Universal access to nature and recreational activities is a work in progress, and opportunities, though currently somewhat limited, are expanding.
Trips and Outdoor Activities
Provides overland wilderness access for people with disabilities through travel on wheelchair-accessible horse-drawn carriages, mostly in the East Bay. For a listing of 2006 events:
Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors (BAADS) – San Francisco
Provides sailing instruction and boat accessibility for people with any degree of disability and at any level of sailing ability. Outings are scheduled every weekend, rain or shine, and listed in BAADS’s online Events Calendar. Based at Pier 40 in San Francisco.
Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP) – Berkeley
BORP’s Adventures & Outings Program offers a wide array of outdoor recreation activities for people of diverse abilities, including group adventure trips, handcycling, and urban outings that appeal to people of all ages, interests, and abilities. Families and friends are welcome. Activities take place nearly every weekend of the year and are listed on BORP’s online Events Calendar. Financial aid is available.
Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC) – San Francisco
Offers whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, and cross-country skiing adventures for people of all ages with mobility, vision, or hearing impairments; emotional or developmental disabilities; or serious illnesses. ETC books trips for agencies, schools, and individuals with special needs, along with their families and friends. Also offers a Youth Leadership Program for teens of diverse backgrounds and abilities. Sliding-scale scholarships available for all programs. Call for dates or check web site.
Giant Steps Equestrian Center – Petaluma
This nonprofit, therapeutic equestrian center in Petaluma provides interaction with horses in a safe and secure setting for people of all ages and serves those with a wide range of disabilities. Lessons are individually designed to suit each rider’s particular need, ability, and stamina.
Through wilderness adventures, this San Francisco-based nonprofit organization’s mission seeks to empower, inspire, and enrich the lives of people with HIV/AIDS.
On the Level SF – San Francisco Excursions
Offers a number of guided nature walks in San Francisco’s parks and green spaces, all level, safe for wheelchairs and walkers, and most of them beginning at public transportation stops. On the Level also publishes inexpensive brochures for self-guided tours (available at many S.F. retail outlets or by mail). Reduced guided walk fees for seniors and people with disabilities.
Ride-A-Wave – Santa Cruz
Provides a full day of professionally supervised beach activities, including surfing, body boarding, swimming, beach games, lifesaving demonstrations, kayaking, and marine biology, for children and adults with physical or developmental disabilities. Most activities take place in the Santa Cruz area.
Shared Adventures – Santa Cruz
Offers a year-round calendar of recreational activities in the Santa Cruz area, including horseback riding, kayaking, sailing, beach activities, scuba diving, and more, for people with physical and developmental disabilities. Activities are listed on the organization’s web site and are also available through a mailing list.
Books and Web Sites
A Wheelchair Rider’s Guide: San Francisco Bay and the Nearby Coast
by Bonnie Lewkowicz, Coastal Conservancy Publications, Oakland, Calif., 2006. 208 pages. Describes more than 100 accessible hikes and campsites along the Bay Area coastline from Point Reyes to Santa Cruz. This free guide includes maps, photos, directions, and area histories, as well as descriptions of the experience of going out on the trails. Call (510)286-1015 or download from the Coastal Conservancy web site at www.scc.ca.gov.
Access Santa Cruz County: Resource Guide for People with Special Needs and Physical Challenges (2003)
Bilingual (Spanish-English) 65-page guide from Shared Adventures to the sights, sounds, and flavors of Santa Cruz County (including a section on parks and recreation) for wheelchair users, people with developmental disabilities, and their caregivers. Available in print for $3; call (831)459-7210 or download from www.scaccessguide.com.
Access Northern California
Web site provides information about travel and recreational opportunities in Northern California for people with physical disabilities.
Accessible Trails and Parks on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the South Bay
This web page on the web site of the Bay Area-based Trail Center provides both HTML and PDF versions of the Trail Center’s excellent guide to accessible trails in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties. The guide was created in 1998 and updated in 2000. www.trailcenter.org/guides/disabilities/disabilities.htm.
Bay Area Hiker: All-Access and Easy Trails in the San Francisco Bay Area
Web page lists all-access as well as easy-rated trails around the Bay Area, with detailed hike descriptions, maps, and links to additional information.
San Francisco Bay Area Wheelchair-Accessible Trails
Web site with extensive information about dozens of wheelchair accessible hiking trails, mostly in the East Bay and Marin. Trail reviews include accessibility and “enjoyability” ratings, detailed descriptions, maps, and public transit information. The site also has links to other sources of trail information.
Trails of the Diablo Valley: Paved Multiuse Trails
Web page features descriptions of several paved, mostly level trails in Contra Costa County and the Berkeley hills, with links to maps of most.
Accessible Features of Area Parks
East Bay Regional Parks District Trail Accessibility Reports
Web page provides trail accessibility reports for more than two dozen of the East Bay regional parks, including details of trail length, trail type, trail uses (hiking, bicycles, dogs, equestrian), elevation change, and a number of other features. Beach wheelchairs (large tires) are now available for day use by the public (first come, first served) at many district beaches, including Crown Beach, Temescal, and Shadow Cliffs.
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Full-Access Trails
Web page provides brief descriptions, including trail length and grade, of several all-access trails in the district’s parklands, with links to the full web pages for the hikes. An “Easy Access Packet” of brochures for parks with accessible features is available by phone (650/691-1200) or email (email@example.com). www.openspace.org/activities/accessible_trails.asp
Santa Clara County Parks
Joseph D. Grant and Sanborn parks have all-access paved trails; some campgrounds have accessible features. Web pages for specific parks provide brief descriptions of accessibility and maps of campgrounds. Further information is available by phone from the reservations department (408/355-2201).
www.sccgov.org/portal/site/parks (select the “Find a Park” menu option)
Marin County Department of Parks and Open Space
Information about accessibility of Marin County parks is available by phone at (415)507-2816. An updated edition of Open Spaces: Lands of the Marin County Open Space District by Barry Spitz, with a projected release date of fall 2006, will include information about trail accessibility.
Accessible Features in California State Parks
Web site provides information about accessible features of individual California state parks, including camping, trails, beach and shore access, and links to downloadable maps.
Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve
The Discovery Trail located within this primeval redwood forest includes a wheelchair-accessible pathway, interpretive panels in Braille, and a tree-hugging platform. Also within the reserve, the self-guided Armstrong Nature Trail provides an easy stroll through the grove and is also wheelchair accessible.
California Coastal Commission: Beach Wheelchairs
The California Coastal Commission web site provides a list of California beaches that provide free day use of sand-friendly wheelchairs to the public. Some chairs may be reserved ahead while others are first come, first served. Phone numbers for individual sites at www.coastal.ca.gov/access/beach-wheelchairs.html.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Accessibility
Web page briefly describes accessible areas within GGNRA parklands. (As of September 2006, the GGNRA website was undergoing renovation and some of the pages—including the accessibility page—were not available. If the listed web link does not work, call the phone number for accessibility information.)
Accessibility at Point Reyes National Seashore
Web page provides brief descriptions of accessible features of visitor centers, trails, beaches, and other points of interest at Point Reyes National Seashore. Manual wheelchairs are available to people with limited mobility for free use in the surrounding area at the Bear Valley, Ken Patrick, and Lighthouse visitors centers (first come, first served.)
Audubon Canyon Ranch
Bolinas Lagoon Preserve hosts one of the largest great blue heron, great egret and snowy egret nesting sites on the West Coast and averages close to 100 active nest sites yearly in groves of redwoods on the property. Bolinas Lagoon Preserve offers an accessible picnic area with spotting scopes and views of nesting birds. The “Bird Hide” (a yard under the nesting area), the education and exhibit hall, and the bookstore are also fully accessible.
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The 23,000 acres around Crystal Springs are prime hiking territory in an urban region desperate for more places to get outdoors. They're also home to numerous endangered species, and critical to San Francisco's drinking water supply.
Recreation | Stewardship | Urban Nature