Barry Long looks at trails a bit differently than most people. He's become an expert at wheeling along accessible paths.

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Barry Long looks at trails a bit differently than most people. For one thing, he notices how much gravel they have.

While gravel on a trail might cut down on mud, when there’s too much, the wheels of Long’s wheelchair just sink down deep in it. Although he does visit some gravel trails at the end of the season — when some of the rocks have been packed into the dirt or gotten kicked off the trail — he’s quit going to places with thick layers of pea gravel, or even a thick layer of bark.

“I won’t do them anymore,” said Long. “It’s not worth it.”

Long, a Woodinville-based businessman and motivational speaker, broke his back in 1991 in a near-fatal motorcycle crash. A self-proclaimed “extreme sports freak,” he participates in sports such as snow skiing, water skiing, road racing, wheelchair biking and skydiving.

Other accessibility issues that Long considers are access to trailheads and amenities such as accessible restrooms. After windstorms, he skips the paved trail at a local forested park because there are lots of downed branches. And when it rains, at poorly drained dirt parking lots “there’s always the mud thing.” What about when a trail is paved, but there are several steps up to a footbridge or boardwalk?

“One or two steps won’t stop me — if I’m with some friends,” said Long.

“ ‘Accessible’ is not always accessible,” said Kevin Bacher, the volunteer and outreach program manager at Mount Rainier National Park. “One of my best friends in college had cerebral palsy and I learned a lot from him.”

One day Bacher and several other friends borrowed wheelchairs and went with their buddy to the local mall, who then “told us we couldn’t use our feet.” He learned firsthand that day the challenges of trying to navigate over small barriers he never even noticed before.

“It’s also a challenge to us trying to provide accessibility in parks,” Bacher said. “You almost need special training to know what to look for — and that’s why the best info comes from people who make suggestions. Plus, different people have different needs — what makes it easy for one person may be impossible for someone else.”

When Long and his family go on a trail, his twin 9-year-olds, Grace and Gavin, sometimes bring their bikes to ride on ahead and then double back to meet up with him and his wife, Emily. A local favorite is the Sammamish River Trail, which connects in Bothell with the Burke-Gilman Trail and extends east to Redmond. When deciding where to go outside the Seattle area, Long considers several factors.

“Weather — although rain doesn’t stop us — how much time we have, and what else is in the area. Right now we’re looking into Leavenworth. And Whistler is awesome — we just love it. We go around the golf courses.”

Do you or a family member rely on a wheelchair or mobility scooter to get around? Here’s a selection of a dozen places around Western Washington to get outdoors and navigate a trail:

Sammamish River Trail

Location: Bothell to Redmond

Length: Almost 11 miles

This paved path follows the Sammamish River and offers views of the broad river valley, the Cascade foothills and Mount Rainier.

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Gene Coulon Park trails

Location: Renton

Length: About two miles

A paved path passes among trees and shrubs along the Lake Washington shore, and a floating walkway loops out over the water.

Info: 425-430-6600 or

Soos Creek Trail

Location: Kent

Length: Six miles

This paved trail follows a swath of freshwater wetlands and forests along a salmon-spawning stream on Kent’s East Hill. The area is now largely a residential area but retains a rural feel.

Info: 206-296-4232 or

Centennial Trail

Location: From city of Snohomish to the historical Nakashima Farm at the Skagit County line

Length: 29 miles

This paved former railbed runs through towns, across meadows, over rivers and within forests.

Info: 425-388-6600 or or


National Wildlife Refuge

Location: North of Olympia

Length: One-mile loop trail with additional two miles of boardwalk.

Fee: $3/car

The Twin Barns Loop Trail is a one-mile boardwalk through forested wetlands to three viewing platforms overlooking meadows, the river and the estuary. A half-mile-long, hard-packed dirt/gravel road leads from this loop to the one-mile-long Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail.

Info: 360-753-9467 or

Gold Creek Pond Trail

Location: Snoqualmie Pass at Hyak

Length: One-mile loop

Fee: Northwest Forest Pass required (or $5 at trailhead pay station)

This paved/boardwalk loop encircles a scenic pond near the top of Snoqualmie Pass. Don’t be put off by the rutted, dirt access road — the parking lot is paved.

Info: 425-888-1421 or

Foothills Trail

Location: Pierce County

Length: 25 miles

This former railbed passes alongside farms and streams through a river valley southeast of Tacoma. Paved sections currently include the 15 miles from Meeker to South Prairie and a two-mile section in Buckley.

Info: 253-798-4176 or 253-841-2570 or

Chehalis Western Trail

Location: Thurston County

Length: 49 miles

This paved former railbed runs along the Olympia/Lacey border through wetlands, pastures and forests.

Info: 360-786-5595 or

Olympic National Park

Location: Olympic Peninsula

Length: Several miles of accessible trails

Fees: Free with Access Pass or Senior Pass, or $15/car

Accessible viewpoints at the park’s beaches include Rialto Beach (summer only), Ruby Beach and Beach Trail No. 4. Accessible trails include the quarter-mile paved trail at the Hoh Rain Forest visitor center and short paved trails at Hurricane Ridge with mountain and strait views. (The first half-mile of the Hurricane Hill trail is paved, but this narrow path with steep drop-offs is no longer listed on the park’s accessibility page.)

Info: 360-565-3130 or

North Cascades

National Park /

North Cascades Highway

Location: Newhalem, Whatcom County, and eastward

Length: Several miles of accessible trails

Fees: None within park; Northwest Forest Pass required at Rainy Lake

Although not within the park, the area’s best accessible trail is the one-mile-long Rainy Lake Trail (37 miles east of the park’s Newhalem visitor center), which ends overlooking a beautiful lake, mountains and seasonal waterfalls. Other accessible trails include a 300-foot boardwalk trail at the national park visitor center and the 1/3-mile Happy Creek boardwalk loop (Milepost 135 on Highway 20). Trails are usually snow-free from about late June to October — call to check.

Info: 360-854-7200 or

Mount Rainier

National Park

Location: Near Ashford, Pierce County

Length: Limited

Fees: Free with Access Pass or Senior Pass, or $15/car

Some of the paved paths near the Paradise Visitor Center are undergoing repair this summer and next (some trails will always be available, though some are steep). Part of the Trail of the Shadows at Longmire is accessible with assistance.

Info: 360-569-6575 or

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Location: Near Castle Rock, Cowlitz County

Length: Several miles of accessible trails

Fees: Free with Access Pass or Senior Pass; otherwise, Monument Pass or Northwest Forest Pass may be required, depending on location — call to check.

Paved trails include the one-mile fine-gravel/boardwalk Silver Lake loop trail next to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center; the 1.3-mile round-trip trail to Meta Lake; .25-mile round-trip trail to Coldwater Lake; and the .3-mile Coldwater Ridge loop trail.

Info: 360-449-7800 or or

Cathy McDonald is a Renton-based freelancer who has specialized in writing about Washington trails.