings begin to build; and,
  • Stay home if ill, over 70, and/or part of a vulnerable population

Friday, October 2, 2020

Find Fall Delights at the D.A.R. State Forest

Fall is a great time to visit the Daughters of the American Revolution (D. A. R.) State Forest in Goshen, Massachusetts, part of the Berkshire region. Color is already well underway around beautiful Highland Lake. Yesterday I observed a few people on the beach and trails and kayaking on the water. Often busy in the summer, the park remains active but attendance is low in fall - perfect for a pandemic getaway day. 

Though 25 years old, the lakeside wheelchair accessible trail is in fantastic condition, thanks to park staff maintenance and a recent re-surfacing. This quarter mile stone dust trail runs from the first boat launch - known as the "kayak beach" to the campground road. It is entirely forested and along the way you'll find accessible fishing spots, a gazebo, and numerous benches. The trail is often flat, with some gentle grades that shouldn't pose a significant challenge.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fall Explorations at Mt. Tom State Reservation

A popular spot in the Pioneer Valley, Mt. Tom State Reservation is located in Holyoke, not far off I-91, making for an easy destination in the more populated lower portion of the valley. A wheelchair accessible loop trail along Lake Bray has been in existence for 25 years. In recent years an extension off the loop has been established to offer visitors with disabilities an opportunity to access a wetland view tucked at the base of the mountain. I investigated this season to see how well the trail has been holding up and found it in good condition. As summer winds down, the trails are less busy, so September and October are a great time to visit while the weather is warm and fall colors emerge.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Seekonk Town Hall Trails in SE Massachusetts

Trail head behind town hall.
The town of Seekonk in southeastern Massachusetts - not far from Providence, RI - has a nice accessible trail starting right at the town hall. This trails project, partially funded through DCR's Recreation Trails Grant program, offers visitors an opportunity to hike through the woods to a wetland view.

The town hall can be found at 100 Peck Street. Once there you'll find a brand new accessible playground right at the town hall, along with a picnic area and new parking lot. When I visited in August these new features were still under construction but close to being finished.

Shady deck ends the accessible trail portion.
A short partially paved access route will bring you to the start of the red trail just beyond the picnic tables. What I like about this short trail - just 1/6 of a mile - is how easy it is to slip into nature in an urban environment. The stone dust path soon reaches a trail junction. From here, the accessible yellow trail will take you through the woods to the YMCA. The red trail continues to a tiny observation deck before it changes to boardwalk that leads to a larger deck. Along this route you can observe various plants and potentially wildlife in a damp forest. Reaching the deck view completes the wheelchair accessible portion of the trail - a worthy and enjoyable journey. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Take a Tree Walk at Beaver Brook Reservation

In Belmont, there is a paved path known as the South Loop at Beaver Brook Reservation, that offers a self-guided urban tree walk and remembers massive oaks once located here. The trail has some steep grades, but is otherwise wheelchair accessible. With assistance of a physically fit companion, many wheelchair users can access this delightful path near Boston. There are several benches along the loop to stop and rest too.

I recommend parking in a 40 car lot on Waverly Oaks Road across from #520 to begin your excursion at Beaver Brook Reservation. You'll have to contend with a downgrade to get into the park (as shown in the first photo), but the paved path is 12 feet wide, which allows other people to pass by. The downgrade is 6-13% for 160 feet, followed by another at 10-18% for 60 feet - definitely significant, but doable with support if needed. A power wheelchair is unlikely to have an issue. You could also start out taking the roadside sidewalk and do a gradual descent into the park, then return the same way after exploring the park to avoid the steepest section. Just remember either way you will have to return uphill.

The park was well visited on a Thursday afternoon and likely is on any day of the week. No bathrooms here, so be forewarned.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Explore an Accessible Trail with Pond and Pavilion at Harold Parker State Forest

In northeastern Massachusetts is a large state forest called Harold Parker, named after the first chairman of the Forestry Commission over a hundred years ago. It is a gently rolling forest land dotted with ponds, rock outcroppings, and wetlands. In the vicinity of Berry Pond is a 1/2 mile accessible trail that makes for a nice outdoor exploration.

Berry Pond, a highlight of the state forest and located at 700 Middleton Road in North Andover, has several accessible features - parking, accessible bathrooms, an accessible boardwalk to a small beach,  beach wheelchairs and a trail head for the accessible trail. This is a popular weekend swimming and picnic area open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The road into this day use area closes after Labor Day, but you can still explore the area if you park nearby.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Chicopee Reservoir Path and Healthy Heart Trail

Approaching the beach
If you live in the Springfield area, the Reservoir Path at Chicopee Memorial State Park is a wheelchair accessible getaway to a natural setting. With fall coming, this park offers a great place to watch the leaves change color along the water.

Chicopee Memorial State Park is located east of Springfield just off exit 6 on the Mass Pike. The address is 570 Burnett Road, Chicopee, MA. The park is usually quite busy in the summer, but visitation  tapers off by mid-August. When I was there two weeks ago, only a few people were sunning themselves on the beach and a few families and individuals were out on trails. Most people were not wearing masks, but this did not present an issue as the trails are very wide. Dogs are allowed on leash.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Reflect on Healing in Nature at Attleboro Springs

Located in southeastern Massachusetts, the Attleboro Springs All Persons Trail is a fun and accessible exploration. This Massachusetts Audubon property has a special contemplative focus as it is just behind the national Catholic shrine known as Our Lady of La Salette. Here, along Brothers Pond, you can reflect on whatever needs your spiritual attention, or simply enjoy the nature of the place. This trail is also called the "Reflection Trail" and is on the grounds of a former healing sanitarium - a place devoted to healing conditions that cause suffering, often using the power of nature to support this process. 

The Reflection Trail is a half mile loop on level ground, with a six foot wide stone dust trail and several interesting stops along the way. It is almost entirely forested with a mix of oak and pine. Many trees are quite tall and in one spot along this trail you will likely notice a huge oak that has been blown down. After the pondside section near the beginning, you pass through a vernal pool - a seasonal pool often filled with water in spring and fall but typically dry in the summer, as it is now in our present drought conditions. There is an interesting side trail to an outcropping of puddingstone, as well as one into a circle of oaks. Puddingstone, said to resemble English plum pudding, was formed a billion years ago in northeastern Canada and delivered by glacier to this spot as well as other locations in New England. I learned this from the audio tour available for this trail.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Lake Park in Worcester Provides One-way Trail Loop

Thanks again to Laila Soleimani for her post!

I visited Lake Park, part of Quinsigamond State Park, on a hot summer Friday afternoon. Located at 283 Lake Avenue in Worcester, this urban park is across the street from Buffone Skating Arena, with tennis courts visible from the road which you will pass on your right as you pull into the parking lot. There are several accessible parking spots here: 2 in front of the tennis courts, 4 across from the trailhead, and 4 more by the swim beach. I was inspired to visit Lake Park after hearing there was a one-way trail loop system implemented in an effort to reduce contact with other trail users and promote social distancing while still being active outdoors.  You may also want to visit nearby Regatta Point at 10 N. Lake Ave. for views of Lake Quinsigamond. Both locations constitute Quinsigamond State Park.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Along the Old Mill Trail in the Berkshires

I visited the Old Mill Trail in Hinsdale, Massachusetts this spring. Located in the southern Berkshires off Route 8, this trail is an inviting streamside experience.  Recent improvements to correct a few bridge access issues along the trail have inspired me now to let others know about this wonderful accessible trail opportunity. It is a refreshing place to be outdoors on a hot day. The further you go down the trail, the deeper and cooler the woods become.

The wheelchair accessible portion of the Old Mill Trail is 3/4 of a mile along the 1.5 mile linear trail that starts at the intersection of Old Dalton Road and Route 8. Continuing on beyond the 3/4 mile accessibility point will soon get you into more roots and rocks as the trail crosses under Route 8 to its final turnaround point. Either way, bear in mind to double the distance for your total hiking mileage. The trail is flat to moderate terrain and hard-packed dirt and stone dust. A kiosk at the trail head will help with onsite orientation. You can also click here for a map.