Accessible Side Trips Near Utah’s Mighty Five

Although there’s no shortage of accessible things to do in Utah’s national parks, many nearby areas are also good choices for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. Here’s a rundown of some favorites.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Viewing platform at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Viewing platform at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Located 30 miles southeast of Zion National Park, off of Highway 89, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. Although this small park is a favorite for off-road enthusiasts, the unique color of the sand dunes is a draw for many visitors. Surrounded by Navajo sandstone, the coral pink sand dunes get their color from the high concentration of iron oxide in the sand. Accessible parking is available in the first turnout past the park entrance, with a short level trail out to a viewing platform that overlooks a vast stretch of dunes. There’s also a paved level trail out to an accessible picnic area which has accessible tables on cement pads. Accessible restrooms are located in the parking lot.

Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Mountain at Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Mountain at Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park, which is located 50 miles west of Zion National Park, makes a nice side trip for people staying in nearby St. George. Alternatively it’s a good place to stop enroute to the national park. The three-mile Whiptail Trail begins near the park entrance and runs along the base of this sandstone canyon, before it terminates at the Upper Galoot Picnic Area. The trail is wide, paved and mostly level, and it’s a good option for most wheelchair-users and slow walkers. If you can’t manage the entire length of the trail, there are several other access points near parking areas along the main park road. There’s also a shaded picnic table, an accessible restroom and water available in the lower Galoot Picnic Area. Although the picnic table isn’t technically accessible, it requires a short roll over a level grassy area, and is doable for most folks. It’s important to note that there’s no shade along this trail, so start early in the day and take along plenty of water.

Gunsmoke Filming Site

Filming site for vintage Gunsmoke TV series

Filming site for vintage Gunsmoke TV series

Fans of the vintage Gunsmoke TV series will want to make a short detour to the former filming site of this popular western. It’s located east of Kanab, and it makes a good stop while traveling between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Take Highway 89 towards Page, then make a left on Johnson Canyon Road. The filming site – which is now pretty dilapidated – is located five miles up the road on the right, across the street from the Indian Cliffs Canyon Ranch. There’s just a wide spot in the road to pull over, and if you look real hard you might be able to make out the marshal’s office and doc’s place in the distance. After the series went off the air, the site was purchased by a private investor who hoped to turn it into a theme park type attraction, but over the years it’s fallen into disrepair. Still it’s a fun nostalgic stop, and as an added bonus, the scenic drive through Johnson Canyon is nothing short of spectacular.

Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage

The Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage

The Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage

The Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage makes a good side trip from Arches National Park. It’s housed in the Red River Cliffs Lodge, which is located along scenic Highway 128. The drive itself is beautiful too, as the road travels alongside a scenic slice of the Colorado River. The museum is located just off the front lobby, but the accessible entrance is located around back. It’s usually kept locked, so just inquire at the front desk if you can’t manage the stairs up to the front entrance. The museum contains memorabilia from the over 120 movies shot in the area, including City Slickers II, Back to the Future III, Thelma and Louise and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There’s no admission charge and it’s a fun stop for film buffs.

Red Canyon

Highway pullout view at Red Canyon

Highway pullout view at Red Canyon

Often called “Little Bryce”, Red Canyon is located along a short stretch of Scenic Byway 12, northwest of Bryce Canyon City. It’s a lovely drive, and it makes a good stop on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park. The Red Canyon Bicycle Trail, which is located right alongside the highway, runs for eight miles through scenic Red Canyon, before it connects to the new Bryce Canyon Shared Use Path. Although the trail is paved and fairly level for most of the way, there are also a few undulating and steeper sections. It’s not technically wheelchair-accessible because of the grade, but some handcyclists and manual wheelchair-users with good upper body strength may be able to manage it. That said, since a good chunk of the trail is level, it’s worth a try, as you can always turn back if it becomes too steep. The best place to access the trail is from the parking area at the west entrance to the canyon. There’s parallel parking in an asphalt lot (but no accessible spaces), with level access over to the trailhead. Even if you don’t want to try the trail, this spot is worth a stop for the photo op, as it offers a great shot of the canyon entrance.

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock near the entrance to Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Newspaper Rock near the entrance to Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Located about 12 miles from the intersection of Highway 191 and Highway 211, Newspaper Rock is worth a quick stop enroute to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Not only is it located right along the main road, but this massive rock contains an impressive collection of historic petroglyphs. Accessible parking and accessible pit toilets are located in the paved lot. From there, a hard-packed dirt trail covered in crushed granite leads over to the petroglyph panel. The level trail is just 30 feet long, so it’s doable for most people. The older petroglyphs date back 1500 years, and are attributed to the ancient Puebloan people; while the lighter petroglyphs are more recent, and are believed of Ute origin.

Anasazi State Park

Anasazi State Park Museum

Anasazi State Park Museum

Located in Boulder, about 50 miles southwest of Capitol Reef National Park, the Anasazi State Park Museum offers an intimate look at the Anasazi people who once inhabited the area. There’s accessible parking in front of the museum with level access to the entrance. Inside there are accessible restrooms, as well as plenty of space to maneuver a wheelchair around the interpretive exhibits about the ancestral pueblo. Out back there’s a level pathway over to Coombs excavation site, where 97 rooms, 10 pit structures and hundreds of thousands of artifacts were unearthed. There’s a level walkway through the excavation site, and interpretive panels about the former residents along the way. Although there’s slight grade in a few places, most wheelers will be able to access the site without assistance. And if you’d like to bring along lunch, there’s also an accessible picnic table under the trees in front of the museum.