Accessible Travel in Michigan: All are Welcome Here
With accessible trails, overlooks, water launches, museums and zoos, a growing number of the state’s attractions deliver top-notch experiences to visitors of all abilities. Below is a small sample of what our communities have to offer.
Michigan State Parks are doing a variety of things in the accessibility area including a May 18th ribbon cutting at Interlochen State Park announcing a new fully-accessible kayak ramp and fishing pier. The Rifle River State Park is host to a fully-accessible hunting blind. Some of our state park feature track wheelchairs for access to the beach and “mobi mats” for traditional chair access. Thanks to a Kellogg Foundation grant, Michigan has fully-accessible rest areas. Michigan Welcome Centers are also barrier-free.
The Alpena Bi-Path is an 18 ½ mile pedestrian trail that winds throughout the City of Alpena. The path is paved and includes routes that run along picturesque Thunder Bay River and Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, Lake Huron and even allow for access to Island Park, a nature preserve located within the City of Alpena. Walking, jogging, biking, fishing, rollerblading as well as wheelchairs, assisted walkers and mobility scooter riders are seen enjoying the path all year-round. The path connects parks, shopping districts, waterways, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, two islands, fishing platforms, boat harbor, lighthouse, and residential areas to allow for universal access to some of Alpena’s most beautiful spaces. In addition to stunning natural beauty, the Bi-Path is also considered an outdoor gallery with several sculptures and pieces of public art viewable along the route.
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center – Alpena
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is the visitor center for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, featuring hands-on interactive learning activities for all ages. The Shipwreck Century exhibit, located in the center's main hall, includes a full-size replica wooden Great Lakes schooner and shipwreck where visitors can board the decks, feel a Great Lakes storm, and touch the massive timbers of the boat resting on the lake bottom. The schooner was handcrafted and follows ADA compliance, allowing for mobility-assisted access inside the vessel as well as other areas of the exhibit.
Ocqueoc Falls is the largest waterfall in Michigan's Lower Peninsula and the only universally-accessible waterfall in the United States. Ocqueoc provides approximately six miles of hiking, biking and cross-country skiing opportunities with three marked loops. A viewing area, boardwalks, as well as limestone steps and wheelchair access allow for visitors to safely enter the falls (yes, even in a wheelchair). At this site, Ocqueoc River has cut a channel through the limestone bedrock that underlays the entire region. During spawning season, salmon swim through these underground channels. The remnants of an old mill race can be seen just above the falls. A state forest campground is located at the falls as well. The trails are groomed in the winter season for cross-country skiing and are also popular for snowshoeing and fat-tire biking.
Benzie County offers a bike experience for those with mobility issues through their Joy 2 Ride program along the region’s Betsie Valley Trail.
In 2017, Grand Rapids was ranked the #2 best city for people with disabilities. The city offers sensory-friendly showtimes at Celebration! Cinema theater, ramps and paved pathways to accommodate wheelchairs at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is wheelchair accessible and also has assisted hearing devices for the hearing-impaired, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum offers sensory tool kits and staff members that have gone through an autism training program. John Ball Zoo includes an ADA-approved pathway and motion-activated drinking fountains. The Grand Rapids Public Museum offers some exhibits that include Braille and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts Movie Theater is wheelchair accessible and is also hearing loop enabled.
The Mount Pleasant Discovery Museum is offering Sensory Night, every third Wednesday of the month—$5 for non-members and free to members. It’s a night for all to come play in an inclusive, sensory-friendly environment. The Holiday Inn & Suites Mt. Pleasant has rooms to accommodate hearing disabilities as well as ADA (wheelchair) accessible rooms. Special Olympics Michigan offers a sensory room for athletes during the State Summer Games on the campus of Central Michigan University.
South Haven has several local projects developed to provide accessibility to Lake Michigan and the Black River in South Haven including an accessible concrete walkway from the parking area to Lake Michigan at the Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, just south of South Haven, an accessible kayak launch has been installed at Black River Park, an accessible fishing platform and bridge were installed at SHOUT park along the Black River in 2018 and an accessible walkway was installed on North Beach from the parking lot to the edge of Lake Michigan.
Muskegon’s Winter Sport’s Complex has developed a fully accessible luge experience, designed for non-winter use. This allows persons with a walking disability to experience the sheer joy of the luge.
Genesee County has developed Bluebell Beach in an inclusive manner to include handicap parking spaces in Pavilion 1 and 2 with an accessible pathway from the parking area to the pavilion and accessible restrooms, a barrier-free splashpad, paved pathways around the park and connection to Flint River Trail meeting ADA accessibility standards, a barrier-free playground, complete with transfer station and Genesee County’s first universally accessible playground is installed at Bluebell Beach.
There is also a barrier-free Treehouse at For-Mar Nature Center, designed to allow visitors of all ages and abilities the opportunity to experience a treehouse overlooking the Kearsley Creek. Nestled back in black cherry, red oak, white oak, basswood and butternut hickory trees, the treehouse stands approximately 30 feet above the bed of the Kearsley Creek oxbow and can be accessed be either staircase or the ramp with grades to meet ADA-requirements.
The Great Lakes Bay Region offers ASA accessible kayak and canoe launches.
Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn Lodge has exceeded ADA compliance by providing their guests with information such as which way (left or right) the bed or toilet transfers are in a particular room. The Lodge has embraced this concept and prominently promotes it on their website. They will hard block a room for a guest with a particular need so they can have the best accommodation for them. Frankenmuth is also exploring ways to provide additional accessible parking for large events, some of which are located in grassy areas.
Midland’s Canopy tour at Whiting Forest —the nation’s longest canopy park-- is fully accessible. Ramps give way to the country’s longest canopy walk. The quarter-mile path soars four stories above the forest floor and offers pond and orchard views.
In Lansing, the Wharton Center for Performing Arts began the planning process for the 100% Sensory-Friendly Performance (SFP) of the Disney’s The Lion King and reached out to the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau (GLCVB) to help market outside the local region for all performances of Disney’s The Lion King, but especially for the performance modified to those on the autism spectrum and with other developmental disabilities.
The GLCVB began assessing the current sensory-friendly programming offered in the local community as a way to encourage those traveling to the Lansing region for the performance to be able to participate in additional activities while they were in the area or to be aware of activities for a future visit. The assessment led to a much broader vision for the original marketing initiative and it became a multi-dimensional collaboration that has changed the community and how they welcome all visitors.
In 2018, over 800 hospitality and tourism staff were provided autism spectrum disorder education at trainings in the Lansing region. As a result of the education process, seven attractions are now offering scheduled sensory-friendly programming and making information and resources available to guests in advance and while on site. Three attractions have enhanced and improved their existing programming as a result of the educational outreach.
Family members have told front-line personnel that they “usually don’t travel or go out in public much” due to people not understanding their circumstances and they were glad to “feel welcome here.” Many comments from those attending the Lion King performance indicated this was one of the few special events their entire family had been able to attend together.
You’ll find more details at about Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau’s efforts to offer Sensory Friendly Activities on their site. While in the area, explore the American Sign Language (ASL) tours at the Michigan State Capitol.
Once a month, Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo Falconers program welcomes children and adults with special needs to experience sensory-friendly and hands-on activities, such as meeting animals and using microscopes.
Island Loop Route National Water Trail in Port Huron offers a 10-mile route—which slices through town and skirts the Canadian border—offers ADA-approved ramp launches at three spots. Rent at Great Lakes Paddlesports.
At the Detroit Institute of Arts, visitors can take in one of the country’s largest collections with tours and maps that include assistive listening devices, large-print text, American Sign Language and verbal interpretations. During the fall, the museum offers a Minds on Art program, where anyone living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia (along with a companion) can observe and discuss art—and do art projects—in a safe environment.
Destination Ann Arbor is updating its website to be compliant with ADA, including WCAG 2.0. The destination is welcoming to everyone and is removing barriers by making the website accessible to all. You can find this technology at Digital Accessibility Solutions and the company’s demo at Digital Accessibility for Your DMO.
Michigan has many more tours and attractions that are accessible to those with special needs. We suggest you contact destinations ahead of planned travel to learn of the area’s accessible tourist-friendly places.