A Path for Everyone
All can enjoy the outdoors with these accessible trailsBy Vanessa Infanzon
With 2023 being designated as the Year of the Trail in North Carolina, counties around the state are promoting hiking trails to historic sites and waterfalls, through marshes and woodlands, and over bridges, dams and creeks. These trails offer an invitation to view nature and learn a bit more about our state. Better still: everyone is invited. Many paths — paved, crushed gravel or boardwalk trails — are easy to navigate with a wheelchair and have wide lanes for people with vision impairments. Some paths are ADA Accessible, following the guidelines set by the federal government.
“Most people do not understand the difference an ‘accessible’ trail means to those who have special needs, disabilities of any nature or mobility challenges,” says Wake Electric member Laura Alden, whose daughter Sarah presents with cerebral palsy, affecting her intellectual and developmental functioning, as well as overall motor abilities. “Individuals in need of an accessible trail may struggle with the unevenness of gravel, and in particular, the slope or incline of a path. Persons with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, mobility challenges or those in need of assistive equipment, have a need for a smooth and predominantly flat surface to navigate gait, momentum and endurance.
“Being able to feel and to know that your Parks & Rec teams have made an effort to be inclusive in their trail plan makes a world of difference to be able to get some fresh air, natural sunshine and enjoy nature.”
Here are seven accessible trails to get you started:
1Crabtree Creek Greenway
Wake County | carync.gov
A 10-foot wide paved path brings visitors along the Crabtree Lake and through forests and wetlands, some of which may be seen on a 730-foot concrete boardwalk. The 2.2-mile trail, part of Raleigh's Capital Area Greenway system, includes a portion of the Black Creek Greenway and connects to White Oak Creek Greenway and Bond Park Lake Trail. Add a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Art or Cary’s newest district, Fenton, for shopping. Parking is available at Old Reedy Creek Road Trailhead, North Cary Park and Cedar Fork District Park, depending on where you get on the greenway.
2Creekside Park in Archdale
Randolph County | archdale-nc.gov
Three miles of paved trail meander through Creekside Park, following and crossing over Muddy Creek. The trail is part of the Piedmont Legacy Trails, a network of paths within several North Carolina counties. Creekside’s trail takes visitors past remnants of a flour mill dam built in the late 1800s and across a bridge, known as part of the first trading route from Fayetteville to Winston. Stop at the workout stations around the main loop, play disc golf or try the orienteering course. The trail leads to several amenities, including an ADA Accessible pirate-themed playground.
3Elkin & Alleghany Rail Trail
Surry County | elkinvalleytrails.org
Volunteers with Elkin Valley Trails keep the 1.3-mile E&A Rail Trail’s granite dust path clear and clean. Visitors traverse three bridges, view a dam and waterfall and can play three gongs — each made from various materials by local wood artist Bob Hillyer and other volunteers. The trail features a rest shelter, bathroom, benches and a series of historical markers for buildings, factories and town development along the way. The trail connects to Elkin Municipal Park, a 25-acre park with a wheelchair accessible 1-mile loop. Downtown Elkin is minutes away, offering coffeeshops, art studios, restaurants and shops.
4Fenwick-Hollowell Wetlands Trail
Pasquotank County | visitelizabethcity.com
The Fenwick-Hollowell Wetlands Trail, a half-mile raised boardwalk, winds through wooded swamp, wetland and marsh. Look for green heron, cardinals, flycatchers, vireos and other songbirds. The local Rotary Club added signs that identify native plants, trees and animals. Swing by Elizabeth City’s downtown for accessible and inclusive waterfront parks, eateries, craft breweries, boutique shopping and the Museum of the Albemarle. Accessible parking spaces are available in various parking areas behind the College of the Albemarle and adjacent to the trailheads.
5Tuckasegee River Greenway
Jackson County | discoverjacksonnc.com
With entrances to the Tuckasegee River Greenway in the towns of Cullowhee and Sylva, this shaded 1-mile out-and-back trail is popular for families with mixed mobility. The paved trail crosses a footbridge and follows the Tuckasegee River through wooded areas. The greenway offers accessible restrooms and parking. Make a pitstop in downtown Sylva for antique stores, boutique shops and restaurants.
6Wilma Dykeman Greenway
Buncombe County | traillink.com
Travel on this 2.2-mile ADA Accessible paved greenway, named for Asheville area native and author Wilma Dykeman. Stop at breweries, galleries and shops in the River Arts District. Continue along the French Broad River Greenway to reach French Broad River Park, Carrier Park and Hominy Creek River Park. Free accessible parking is available along the street or in the lots along Riverside Drive and Lyman Street.
7Yadkin River Greenway
Wilkes County | yadkinrivergreenway.com
Yadkin River Greenway is part of the 330-mile Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which follows the Patriot troops’ movements during the Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. The portion in Wilkes County is a 9.2-mile ADA Accessible paved path along the Yadkin River, through fields and woods and across a bridge. Trees along the greenway provide shade. Access picnic areas, urban parks, restaurants and shops in downtown North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro. Accessible parking is available at the multiple trailhead access points.
Know before you go
The great thing (and sometimes the worst thing) about hiking is it gets people into nature, with little to no experience or equipment required. First-time and seasoned hikers alike will do well to remember these basic guidelines.
- Make a plan. Decide on a location by researching maps and websites like greattrailsnc.com. Always let someone know where you’re headed and when you expect to return, says Randolph Country Trail Coordinator Mary Joan Pugh. Review and the trail features: parking, restrooms, length and level of difficulty of the trail, and the surface of the trail.
- Dress for the weather. Comfortable shoes or hiking boots with socks that won’t keep you too warm or slip are a necessity. Wear layers so you can peel off clothing when you get warm. Long pants can protect legs from vines and bushes, and hats keep you warm and shaded from the sun. Mary Joan recommends loose fitting clothes in the summer for circulation and snug layers in the winter. “Check on the weather just before you go,” she says, “so you know what gear to bring.”
- Pack a bag. Keep your hands free by packing the essentials in a backpack, Mary Joan says. Bring enough water and snacks appropriate for the rigor of the hike. Add bug repellant, sunscreen and a map of the area because your cell phone may not have service when you’re hiking.
- Leave no trace. Carry out what you brought in and consider picking up trash you see along the trail. Learn more.
Accessibility is important