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An accessible campsite with wheelchair friendly accommodations.

MS and the Great Outdoors

While camping last summer, we had neighbors directly behind us occupying the ADA site: a young woman and her companion, a young man in a wheelchair.

They slept in a tent attachment fitted for their truck, cooked breakfast on a camp stove, tended the fire at night, and were gone from the site during the day, exploring the local sights.1

I confess, for all the camping I do (at least six trips annually in the Pacific Northwest), I had not seen an occupied ADA campsite until then. It always makes me wonder why more people with disabilities don’t go camping.

Why go camping?

Good reasons exist for why some don’t go camping. Happily, there are solutions for many of these challenges. As with anything in life, you can find a way to make camping work even if you have MS.

For some — including our neighbors last summer — camping is the perfect getaway precisely because it offers many benefits for those dealing with chronic illness and disability.

Affordable fun

Even if camping isn’t entirely “free,” it’s still a great deal less expensive than a trip requiring resort fees, plane tickets, and spendy dinners out. They also don’t require a major investment in travel.

A good camping trip can be had, whether you are “car camping” with tents and coolers or “glamping” in an RV. You can also rent cabins, yurts or tipis. Listen, we “rough it” just living with MS — there’s no shame in choosing comfort in the great outdoors!

Don’t have a budget for camping? KOA’s annual grant program, #GetOutThereKOA, might be able to make a camping adventure possible for you and your family.2

A customizable experience

Don’t let your MS symptoms and physical limitations keep you from going on an outdoor getaway. Simply plan to accommodate your needs.

For instance, if you overheat easily, then you’ll want to camp where there’s shade, water for swimming or wading, or air conditioning.

If you need to use an assistive device, search out locations that are friendly to your needs. Tent campers might consider using a tent with a vestibule that can store a walker or chair.

Those with stomach issues may want to choose destinations with excellent bathroom facilities. Or, you can create a privacy tent for a bedside commode like this avid camper did.3

Forest bathing

Shin-rin yoku is the Japanese word for the healthy practice of communing with trees. There’s science to back up the benefits of woodsy wanderings: an elevated mood and improved immune system, for starters.

Circadian reset

If you struggle with sleep and fatigue, camping can help you achieve a circadian reset. Circadian rhythms reconnect with the rhythms of the planet when you spend a day or two outside, away from artificial lighting, turning impoverished sleep patterns into healthy sleep-wake cycles.

Tips for easy trips

  • Agency-run parks and grounds require ADA-compliant facilities, but quality will vary. You can preview images of them online to ensure they suit your needs.
  • While online, check out campground maps and reviews. Consider: How level are the sites? How close are the facilities? How clear are the lanes? How much shade is there?
  • If you live in a camping mecca like I do, you know parks book up fast. Though ADA sites don’t always fill up, reserving in advance is highly recommended.
  • And speaking of planning… if you discover you love camping and want to go again, hooray! You’ll be inspired to create a packing list for equipment, gear, food, and other items to simplify future trips. Smart Camping Guide offers this downloadable list as a place to start.4
  • Don’t want to cook but want “real” food? Consider camping near local eateries. Some parks have onsite concessions or general stores which sell premade dinners or hot meals. Pre-making and reheating casseroles, salads, or breakfast items also works.
  • Look into nearby activities. You might find nature talks and tours, ice cream socials, horseback riding, and outdoor movies. Fun, right? If you have kids, a destination with a groovy playground will make it a trip they’ll remember.
  • Try to book your sites over the phone. Talking to a human being at the park, sharing your needs, may yield a better site choice than you may have found on an online campground map.
  • If you’re tent camping, use tall air mattresses with flocking. They’re easier to get in and out of and far more comfortable than mattress pads.

Resources for MS-friendly camping

Camping clubs and specialty camps that cater to people with MS and their families:

Other resources

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. The OzTent. Adaptive Outdoorsman. Accessed May 21, 2019. http://www.adaptiveoutdoorsman.com/oztent.html
  2. “Get Out There” Grants. KOA. Accessed May 21, 2019. https://koa.com/koa-get-out-there-grants/.
  3. Wheelchair Camping for the Modern Adventure. Grit Freedom Chair. Published September 15, 2016. Accessed May 21, 2019. https://www.gogrit.us/news/2016/9/14/wheelchair-camping.
  4. Camping Checklist. Smart Camping Guide. Accessed May 21, 2019. http://www.smart-camping-guide.com/Tent-Camping-Checklist.html.

Comments

  • marigoldg
    1 week ago

    All great points and ideas for people who have relatively mild mobility issues or are still fairly able-bodied. However, for people like me, going camping is a reminder of what I can no longer do and a source of emotional pain. I have Secondary Progressive MS, and am in a wheelchair, have severe balance issues, bladder problems and extreme fatigue.

    I used to camp frequently. I was an avid hiker, rock climber, ocean swimmer and more. I can no longer do any of those things and, believe me, negotiating a campsite in a wheelchair is no easy thing. Air beds are not easy to navigate or get out of if you have balance problems or need to negotiate getting into a wheelchair from the bed.

    What I’ve found works better than going to campsites is going to parks that have paved walkways or botanical gardens with accessibility options. Staying at a hotel along the Blue Ridge Parkway and touring paved walkways is much easier for me than going to a county park and attempting to camp overnight.

    If spending time outdoors is something you’re interested in, it is important to take a minute to think about your *real* physical abilities before launching into something that might place you at risk for falling or getting otherwise hurt. Being realistic is as important as the experience of being outside.

  • TK Sellman moderator author
    1 week ago

    Great advice, Marigoldg!

    I wrote the article making the assumption that a person in a wheelchair would have a caregiver or companion in their company.

    Knowing one’s limitations is really important. You can manage to hike or camp if you have the proper assistance and support, of course, and many people with MS have different kinds of disabilities, so camping might still be okay for them.

    But one must do their research to ensure they will be safe.

    For instance, the trails I hiked last weekend were *not* friendly to PwMS… I walked them but I have some balance issues and it was a little sketchy when they became steep or narrow. Vertigo would not be a good situation for hiking some trails, for sure!

    Yet, at another park where I camped, the trails were fully lined with boardwalk, wide and accessible and flat. Beautiful trails.

    Balance issues, use of assistive devices should always be a big part of the decision-making process when going outside.

    Also, solo trips are probably not a good idea if accidents are a concern. I would never go hiking by myself these days (though I used to do so all the time). It means I hike a lot less than I used to, but I try not to let MS completely take away this experience of being out of doors. That’s the thing with MS, you may feel robbed of the things you used to do, and grieving that is perfectly healthy. Making adjustments so you can have a similar–if not exactly the same–experience (like you’ve done) is one way to reclaim some independence from the limits that MS may try to impose on us.

    Here’s something positive: I was just at a campground where they had platform tents with ramps… they certainly had enough room to pack a portable toilet and you could fling open the flaps and let the light in. They had double roofs, so no leaks! And the sites themselves were very flat and smooth with wide egresses and ample parking.

    They also had furniture like you’d find in a “kabin” (table and chairs, couch, sturdy single padded bunks) which would work for people with wheelchairs as long as there was a person there to assist with cooking and transferring to and from bed. You could definitely set up a bathing situation in there as well. Some of the yurts I’ve seen have also been pretty well equipped and friendly to the disabled.

    But keep in mind: I’m in the PacNW where state-run and national park campgrounds are plentiful and well maintained. This may not be true in other parts of the country. So I suppose “your mileage may vary.”

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