10 Accessible Adventures in Arizona
The Dolly Steamboat awaits passengers for its dinner cruise. (Credit: An Pham)


10 Accessible Adventures in Arizona

The Grand Canyon State welcomes all visitors, including those with different mobility, visual, and hearing abilities. From high in the sky to tunnels deep below the earth, discover the top 10 best accessible adventures in Arizona.

Many a bucket list includes Arizona's famed landscapes—Grand Canyon, anyone?—and fortunately, many also make a great destination for accessible adventuring. You can plan a full road trip around the following activities or work a few into your existing itinerary.

No trip to the state would be complete without at least one of the following uniquely Arizona adventures:

1. Journey into the earth at Kartchner Caverns State Park.

One of the only caves in the world with wheelchair-accessible trails throughout, Kartchner Caverns State Park, in Benson, 45 minutes southeast of Tucson, is a must-see for travelers of all abilities. This extensive limestone cavern was discovered in 1974 but remained hidden from the public until it became an official Arizona State Park in 1999. While its history is fascinating, the pristine formations within the cave itself are the real showstoppers. Kartchner Caverns contain one of the world's longest soda straw stalactites; the world's largest formation of brushite moonmilk, also known as cave milk; the world's first reported occurrence of "turnip shields;" and more. Deemed a "living cave," whose structures continue to grow and evolve over time, Kartchner Caverns is sure to impress—whether it's your first visit or your 50th.

2. Light up the night at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Nightlife looks a little different in Arizona. After the sun does down, get a closer look at flowering cacti, scurrying mice, and other nocturnal surprises during the Desert Botanical Garden's popular Flashlight Nights series. Every Saturday from sunset to 9 p.m., June to September, nature lovers congregate on the paved walkways of this Phoenix garden for a self-guided tour to spot hidden treasures with the beams of their flashlights. Live musical performances, a farmer's market, and a bar with refreshments and treats help make your visit extra enjoyable.

3. Go on a safari at Bearizona Wildlife Park.

Four black bears stroll in front of a tour bus on a dirt road at Bearizona in Williams, Arizona

See wildlife up close from the comfort of your own car.

You don't have to journey overseas to go on a safari. Simply road trip to Williams, the Gateway to the Grand Canyon and Bearizona Wildlife Park for the experience of a lifetime. Here you can drive through the 160-acre park in your own vehicle while keeping an eye out for some of North America's most exciting wildlife. Rescued mountain goats, wolves, bison and black bears all call this area home. Want to spot smaller creatures? Discover them in the paved walk-thru area known as Fort Bearizona, where winding, paved paths take you through the homes of resident otters, armadillos, and even a porcupine named Turbo who loves to do tricks for treats. When your appetite has you ready to feast like a bear, grab a meal at one of two on-site restaurants, Canyonlands Restaurant and Bearizona Grille—the former offering gluten-free and vegetarian options.

4. Explore the Grand Canyon: by rail or by plane.

Two boys stare out the window of a train as a man on horseback rides by

"Robbers" prepare to board the train to Grand Canyon (Credit: Xanterra Travel Collection).

No trip to the Grand Canyon State is complete without viewing its namesake: Grand Canyon National Park. The South Rim is conveniently outfitted with paved trails that make wheelchair access simple. For those hoping for a more adventurous take, we recommend boarding the Grand Canyon Railway, where sightseeing is complemented by a realistic train robbery reenactment, horses and all. (In December, the robbers are replaced by visitors from the North Pole.) Otherwise, Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters takes passengers of all abilities soaring high above the Colorado River. Their 45-minute flights are a spectacular way to experience one of America's most iconic treasures.

5. Go skiing at Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff.

Guests at Arizona Snowbowl ski down a large snow-covered mountainside with a view of the San Francisco Peaks below

Ski in sight of the San Francisco Peaks (Credit: An Pham).

The fact that there's great skiing in the Southwest is another reason Arizona tops our bucket list. Northern Arizona is truly a great place to hit the slopes in the winter months. Visit Arizona Snowbowl, a cozy resort tucked into the western slope of Mount Humphreys, the tallest point in the state. Their adaptive ski team will guide you through a day on the mountain safely and with a smile, to ensure you get to experience the thrill of the downhill.

6. Spend a day on the lake with Arizona Adaptive Watersports.

Arizona truly stands out when it comes to accessibility. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Arizona Adaptive Watersports (AAWS) on Bartlett Lake, an hour and a half northeast of central Phoenix. Thanks to AAWS, people of all abilities—including those with learning and mobility challenges—are guaranteed to have the time of their lives on the water in a safe, supportive environment with trained adaptive instructors and staff. Whether you're hoping to simply spend the afternoon fishing or want to try out waterskiing or kayaking for the first time, AAWS has the equipment and the know-how to make it happen.

7. Visit Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

Arizona is home to more than 22 unique national parks and monuments, and many feature wheelchair-accessible trails, viewpoints and adventures. Among the more unique is Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a living monument to geology, located just 30 minutes outside of downtown Flagstaff. One thousand years ago, the volcano here erupted in a grand display of lava flows and cinder deposits. Today, wildflowers, pine and aspen trees have repopulated the area, while the evidence of its violent history is still very much alive. Try the Bonito Vista Trail, a .3-mile wheelchair-accessible paved trail that gently meanders through a field of cinders with expansive views.

8. Access all of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

A paved path can be seen between various types of cacti and mesquite and other desert trees

Paved pathways weave throughout Arizona Sonora Desert Museum's wildlife and cacti (Credit: Andres Lobato)

Don't be discouraged by the thought of dusty displays—the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson is anything but stuffy. This diverse destination is home to beautiful gardens, wildlife habitats, interactive exhibits and even a hummingbird aviary. It also gets a five-star rating for accessibility. Not only are all of the buildings wheelchair accessible, but the museum maintains a small fleet of electric convenience vehicles available on a first-come-first-serve basis. ASL interpreters are also available, as are tours for those with visual disabilities. Service animals are also welcome where permitted (although it might be best to avoid the mountain lion enclosure).

9. All aboard the Dolly Steamboat.

10 Accessible Adventures in Arizona
Dolly Steamboat Cruise, credit An Pham

In the shadow of the Superstition Mountains (just an hour outside of Phoenix) you'll find a red-and-white-painted steamboat docked on the calm shores of Canyon Lake. The crew of the Dolly Steamboat welcomes visitors with physical limitations (and service animals) aboard one of three cruises: the scenic nature option, twilight dinner cruise or astronomy dinner tour. No matter which you select, you'll enjoy cruising in a climate-controlled environment and enjoying the sights. Keen-eyed cruisers might spot bald eagles, desert bighorn sheep and stately saguaro cacti.

10. Get in an early-morning trail visit in Phoenix.

For those visiting the eastern side of Phoenix, accessible outdoor opportunities are right out the back door. The 1.9-mile out and back White Tank Waterfall Trail is a great way to spend the morning in nature. Paved, and with a gentle grade, for nearly a mile, it is wheelchair-friendly. While the final portion contains rocky steps to the waterfall viewpoint that isn't easily rollable, there is rarely any water running unless it has recently rained. The petroglyphs visible on the lower part of the trail, however, are year-round.

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Arizona Office of Tourism

These articles are brought to you by the staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism, and occasionally local tourism organizations around the state.

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