Archive for July, 2012

Accessible travel in Great Smoky Mountains

July 22, 2012

I’m turning over this post to my fellow travel writer Candy B. Harrington, the guru of accessible travel. Her latest guide is “22 Accessible Road Trips: Driving Vacations for Wheelers and Slow Walkers.” Candy also blogs about accessible travel issues at For me, here in the South, Candy wanted to write something about a Great Smoky Mountains destination. Take it away, Candy!

Multigenerational travel is alive and well in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It’s a place everyone, regardless of age and ability, can enjoy. From toddlers in strollers to folks who use canes and walkers, to wheelchair-users, there’s no shortage of scenic drives, accessible attractions and even barrier-free trails that dot the area.

One great lodging choice is Constance Hartke’s Wears Valley cabins, which feature access modifications that make them an excellent choice for groups that have members with mobility issues. Located off US 321, just a short drive from the back entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Constance’s two ridge-top cabins are managed by Awesome Mountain Vacations (866-907-1747,

Bedroom in Eagles Nest has plenty of space to maneuver a wheelchair [Photo by Charles Pannell]

The smaller of the two cabins — Eagles View — has one bedroom and can accommodate up to five guests. There is ramp access to the wrap-around porch from the adjacent parking area, with barrier-free access to the front and back doors. Both entrances feature level thresholds and wide doorways; and inside there is barrier-free access to all first-floor areas.

The living area is furnished with a sofa bed, an easy chair, a dining table and a washer and dryer; while the fully equipped kitchen features a refrigerator, stove and microwave. Truly there’s everything you need to make yourself at home.

Eagles Nest bathroom has a roll-in shower [Photo by Charles Pannell]

The spacious bedroom boasts a 23-inch high open-framed king-sized bed, with adequate pathway access on both sides. Access features in the adjacent bathroom include a roll-in shower with grab bars and a hand-held shower head, a fold-down shower bench and a roll-under sink. The toilet is located in a 42-inch wide alcove, with grab bars on both walls, and ample room for most transfers.

The second floor, which has a pool table, a standard bathroom, a twin sofa bed and a small deck, is only accessible by stairs. Still there’s plenty of room on the first-floor deck to wheel around and enjoy the views.

A wheelchair-accessible boardwalk leads from Eagles Nest to Above the Clouds [Photo by Charles Pannell]

The bigger cabin — Above the Clouds – is ideal for large family gatherings, as it can accommodate up to 11 guests. A ramp leads from the nearby parking area to the back deck (located on the first floor) and up and around to the front deck (located on the second floor); so either floor can be accessed from outside.

The second floor features a kitchen, dining room and living area, plus a bedroom with a king-sized bed. The adjacent bathroom has a roll-in shower with a fold-down shower bench, a hand-held showerhead, shower grab bars and a roll-under sink. The third floor loft, which can only be accessed by stairs, contains a pool table, a twin sofa bed and a standard bathroom.

Downstairs there’s a massive game room, two bunk beds and a bedroom with a king-sized bed and a standard Jacuzzi tub. There is also a bathroom with a roll-in shower with a fold-down shower seat, a hand-held showerhead and shower grab bars.

Above the Clouds features the same great views as Eagles View, and it’s certainly roomy enough for a small family reunion. And you can always rent both cabins if you have a larger group, as there’s a barrier-free walkway between the cabins, and all of the public areas are wheelchair-accessible. Best of all, both cabins include a bevy of homey touches, so you never feel like you’re in a rental. That’s a real plus in my book!