Colorado has always been one of my favorite states in the US. The mountains, weather, and people provide an atmosphere that is like nowhere else in the country. After getting seriously injured in a skiing accident in 2018, I became paralyzed from my chest down. Colorado was a place I never saw myself being able to fully enjoy again, being that I was now rolling around in a wheelchair.
After a year of trying to figure out life after getting injured, it was time to get back to traveling. I had no idea of how I was going to enjoy the mountains, weather, and people like before, but after learning new ways to do what I’ve enjoyed, I knew that I had to go to Colorado and relearn how to enjoy such a breathtaking state once again.
To give you a little insight into who I am, my name is Brad Huempfner, and I live in a small town in Central Wisconsin. I’m 28 years old, and I work full-time as case manager, helping individuals who are struggling financially get back to employment. I love being active, and I seek adventure wherever I can find it. As you can imagine, being in a wheelchair has its challenges when it comes to traveling. My goal with this blog is to share some tips and things I learned for anyone considering going to wheelchair accessible Denver.
My first experience of Colorado was back in 2002 where I was on vacation with my family. Since then, I have fallen in love with the state. I have returned one other time in 2014, in which I was a camp counselor helping school age children fall in love with Colorado’s landscapes. Now, I want to help those who have physical limitations experience Colorado in an accessible way.
The mountains became my sanctuary, my place of peace. I loved them so much that I often wanted to move to Colorado at some point to be able to experience them on a daily basis.
However, on February 10th, 2018 that’s when everything changed. Becoming paralyzed in your mid 20s is similar to starting your life over, and learning new things as a baby would. I learned that I could still do just about everything that I wanted to do, but that it all would have to be done differently.
Main Attractions in Accessible Denver
Wilderness on Wheels
One of my favorite things to do in general is hiking. The amount of hiking trails in Colorado is endless. However, as I was planning my trip to Colorado, I was a little bit nervous about what I would be able to do there. I realized that I would never be able to hike up tall mountains and overlook beautiful cliffs quite the same way as I once could. However, if I was going to be in Colorado, I was going to figure something out.
As I was doing my research online, I came across a place called Wilderness on Wheels. Wilderness on Wheels is a little over an hour west of Denver. They have a one mile long boardwalk that rises to 9,000ft and allows people of all abilities to experience the mountains of Colorado. They also offer overnight camping cabins that provide accessibility so that anyone can stay there, along with other recreational activities for people of all kinds. The place is completely free of charge, but relies on donations and gift store purchases to stay open.
When we first arrived at Wilderness on Wheels we pulled up to the visitors center, introduced ourselves, and they explained to us all that they had to offer. As far as accessibility goes, the one issue that I had, was the dirt road that led to the boardwalk. Dirt roads aren’t all that friendly for someone who is using a wheelchair. Thankfully, I had friends to help. Once you get to the boardwalk, the accessibility is great from there. The boardwalk is the main attraction, that leads to a nice lookout overview once you get to the top.
The boardwalk itself is not easy to get up. However, I was out of shape at the time and still was able to make it up on my own. Even if you don’t have the capability to get to the top on your own, if you have someone to assist you, then you should be able to make it up with no problems. Then going down is the best part!
When we arrived back at the visitor center we were greeted by one of the volunteers. Her name was Barb, and she was a former paraplegic gold medalist in the discus throw. She showed us around the accessible visitor center, where you could purchase different items. We even got to see her gold medal!
This was the first time that I felt like I could go “hiking” again. Talking with the volunteers, they told me that it took them twelve years to fully finish the boardwalk. To me, it made my time there that much more meaningful, knowing the hard work that went into helping others like myself be able to enjoy the wilderness and mountains in a unique accessible way.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
The Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater is located less than a half hour West of Denver. If you’re planning a trip there, I would highly recommend you checking this place out. Bands such as U2 and the Beatles have performed at the outdoor amphitheater which overlooks Denver. The beauty of this place is unmatched for a concert type of setting. Aside from that, they also have a historical museum inside where you can check out all the memorable moments of the performances over the years.
Although we didn’t attend a concert, we explored the place thoroughly. A couple of major things to note. If you’re attending a concert, you can take a bus service that will take you to the event and get you to your accessible seat. You can enter the Red Rocks within 4 different locations: Upper South Lot (which is the preferred ADA drop off-point), Top Circle Lot (which is the other preferred ADA drop off-point), Trading post, and then the East Stairs.
Both sides are accessible, but I would highly recommend that you do not take the Top Circle lot. We learned this the hard way :). They do have a ramp, but it is not for the faint hearted, and it was difficult for my friend to get me up there. On the way back, we drove the car up to the Top Circle lot, instead of having to make the trek down again, as it was far easier leaving the facility that way.
Once you make it inside the event center, things are very accessible. Lots of space to roll around, and elevators that are located inside the visitor center. If you want to attend a concert, there are spots at the top, and at the very bottom for someone who is in need of an accessible space to enjoy. The natural beauty of this place is breathtaking, and you can spend several hours just bumming around and sight seeing if you wish.
I’ve always loved aquariums and I heard that Denver had a pretty good one. The day we went to the Aquarium, it was packed with people. The fact that it was packed with people did affect my overall experience of the accessibility of the venue.
Overall, it was an accessible aquarium. They had very little stairs and when there were stairs, they had an accessible alternative such as a ramp or elevator. There were no major inclines, and the venue was just big enough so that you could make it through, without getting too tired.
The one issue that I had was that the hallways at times became narrow which made it difficult to maneuver through, and at some of the more interesting exhibits it became difficult for me to see what was going on, as people would surround the area. I will say some people were very generous when this happened, and would oftentimes let me go to the front so that I could see what was going on. It really did depend on who you were around, but nothing was guaranteed.
After we got done going through the aquarium, we checked out the 4D theatre that they had, and that was very accessible. They had a ramp to get you in, and then had a spot up at the front for any wheelchair users to experience the 4D atmosphere first hand.
My suggestion would be to go on a day where it is less busy.
Union station is located in downtown Denver, where you can experience nice restaurants and shopping. It is a transportation center so that people can get around in the city. If interested in taking the Amtrak, they have handicap parking nearby as well as ramps, elevators, and lifts to get you onboard.
When arriving at Union Station, the sidewalks there were very wide and did not have a large incline like some sidewalks do, which made it easy for me to roll into the main area. When going into the building things are very wide open, and there was enough space throughout the venue for me to roll around. The restrooms were also accessible, and overall I had no complaints about the accessibility at this location.
Getting Around Accessible Denver
Wheelchair Accessible Public Transportation
During this trip, I was fortunate enough to have friends take me around in their vehicle. I am able to transfer in and out of vehicles, as I can then disassemble my wheelchair and throw it in the back. So I personally did not have to use any public transportation for this trip.
However, if you do need to use public transportation Denver has plenty of options. Whether you use the light rail, bus, or taxi, they do their best to meet the needs of all individuals.
For those looking for great information regarding accessible transportation, as well as other accessible main attractions not listed above check here.
Wheelchair Accessible Sidewalks and Streets
The sidewalks and streets proved to me that Denver had put an emphasis on making the city accessible. Where I live currently, going downtown there are many potholes and sidewalks that have such a steep curve that makes it easy to tumble out of your wheelchair at any moment.
In Denver, the sidewalks that were the best were near downtown, and for the most part I had good experiences with them throughout the city. Denver does get snow in the winter, so it may be best to take public transportation on days where sidewalks/streets cannot be cleared.
Accommodation in Accessible Denver
During my stay, this was the first time that I had stayed in a hotel alone. For me, this was a real learning experience, and today I feel that I have a lot better knowledge of what I need in a hotel room, compared to what I had then.
The hotel that I stayed in, had a roll in shower, and for the most part was accessible other than the bed. One thing to keep in mind with hotels is that everyone’s accessibility needs can be different, and that there is no one perfect hotel that will fit everyone’s specific needs. For me, I needed the bed to be lower, and not so high for transferring purposes. From my experience, some hotels will offer beds that are more easily transferable from a wheelchair, and some will not.
My suggestion would be to try and choose a bigger hotel chain like a Hilton or Marriott as they seem to have more available options for accessibility, and the Denver area happens to have many of these types of hotels.
According to at least one website that I found, Denver can be said to one of the more accessible cities in the whole United States. In my own experience, I enjoyed an accessible Denver. Although everything was not perfect, I was impressed by the effort that was made throughout the locations I visited, to make things more accessible.
Overall, it was a very memorable trip. My only wish is that I could have spent more time there. I have no doubt that I will return in the future, and with the knowledge that I have gained, I’ll be able to experience new things from a unique accessible perspective.