people on the Jordan Trail
Supportive hiking excursions like Wheel the World’s Rapa Nui experience help adventurers of all abilities discover the great outdoors. | Photo courtesy of Wheel the World
Supportive hiking excursions like Wheel the World’s Rapa Nui experience help adventurers of all abilities discover the great outdoors. | Photo courtesy of Wheel the World

These Inclusive Outdoor Adventures Invite You to Hit the Trails

You don’t have to be a hardcore hiker to get your nature fix.

Just a few days into a 400-mile hike across Jordan, I was sidelined by temporary paralysis and auras. No, not the vibey kind of auras that refer to someone’s energy; I’m talking about migraine auras—numbness and visual disturbances that include sudden blind spots and flashes of light. The culprit? Hemiplegic migraines, a rare and chronic condition that can cause debilitating stroke-like symptoms.

If I’d been out solo hiking, I may not have survived. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. I was on a “supported” group hike, accompanied by a local team that handled logistics, provided guides and camping equipment, and guaranteed access to adequate food and water for the cross-country trek.

person walking in Jordan desert
Fitzgerald tackles the Jordan Trail, her team not far behind. | Photo courtesy of Sunny Fitzgerald

Some hardcore hikers might roll their eyes at the mere mention of a supported hike, believing that “real” hikers go it alone. Sure, upping the suffering ante and risking your life may earn you bragging rights amongst a certain set, but, believe it or not, it’s actually not a requirement for enjoying the outdoors.

Adding support to a hike doesn’t cancel out a meaningful experience. Instead, it makes these types of life changing journeys possible for those that can’t or don’t want to forge their own path. And having people present to ensure my safety along the Jordan Trail didn’t somehow transform the hike into a luxury hotel stay. We slept in tents most nights (often on rough, rocky surfaces), encountered snakes, scorpions, and packs of dogs, endured a range of temperatures, and went days (okay, maybe weeks) without a proper shower. And no matter how much help the team provided, they couldn’t hike the trail for us. Each participant had to put one foot in front of the other, trekking up and down mountains, crossing blazing hot asphalt—there were several days where my hiking shoes nearly melted on the desert blacktop—and trudging through steep dunes.

tent on cliff above water
Supported hiking doesn’t necessarily mean cushy glamping. | The Jordan Trail درب الأردن

Not everyone can or wants to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail or climb Kilimanjaro. And those folks shouldn’t be excluded from the great outdoors for opting for an augmented or assisted activity or a shorter, less strenuous path. Whatever the reason—whether it’s time, money, physical ability, chronic conditions, or otherwise—you don’t have to be hardcore to be a hiker.

It gets even more complicated for people with mobility-related disabilities. A recent study by MMGY Global that documented the experiences of more than 2,700 American travelers with mobility issues alongside their caregivers and companions found that nearly everyone encountered problems with the various aspects of a trip, from flights to accommodations to transportation. The study also found that travelers with mobility-related disabilities spend $58.2 billion per year on travel—taking leisure trips at nearly the same frequency as travelers without disabilities—yet their access to many experiences can be severely hampered by tourism industry failures.

people on bikes
Cycling the mountains with Wheel the World. | Photo courtesy of Wheel the World

Thankfully, those looking for more inclusive experiences with find an increasing number of options popping up around the globe, from hut-to-hut supported hikes, horse-packing, and helicopter-assisted glacier hikes in British Columbia to Pugdundee walking safaris in Central India’s tiger territory and guided Great Walks of Australia throughout all six states and the Northern Territory. And while the industry overall has a long way to go in creating more wheelchair-accessible adventures, there are some, like those partnering with Wheel the World, that are definitely getting it right.

Here are the best supported hikes, inclusive outdoor excursions, and wheelchair-accessible treks around the world to make your next big foray into nature smooth sailing.

tents on a grassy hillside
Take in the fresh air along the Trans Bhutan Trail. | Photo courtesy of G Adventures

For the first time in 60 years, the recently restored Trans Bhutan Trail is opening to hikers in September 2022. Thanks to tour operators such as G Adventures, you won’t have to tackle the trail like the Garp messengers once did—running between fortresses at high speed with little-to-no food and water.

For travelers on operator-supported hikes, water and hearty meals are provided in addition to local guides, accommodations (a mix of hotels, guesthouses, and camping), historical site visits, and cultural experiences. G Adventures' 12-day excursion hits some of the most historic and scenic sections of the Trans Bhutan Trail. It’s fully vehicle supported, so you have the option to sit out some of the hikes if needed, and you’ll only carry your daypack while on the trail—perfect for those unable to carry heavier packs due to medical conditions or personal preferences.

woman standing in front of prayer flags
It’s all smiles on the Trans Bhutan Trail. | Photo courtesy of G Adventures

Following the ancient walking routes rather than roadways affords a deeper experience of one of the greenest and happiest places on the planet. Bhutan is one of the only carbon-negative nations in the world, and it’s the only country where Gross National Happiness (GNH) is prioritized over Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Trans Bhutan Trail is much more than a hike—it’s a tour through Bhutan’s history and culture, an immersion into the pristine landscapes, and an opportunity to engage with and learn from locals along the way.

Given Bhutan’s location on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, the trail does pass through areas of high elevation, and various sections of the trail range from easy to demanding, While tour operators are on hand to provide support, note that an appropriate level of fitness is required.

How to book: Packages for the G Adventures Highlights of the Trans Bhutan Trail start at $5,599 per person.

people standing on rock
Reach new heights in wukalina. | Photo by Rob Burnett

A truly one-of-a-kind experience, the wukalina Walk is the only trek on the planet led by the palawa people, Tasmania’s indigenous population. The setting alone is well worth the trip down under, but this supported hike offers more than good looks. palawa guides captivate guests with heartfelt stories and cultural knowledge, stopping to identify sites of significance and forage edible plants while traversing the forests and beaches of wukalina (Mount William National Park) and larapuna (Bay of Fires).

This four-day, three-night experience is well-suited for travelers that prefer to pair easy to moderate day hikes with meaningful cultural exchange, local foods, and cozy accommodations. For the first two nights, you’ll retire to a domed hut nestled in nature just steps from the shore. On the final night, you’ll rest your head at the restored lightkeeper’s cottage on the coast. The Winter Walk, offered May through September, provides a shorter two-night experience with both nights spent at the lightkeeper’s cottage.

Of course, hikers aren’t the only ones drawn to this special place—keep an eye out for wildlife and you may spot wallabies, wombats, and other curious island inhabitants.

How to book: The three-night wukalina Walk is $2,895 AUD per person. The two-night Winter Walk is $1,389 AUD per person.

airplane in the sky
Let the views come to you along an aerial safari. | Photo courtesy of Scenic Air Safaris

While traditional safaris lead visitors on hikes or game drives via rugged four-wheel-drive vehicles, guests of Scenic Air Safaris gain a unique perspective above it all. The flight teams are trained to assist, and the planes are designed to accommodate travelers in wheelchairs, creating a comfortable and seamless experience in the sky. Every passenger receives a headset, and Scenic Air pilots act as guides, providing colorful and informative descriptions of the landscape and animal activity below, bringing the scene to life also for guests who have sight limitations of any magnitude.

man in giant nest
Scout the wildlife—from a safe and comfortable distance—at Chisa Busanga Camp. | Photo courtesy of Green Safaris

Chisa Busanga Camp offers another option for a wheelchair-accessible bird’s eye experience: A stay in the Nest, an elevated guest room with sweeping views over the Busanga Plains in Zambia. Chisa installed an electric lift for the Nest closest to the main building, and the camp’s safari vehicles can accommodate those using collapsible wheelchairs.

How to book: Costs and reservation procedures vary.

polar bear
Chill with stunning polar bears in the Arctic. | Photo courtesy of Churchill Wild

Churchill Wild’s Polar Bear Safaris, the only walking safaris in polar bear territory, are proof that you don’t have to climb the highest mountains or trek the longest trails to find a thrilling experience.

Encountering a nearly 1 ton polar bear in the Arctic is one of the most memorable (and terrifying) travel moments one can have. For me, it happened just steps away from the Churchill Wild lodge. I was with trained guides—you can’t go out alone in a place where wild polar bears, black bears, moose, and wolves roam freely—and had been briefed on appropriate behavior in advance. But nothing prepares you for the feelings of fear and awe that rush over your body when you’re standing in the presence of these enormous (and admittedly adorable) creatures.

During my stay at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, we never had to go far to find wildlife. There were black bears grazing on berries just beyond the dining room window, moose mating across the river from our qigong session, and one night before dinner, a polar bear lumbered along the bush plane airstrip. The wildlife in these parts is, well, wild, so spotting bears from the comfort of the couch is possible but not guaranteed.

As Churchill Wild lodges are located on fairly flat terrain, walks here are generally ranked as easy. Routes are dictated by weather and wildlife movement—there are no named trails with set distances, but walks at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge tend to be three miles or less, sometimes with assistance from ATVs. At the other Churchill Wild lodges, guests can expect to hike five to six miles per day.

aurora lights
The stars at night are indeed big and bright. | Photo courtesy of Churchill Wild

With 300 nights of aurora activity in this region, you might also have the opportunity to bathe in the light of the aurora borealis. You won’t even need to call on your college-era energy and pull an all-nighter—the team monitors the sky overnight and can wake you if the Northern Lights make an appearance.

For those that require flexibility with activities, such as travelers with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, it’s possible to participate in a morning walk then relax at the lodge for the afternoon. Given the lodges’ remote locations, guests should discuss any health conditions, concerns, or requirements with Churchill Wild prior to booking to ensure safety and determine whether appropriate accommodations are possible.

How to book: Rates for Churchill Wild Polar Bear Safaris vary depending on the lodge and inclusions. Inquire directly to determine the safari best suited to your needs and interests.

people river rafting
Explore the Rogue River in style. | Momentum River Expeditions - Northern California & Oregon Rafting

On this four-day journey through southern Oregon, Momentum River Expeditions transports gear down the Rogue River in rafts—quite literally carrying the burden of bulky gear that might otherwise prevent some hikers from attempting multi-day treks.

With just a light daypack on your back, you’re free to live your best postcard-perfect Pacific Northwest life as you frolic through the forest, keeping an eye out for bald eagles, ospreys, black bears, and other captivating fauna. Riverside lunches and afternoon hors d’oeuvres keep you fueled for the adventure, and if you need a break, you can hitch a ride in the raft.

camp set up on river
Local beer and wine are only some of the perks of this expedition. | Momentum River Expeditions - Northern California & Oregon Rafting

You’ll hike five to 15 miles each day, and end each evening with dinner, drinks (tasty local wine and beer are included), and a restful stay at a historic riverside lodge (HECK YES to hot showers). This hike is lodge-to-lodge with no camping required, so it’s ideal for hikers who love an active day in the outdoors but require more comfortable accommodations at night.

How to book: The cost of the Momentum River Expeditions’ Rogue River Trail Hike is $1,590 per person.

people biking alongside ocean
Cruise Ke Ala Hele Makalae on whatever wheels you’ve got. | Photo courtesy of Wheel the World

Wheelchair-accessible trails in Hawaii invite visitors to explore Kauai’s scenic coastlines, wander lush and culturally significant stretches of Waimea Valley, and voyage up to Makapuu’s famous whale-watching lookout.

Perhaps some of the most uniquely Hawaiian activities can be found on the Island of Hawaii, where visitors can experience the power of volcanoes. From the Steam Vents parking lot in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, take the 1.2-mile (round trip) paved path to Ha`akulamanu (Sulpher Banks) or opt for the shorter the .1-mile gravel trail (unpaved but navigable with some assistance) to check out Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff). Another option within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is Devastation Trail. Accessible from the trailhead parking lot, follow the one-mile (round trip) paved path through the eerily beautiful landscape that’s still regenerating from the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. Near Pahoa, you’ll also find Lava Tree State Monument, where still-standing molds of tree trunks were created in 1790 when lava flowed through the area. The .7-mile loop trail here is also paved.

Wheel the World offers an eight-day, seven-night Maui adventure, complete with surfing, snorkeling, cycling, and kayaking. A Wheel the World-trained guide, accessible rooms and transportation, and adaptive equipment for outdoor activities are all provided.

How to book: The Wheel the World Vacation in Maui package starts at $3,500 per person (based on two people).

houseboat on the water
You’ve never seen the Outback like this before. | Photo courtesy of South Australia Tourism Commission

Australia’s weather, wildlife, and rugged terrain make it one of the most challenging and rewarding places in the world for hikers. And, it turns out that throwing a houseboat into the mix only makes things more exciting.

On the four-day, three-night Murray River Walk, your “hotel” travels with you. Each morning, the houseboat delivers you to a trailhead for your daily seven- to nine-mile hike. In a country that receives such limited rainfall that it ranks second only to Antarctica for the driest country on the planet, traveling and walking along the Murray River is refreshing in more ways than one. Yes, you can dunk your feet in the cool water at the end of the day, but, more importantly, wildlife is also drawn to this water source. There’s a good chance you’ll share the trail with kangaroos and a variety of colorful birds while local guides offer insight into the environment and its many inhabitants.

people canoeing on the water
The Murray River is open to floaters of all kinds. | Photo courtesy of South Australia Tourism Commission

At the end of the day, your chariot awaits, welcoming you back on board with locally sourced eats and wines (although South Australia is known for its reds, a crisp white or rosé pairs perfectly with a hike in the outback. Trust me—I tried several, just to be sure). Relax in the top deck spa before drifting off to sleep with a view of the stars from your bedroom window while your floating home cruises down the river.

Trails are relatively flat and well-suited for those who enjoy a leisurely pace and minimal inclines. With the houseboat as your home for the duration of the trip, you’ll leave your luggage onboard and carry a light daypack for hikes. And if you’re not up for trekking and need to rest, you can skip the hike and relax deckside—a great option for travelers who might require the kind of flexibility not always possible with multi-day thru-hikes.

How to book: The cost of the Murray River Walk package starts at $2,800 AUD per person in a shared room. For a tailor-made experience, Murray River Safaris also offers Murray River Escapes, custom houseboat journeys for private groups of four to 12.

beach shore
Sweeping beachfronts await in Turkey. | Photo courtesy of Exodus Travels

Sample a section of the Lycian Way—a long-distance trail in Turkey that connects ancient footpaths, old Roman roads, numerous villages, and dozens of historic sites—with Exodus Travels’ Walking the Turquoise Coast experience. Although the full thru-hike stretches 335 miles along the country's southern Mediterranean coast and takes 29 to 45 days to complete, this eight-day option offers a more leisurely experience covering a small, carefully selected portion.

Local guides lead you on half-day walks to natural and historic sites, telling the tales of those that walked this land before you. You’ll stroll through olive groves, encounter Ottoman ruins and Roman baths, visit Patara National Park, and more. In addition to hiking, free time can be used for add-on activities like sea kayaking over the sunken city of Dolichiste.

With a hotel in the seaside town of Kas as your home base, you can easily opt in or out of hikes—a great setup for those with chronic conditions that demand flexibility. And time that would typically be spent packing, unpacking, and changing locations translates into more time to relax and soak up the Turkish sunshine.

How to book: The cost of the Exodus Travels’ Walking the Turquoise Coast package is USD $1,049 per person. For those that prefer to explore the out-of-this-world landscapes and sleep overnight in the caves of Cappadocia, Exodus Travels also offers a premium supported walking package there for $3,199 per person.

easter island beach
Take a dip at Easter Island. | Photo courtesy of Wheel the World

Travelers on Wheel the World’s Easter Island trip are in for a deep dive into the unparalleled energy of Easter Island. This five-day, four-night outdoor adventure includes trekking to volcanoes, exploring coral reefs with the assistance of certified divers, and handbiking to Ahu Tongariki, the island’s largest Moai platform.

As with all its offerings, Wheel the World ensures adaptive equipment and wheelchair-accessible transportation, and all rooms are provided alongside local guides trained to assist people with disabilities.

How to book: The Easter Island package starts at $1,980 per person (based on two people traveling together). This itinerary can be customized to suit individual needs, so be sure to discuss any concerns, questions, or requests prior to booking.

man looking at seals on the beach
Mingle with the locals at Kangaroo Island. | Exceptional Kangaroo Island

If you like your hikes equal parts nature, food, connections, and conversations about conservation, first of all, can we be friends? But also, you’ll love Walk Kangaroo Island.

The team at Exceptional Kangaroo Island has curated a six-day, five-night collection of 11 walks passing through some of KI’s best national parks and nature reserves and even crossing clifftops and private properties that you couldn’t otherwise access.

A linear path is not the priority—this journey is all about immersing (and dare we say, indulging) in all the island has to offer. Your daily walks (about five to eight miles per day) will bring you closer to nature as well as local artists, ecologists, producers, and business owners. Four-wheel-drive vehicles transport guests between trails, and the team will keep you sated with fresh, locally sourced meals served at elegant bush barbeques and private picnics in the great outdoors.

Walk Kangaroo Island is fully supported, so you can leave all the logistics, transportation, navigating, and cooking to the pros. With a hotel as your base for all five nights, you can pack light, rest well, and know that the on-site team has your back throughout the trip.

How to book: The Walk Kangaroo Island package is $5,995 AUD per person.

people preparing a kayak
Set sail on Costa Rica’s majestic Arenal Lake. | Photo courtesy of Wheel the World

Costa Rica’s verdant, ungroomed landscapes might be daunting for travelers with mobility challenges. But today’s tourism industry is actively developing more inclusive experiences, including accessible adventures like ziplining in Monteverde, rafting, and surfing in Jaco. Many of the country’s national parks are also incorporating wheelchair-friendly designs, and though it’s a work in progress, Alvaro Silberstein, co-founder and CEO of Wheel the World, says Costa Rica is one of his favorite places. “There are some accessible trails and beautiful destinations in Costa Rica worth exploring,” he notes. Silberstein recommends checking out Sarapiqui, Manuel Antonio, and Arenal.

El Manglar Trail in Manuel Antonio National Park is popular among wildlife enthusiasts. Built over a mangrove, the half-mile, wheelchair-accessible trail takes visitors from the park entrance to Espadilla Sur Beach. The trail also features 10 bays with information in Braille to provide details about the park to those with visual impairments. Travelers along this route might encounter some of Manuel Antonio’s local residents—including iguanas, butterflies, sloths, tropical birds, and playful monkeys. Amphibious chairs are available for rent at Espadilla Sur Beach, but be sure to contact the park administration in advance so they can check the tides to ensure visitor safety.

How to book: Costs and reservation procedures vary.

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Sunny Fitzgerald is a contributor for Thrillist.