Last week I was looking for a way to beat the heat. It’s pretty miserable in Seattle when it is hot because many homes and businesses do not have air-conditioning. With a record-breaking 55 days without rain-fall it certainly made for a particularly warm summer.
Luckily in this area there are so many outdoor activities to be a part of! For my birthday this year my friends said they would arrange a trip to Northwest Trek, a 700+ acre wildlife park located in Eatonville, just south of Seattle. I am not the typical granola eating, camping lover, bicycle fanatic, Birkenstock wearing (OK I own one pair!), REI credit card holder, Patagonia clothed stereotypical outdoor Seattlitte. Sure, I like nature – I really like it when I can see it on my 70 inch hi DEF TV. Just kidding. Sort of. I was thrilled to be going though! Nature doesn’t exactly abide by the ADA standards that most buildings are supposed to. I don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to “hoof it”. Besides, as a child I visited but I hadn’t been back in probably 20 years!
Prior to heading to Eatonville, Washington we received an inside tip that the best time of day to go and see the wild animals is when the park first opens at nine. When you go, make sure to check the hours because they change seasonally. So we got up early on a Saturday and drove the 90 minutes, well probably closer to 100 minutes, there was a necessary coffee stop involved. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect accessibility wise. The website mentions that the park is accessible, but we all know to take some of these things with a grain of salt!
We arrived 10 minutes before the park opened and got in line to buy our tickets… yes, there was a line to buy tickets already! Bummer, no disability discount but buy your tickets online, you will get a discount there. Additional discounts for Pierce County residents and military families. Their claim to fame, and the real star of this park is the wildlife tram. When you buy your tickets you make a reservation for the time that you will hop on and enjoy your tour through 435 acres of wild meadow and forest. Well, not all of it – the ride is just under an hour. The attendant did ask me whether I would be transferring or if I needed a ramp to get on the tram, and I took that as a good sign. They radioed down my answer immediately and were expecting me. I like that, not a big fuss but it feels good knowing that people will be prepared.
My first impression upon entering the park was that it was big, spacious, and relatively flat. I noticed that there were places to rent manual wheelchairs and scooters at the information desk right inside the gates. I saw a few people on them and you’ll be happy to know that they move infinitely faster than those real shoddy grocery store scooters – these bad boys were the real deal!
When we got down to the tram departure point they instructed me to go to the front of the line… I presume this is standard protocol for the person with the most fabulous sneakers. I had decided to transfer from my wheelchair to the seat for this particular expedition so I left my wheels at the gate, but I did note that they had a fully accessible ramp and space on the tram for anyone who wanted to stay in the wheelchair. I was really quite pleased.
When’s the last time you had a baby bison sidle up inches from you, or had a reindeer within an arms reach, or saw a moose without the instant panic and need to run for safety? The tour itself was excellent! Being first in the park we got to see almost all of the animals that live there – before they ran away and tried to sleep for
the hot part of the day. Our driver/guide was extremely knowledgeable and asked lots of engaging questions. When I asked her if she thought we came at the right time, she jovially exclaimed yes! She mentioned that the best tours were the first one and the last one of the day – so keep that in mind when you decide to come down! Our wonderful guide even had a massive Great Dane service dog who was super adorable and wiggled herself right in the aisleway – trying her best to look small. She did not succeed – but still may have been my favorite animal at the park.
The rest of the park functions much like a wildlife zoo. As we went around I took note of how high the railings were, how bumpy the sidewalk was, and whether there was enough room for people to pass – and the overwhelming consensus was that I felt very comfortable here. Nothing in a wheelchair is ever easy but getting around this park did not add any extra challenges. Most of the viewing areas were low enough that I could pier over the top to see the cuddly, spiky, or furry animals in their habitats.
All of this was so lovely, and so worth it! Real bonus for me though was the hiking trails. On one side of the park they have 5 miles of paved and primitive nature trails that are not too challenging and that go right under their massive ropes course. It’s pretty rare to find a paved trail out in the wilderness – so it was a lovely surprise to take the one and a half mile loop that guided us through shady trees, singing birds, and some real nature …stuff! There were some dirt trails that headed off the paved portion and I didn’t end up going on those very far – I was hot – but they actually looked relatively accessible if you’re up for a bit of a bumpy ride.
Before we left for the day I needed to check out the kids play area to see if it was legit, and it was! One of the more creative and engaging playgrounds that I have come across.
If you are looking for a way to step out of the city, have a lovely day trip, and experience some nature this is an excellent way to go, and you won’t have to struggle with any accessibility issues! Even the picnic tables are ready for wheelers.
Before you go make sure you get some information about tickets and opening hours from their website.