Go out and play! Disabled Minnesotans can find an array of ways to get outdoors and have fun. See the creatures at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, enjoy the trail at Covered Bridge Park in Zumbrota, and visit many places in between.
This year’s Minnesota Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebration puts a spotlight on outdoor fun. Many destinations in recent years have expanded the range of disabilities served. For example, few if any accommodations were offered years ago for people with sensory disabilities. That has changed.
Planning ahead is essential for many destinations, as accessible spots and accommodations can fill up quickly. Ask about accommodations available for a visitor’s disability or disabilities as not all options may be online. Nor may all options on a website be available at a particular time.
Check on admissions prices and where accessible parking is available.
It’s also very important to plan for personal needs before heading out. Make sure to dress appropriately, with clothing and shoes that are comfortable. Plan for clothing, hats and anything else that can shield you from sun or rain.
Don’t leave medications or needed care devices at home. Bring plenty of water and snacks. And always remember sunscreen and insect repellents.
Another important reminder is that while many places allow assistance dogs, many don’t allow companion or therapy animals. Don’t leave an animal in a parked vehicle.
Keep cell phones charged before heading out to enjoy trails. Know the emergency contacts for a place.
Keep in mind that not all tours and services have been reinstated since COVID-19 precautions began in 2020. That’s another key reason to check ahead.
Here’s some ideas for outdoor fun:
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers a wealth of opportunities. While every state park is different, and not all have a full range of accessible options, all offer something to enjoy.
Do some homework before visiting parks and learn about accessible options. Check the website at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/index.html and click on the tab for Accessible Outdoors to find information on trails, hunting, fishing, camping and much more.
Every state park has picnic facilities. Most have camping facilities and trails. Many state parks also offer boating and fishing opportunities, historic sites, visitor centers, or interpretive programs.
Three Minnesota state parks offer tours with accessible options, including beautiful Blue Mound State Park and its bison buggy tours.
A new state parks feature is free all-terrain wheelchairs. The chairs were first made available at Camden State Park in southwestern Minnesota, Crow Wing State Park in north-central Minnesota, and Myre-Big Island State Park in south-central Minnesota. McCarthy Beach State Park in the Iron Range will have an adaptive beach chair so users can enjoy Sturgeon Lake.
Lake Bemidji State Park and Maplewood State Park are to add the all-terrain chairs later in the season if they haven’t done so already.
The track chairs run on electricity and work on gravel, dirt trails and open fields, as well as on snow.
Use of the chairs is free but there are some caveats. Users need a state park permit. Every location has a transfer board available but park staff cannot offer assistance for a chair transfer, so bring a caregiver, friend or personal transfer equipment.
Planning in advance when accommodations are needed is very important. Many Minnesota state parks have accessible campsites, lodging, and trails. But they can fill up quickly, especially on holiday weekends.
Don’t hesitate to ask for specific information about accessibility at a particular state park. Call that park before visiting. In some cases special arrangements can be made. Although park staff cannot reserve specific sites, they will make every effort to assign a site with appropriate picnic tables and easy access to the restrooms and shower buildings.
Also, look for information on special rates and licenses for people with disabilities.
City, county and regional parks. Parks and natural areas abound in Minnesota. In the Twin Cities region, there are more than 60 regional parks, nature preserves, and special features including Como Zoo. Most regional parks offer accessible features for guests enjoying the great outdoors. Visit https://metrocouncil.org/Parks/About.aspx
Many Minnesota cities and counties provide parks and recreation information on their websites, with larger communities offering adaptive recreation programs and activities. Many communities have upgraded to universal playground equipment. Check websites for information.
A few regional parks are offering all-terrain wheelchairs including parks in Olmstead County and Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in Austin.
Minnesota Historical Society operates a wide range of historic sites around the state. Visit and learn about grain milling, early soldiers, farming, and how wealthy people lived. With planning, visits can be made with accommodations.
Click the visit tab on the main page at https://www.mnhs.org/ and click on each park site for more details including access information. The types of accommodations vary greatly by site.
Many sites have offer outdoor opportunities to explore. For example, many of the original Fort Snelling historic site buildings have narrow doorways and raised door sills that a wheelchair cannot get over. But there’s plenty to see outdoors and at the modern visitors’ center at the fort, which is accessible. The adjacent state park and river valleys are especially lovely in the fall when the leaves turn.
Other historic offer more access on trails.
Wilderness Inquiry offers outdoor trips and education programs that follow its mission of making the outdoors accessible to all. The nonprofit provides outdoor education programs for youth, trip assistance for participants with differing abilities, and travel scholarships to bring families to the outdoors together. Wilderness Inquiry also offers virtual adventures.
The trip and event schedules are frequently updated, and the many programs offered provide good options for all ages. Visit https://www.wildernessinquiry.org/
Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, part of Allina Health, provides a wide range of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation and community services. It also has many recreation options which can be enjoyed outdoors. Options are offered around Minnesota and Wisconsin.
One tip is to follow the Courage Kenny Facebook page, as that offers a wealth of information on outdoor events, grants and equipment sales year-round, as well as news from many publications on exercise and outdoor activities. Visit https://www.allinahealth.org/courage-kenny-rehabilitation-institute/about-us
True Friends is a nonprofit organization providing life-changing experiences that enhance independence and self-esteem for children and adults with disabilities. Its programs include camp, respite, retreats, team building, therapy and adaptive riding, and travel; serving over 25,000 individuals annually. With locations near Maple Lake, Annandale, Eden Prairie and Bemidji, True Friends serves individuals in Minnesota and throughout the United States.
Many of True Friends’ facilities are camps that are historic in the context of Minnesota disability history. Visit https://truefriends.org/
Disability advocacy groups and service providers should be on everyone’s list for summer fun, especially parents and families. Many offer disability-specific options for summer camps and activities for people of all ages. Most camps fill up by early spring but it never hurts to get on a wait list or check for cancellations and openings. Some camps can offer financial aid or camperships but those too go fast.
Other activities are offered on a one-time or pop-up basis. Get on e-lists or follow social media including Facebook groups to keep track of what is available.