Lifetime Access Pass to National Parks and Recreational Land Offers Accessible Options to Americans with Disabilities  

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Spring sunshine continues to taunt summer loving Kentuckians with its promise of the radiant afternoon rays that fade into calm evening glow. It’s a great time to begin making summer plans, and for those with a permanent disability, you might consider applying for a free lifetime access pass to all U.S. national parks and recreational lands. 

The pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees at all federal recreation sites for the entire car of anyone with a permanent disability (at locations that charge by vehicle) or for the passholder and up to three guests (at locations that charge per person). The pass is valid for day use only (no camping permits) and does not cover expanded amenities, such as guided tours, boat launching or parking. 

The access pass can be acquired for free on-site at nearly any federal recreation site or, with a $10 processing fee, ordered online or by mail. When applying in-person, it is advisable to contact the site ahead of time to ensure the pass availability. Application materials include proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency and documentation of permanent disability.  

Accepted documentation includes proof of permanent physical, cognitive or sensory disability in the form of a signed letter from a physician, a document issued by a federal agency (such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or proof of Social Security Disability Income) or a document issued by a state agency (such as a vocational rehabilitation agency).  You can acquire an access pass in-person at any one of Kentucky’s 22 federal recreation sites.  

Sunset horizon with bare rock formations
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

While the access pass grants entrance into all national recreational sites, it does not come with the accessibility guides needed by many of its users. Searching for accessibility information when planning a trip can be tedious, and not every federal agency makes the information as easily accessible as others. Locations managed by the National Parks Service (NPS) tend to have clear and thorough accessibility information. Read about the history of the NPS and accessibility, the concluding article of the agency’s Disability History series

Kentuckians boast claim to Mammoth Cave, one of the nation’s 63 national parks, though you won’t necessarily benefit from your access pass at this location, since park entry is free to all, and the access pass does not waive guided tour fees. Still, if you are not looking to travel further to places such as the Badlands, Grand Canyon, Yosemite or Zion National Parks (where there are, in fact, entrance fees to be waived by the access pass), look into the accessible activities available at Mammoth Cave, such as the aptly named the “Accessible Tour.”  

Rock formations in Mammoth Cave with a purple backlit glow
Mammoth Cave rock formations

In the Accessible Tour, visitors meet at the entrance of the visitor center and then follow a tour guide by personal vehicle directly to the entrance of the cave, where they descend via elevator into the Snowball Room–a dining area located 267 feet underground, named for the snowball-shaped calcium carbonate formations on the ceiling. There begins a two-hour journey through unique gypsum formations and curious cave writing on a route “expressly created for visitors with mobility devices such as motorized wheelchairs or walkers.” 

The Accessible Tour is not the only accessible portion of Mammoth Cave’s infrastructure. Broken down by category to be applicable to the needs of various disability types (physical/mobility, Deaf/hearing loss, blind/low vision and cognitive/learning), a full accessibility overview of Mammoth Cave can be found here

Other accessible recreational sites of note in Kentucky include Land Between the Lake’s, Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace and Big South Fork. Of Kentucky’s 22 recreational land sites, the following is a list of each that has a webpage with clear accessibility notes. The name of the location links to the location’s general web page, and the sub-lists describe accessibility notes or link to dedicated accessibility pages. 

Accessible Federal Recreation Sites in Kentucky 

  1. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace (Hodgenville, KY) 
  1. Barren River Lake (Glasgow, KY) 
    • Accessibility information included in dropdown menu about halfway down page  
  2. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Stearns, KY)
  3. Daniel Boone National Forest (main office in Winchester, KY) 
  4. Lake Barkley (Grand Rivers, KY) 
    • No dedicated accessibility page found.
    • Main site states that Canal Campground has accessible restrooms and shower house.
  5.  Land Between the Lakes (Golden Pond, KY) 
  6. Mammoth Cave National Park (Mammoth Cave, KY) 

To share additional information related to the accessibility of federal recreation sites in Kentucky, please email Beth Potter at beth.potter@uky.edu. The above list may be updated accordingly.