outdoor arthritis-friendly adventures

Arthritis-Friendly Travel Tips for Outdoor Adventures

Traveling doesn’t have to be derailed by arthritis. We asked travel pros as well as casual travelers for their favorite arthritis-friendly travel destinations. Here are some of their suggestions:

National and State Parks

Don’t assume any national park in the U.S. is off limits, says Ray Bloomer, director of education and technical assistance for the National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University, which oversees accessibility for the National Park Service (NPS). “Most national parks, in some way or another, can facilitate almost everyone to some degree,” he says. Each of the 417 national parks has a staff person versed in accessibility who can advise as to the current condition of trails, the location of benches and accessible restrooms and how to handle waiting in line for popular destinations.

You can pick a park and then explore accessibility, or you can choose a location based on your needs. For instance, people who can’t walk far may look for wheelchair-accessible trails. Sun-sensitive people might head for the deep shade of Muir Woods in Marin County, California.

Monuments, museums and other important sites in Washington, D.C., (many of which are managed by NPS) are accessible. For instance, the new National Museum of African American History & Culture is fully accessible, and the east wing of the National Gallery of Art was renovated with accessibility as a priority.

Historic Sites

Accessibility was not a consideration when Venetians were building their city’s bridges and canals or when the ancient Greeks sited temples atop hills. Use former sites of the Olympic Games or Paralympic Games as a filter for choosing destinations, says Ron Pettit, access manager for Royal Caribbean Cruises International. Barcelona, for example, blends history, culture and accessibility, thanks to its status as an Olympics host, Pettit says.

Places in the Sun

Warm, sunny climates make popular destinations, especially for people whose joints ache in the cold and damp. Arizona’s dry climate, for example, can be merciful for arthritic joints.

“I love the desert Southwest because I find the dry climate doesn’t affect my arthritis as much as colder and humid areas do,” says Maura Hibbits, of Broadalbin, New York, who has osteoarthritis (OA). “There are so many wonderful National Parks in that area to visit, and you can easily adjust what you do depending on ability.”

Florida also has many accessible attractions, both modern and historic. The state has generally flat terrain, day cruises and municipal parks, such as in St. Petersburg, that offer low-cost or free use of beach wheelchairs.  Hibbitts especially likes St. Augustine, Florida, which boasts a historic fort and pre-colonial architecture.

“There is a wonderful sense of history, lots to explore, easy to walk around, as well as activities like trolley tours if the walking is too much,” she says, noting that it’s best to go in early spring or late fall, when the humidity is lower.

Thermal Springs

Hot mineral springs where you can soak achy joints and relax can be found around the world. Thermopolis, Wyoming, has a dry climate with “wonderful thermal springs and pools to soak in year-round, [which] does wonders for arthritis,” Hibbitts says. Take day trips to “Native American sites [and] beautiful drives into the Bighorn Mountains.”

Cruise Ships

With meals, entertainment and amenities just outside your stateroom door, a cruise can be a perfect travel option for people with limited mobility.  And medical care is available if needed. Confirm accessibility details in advance, especially for off-ship excursions.

Royal Caribbean is one cruise line that offers trip planning tools on its website. Some excursions depend on local shuttles, which may not have lifts or steps that are easy to manage. Avalon Waterways, which operates river cruises in Europe, generally plans stops at larger cities that are more accessible, such as Prague, Vienna and Budapest, says managing director Pam Hoffee. Most walking daytrips include a riding option.

All-Inclusive Resorts

All-inclusive resorts have entertainment, food and a selection of amenities, including spas. Some spa and wellness resorts, like Canyon Ranch in Arizona and other locations, provide an experience designed to help you jumpstart a healthy lifestyle.

Specialty Outdoor Centers

Some destinations provide outdoor sports and adventure experiences, from skiing to kayaking to rock-climbing, specifically for people with disabilities and their families. Two such destinations are the National Sports Center for the Disabled, with locations in Winter Park and Denver, Colorado, and the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah.

Karin Sheets, whose daughter has multiple physical and developmental disabilities, assumed traveling was out of the question for her family until she discovered the National Ability Center. She launched a blog, SpecialNeedsTravelMom.com, to help other families travel, regardless of medical conditions.

Check out more pain-free travel tips here. 

Author: Joanne Cleaver

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