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GSMNP is a popular wheelchair destination included in the free national parks pass U.S. residents with permanent disabilities. The mail-in process has a $10 processing fee.
Wheelchair friendly trails
Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, is the mountain peak with an observation tower at the top. There is accessible parking and a very steep paved trail. Visitors suggest use of a powered wheelchair for the winding trail, and even then, use your best judgment for safety because the air is thin and it’s not an easy adventure. They say it’s worth the trip if you can go up to fully take in the view.
Cades Cove is one of the most visited areas of the park because the 11-mile loop road closed to traffic on Wednesdays, the history, and the wildlife. Designated accessible parking spaces are available in the campground/picnic area parking lot across from the ranger station. The Cades Cove Campground Store and adjacent restrooms are accessible. A ramp provides access to the visitor center where information, exhibits, and books are available. Restrooms and water fountains outside the visitor center are accessible.
The visitor center is open year-round, except on Christmas Day. The Cades Cove Auto Tour booklet, available for a small fee in the Cable Mill area and at the start of the 11-mile loop road, provides a description of this historic area. Most of the historic buildings along the loop road are not accessible due to steps, lack of hard-surfaced walkways, and distance. However, many of the exteriors can be viewed from your vehicle.
The John Oliver Cabin has two approach trails, one paved path and one dirt path. Opened in September 2021, the paved, asphalt path is 0.3 miles (0.4 km) long, well-graded, and barrier-free.
The trail through the complex of historic buildings is level and surfaced with hard-packed gravel. Most of the buildings can be viewed from the outside doorways. The Becky Cable House is accessible via a ramp. The interior of the Cable Mill is accessible when open. Seasonal guided tours are accessible with the exceptions noted above.
Designated accessible parking spaces are available at Sugarlands Visitor Center and the restrooms are accessible. The visitor center is open year-round, except on Christmas Day, and is fully accessible. The information desk, book sales area, and exhibits are all on one level.
“The Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail, located on Newfound Gap Road, just south of Sugarlands Visitor Center, is an accessible trail made possible through a public-private partnership. The trail winds through second growth forest along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River and offers a quiet woodland experience” with beautiful rock walls.
Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville Wheelchair activities
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park overlooks Gatlinburg and offers up “sweeping panoramic views” of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Staff can accommodate disabled individuals on the SkyLift, SkyDeck, lower level of the SkyCenter, and the elevated boardwalk portion of the SkyTrail. However, the SkyBridge is not wheelchair accessible. Please see the Accessibility page for details.
The SkyDeck, which is the main level of the SkyCenter snack bar and gift shop, is the elevated boardwalk portion of the SkyTrail and is wheelchair accessible.
When Dollywood’s Splash Country introduced Accessibility Tubes in 2017, it enabled guests with limited mobility the opportunity to enjoy water attractions they had never been able to experience before. Water wheelchairs also are available for those who want to enjoy the attractions but need assistance transferring from their personal wheelchair to a floatation device. These Aquatic Transfer Wheelchairs may be used in areas where there is a zero-depth entry and no water with a moving current.
Now spanning 160 acres, Dollywood wins awards annually as the “friendliest park atmosphere in the world.” Highly themed with Smoky Mountains history and preservation, key attractions include daily demonstrations of turn-of-the-century crafts, one-of-a-kind rides, and award-winning entertainment.
Visit Dollywood’s Ride Accessibility Center to enter an attraction thru the accessibility entrance. A Host at the Center will provide detailed information about rider requirements. Also, riders can receive a Boarding Pass to rides they will enjoy. The center is located inside the park next to the Dollywood Emporium. Also, check out the Dollywood Accessibility and Rider Requirement Guide, Park Map Guide and Entertainment Schedule for helpful resources to assist in planning.
Located in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg with mountain views and 70 forested acres of fun and relaxation. Also, Anakeesta is a mountain playground for all ages with some of the most spectacular views.
While some parts – the Treetop Skywalk for example – are not wheelchair accessible, the best parts of Anakeesta are. These include dining, Firefly Village shops, and the view. Along with these are Vista Gardens and scenic viewing platforms and are accessible to all. The Gondola cabins are 32″ wide and 49″ deep to accommodate both wheelchairs and strollers for the ride to the summit.
The iconic Gatlinburg Space Needle landmark is a 407-foot observation tower that overlooks downtown Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. Ride the glass elevators to the observation deck for a 360° view of the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg.
Check out the Space Needle web cam here. Find the Space Needle at 115 Historic Nature Trail Gatlinburg, 865-436-4629.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies also is a Certified Autism Center. The museum plays host several sensory-friendly events and nights throughout the year that offer lowered lighting and music throughout the facility. The museum also offers quiet spaces for those who need a break during their visit.
There are so many adventures at the 85,000-square-foot Aquarium of the Smokies, including sharks, eels, weedy spinefish, green sea turtles many other creatures in the ocean realm of the aquarium. Piranhas and poisonous dart frogs inhabit the Tropical Rain Forest. You can Splash with the Rays, Sleep with the Sharks and interact with penguins on a trip. Check out the penguin cam to get a look at the family you could meet. You can touch a jellyfish too!
The aquarium has sensory-friendly nights for a quieter experience – perfect for those families of children who experience autism or other sensory processing disorders. Families receive $3.00 off admission – just mention “Sensory Nights” at the admission windows to receive the discount.
Find the aquarium at 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, (865) 430-8808.
The aquarium does not have designated handicap parking; however, the city does own a lot directly behind the aquarium. All city owned lots are pay lots that max out at $8.00/day. Each level on the parking garage does have designated handicap parking available. Wheelchairs and noise canceling headphones are available free of charge at the Guest Services counter on a first come first serve basis.
Most of Ripley’s other Gatlinburg adventures are handicap accessible too! Gatlinburg’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! has eight fun, and sometimes heart-stopping, and super weird adventures. They include an Odditorium – a place where people can marvel at artifacts Ripley collected, as well as people – or replicas and videos of people – with amazing and unbelievable talents.
Check out these other accessible adventures:
My Bearfoot Cabins has a handicap accessible cabin. Bearfoot Paradise is a 3BR/3BA/2 half bath cabin that sleeps up to 12 if children are in your group.
Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, Owners