From Niagra falls to a wheelchair accessible snow mobile ride on a glacier, Canada has stunning and accessible attractions for travellers who use a wheelchair.
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TRAVEL: CAN DO CANADA
By Marayke Jonkers
Posing for photos atop 200-year-old ice on picturesque Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is one of the last places I expected to be in a wheelchair, especially having just stepped out of an Ice Explorer snowmobile with wheelchair lift and guided commentary.
I came across the glacier in the must-see Rocky Mountains region, encompassing Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, on a self-drive tour departing Edmonton and finishing in Vancouver. The glacier is a peak of ice six kilometres long and one kilometre wide. The tour takes you to the middle of the glacier, on a five-kilometre round-trip journey during which our guide explained how glaciers are formed and interesting geological facts – such as when we disembark we will be standing on ice up to one kilometre deep which melts and deepens with snowfall and temperature.
To finish the experience you can take a jaw-dropping walk along the one-kilometre glass-floored Glacier Skywalk boardwalk at the cliff’s edge, taking in wildlife and stunning scenery. Both the tour and skywalk are wheelchair accessible when booked a day in advance. Wheeling on the ice and filling my water bottle with fresh, glacier water were highlights.
Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper
Meandering in front of this picturesque blue lake and stunning vivid wildflowers in a singlet in perfect hot sunlight, with snow-capped mountains behind, I wonder why I’m tired and realise one of the benefits of travelling in Canada during summer is it’s still daylight at 11pm. Having checked into an accessible room at the Fairmont Hotel, Lake Louise, I can see the sights out the window without exerting any energy, but there are paths to explore and even a costumed yodeller to complete the experience. There’s also an accessible cable car at the Jasper Skyrail – the longest and highest aerial tramway in the Rockies.
The best sights though are the unexpected vistas caught out the window, from lakes to waterfalls, mountains and novelties such as garbage bins in cages to stop wild bears eating food scraps or signs warning to carry ‘bear repellent’ on bushwalking paths.
Aboard the famous ‘Maid of the Mist’ boat, wearing the iconic plastic raincoat, is a breathtaking way to experience panoramic views, hear the roar of the falls and feel the moist mist blowing from the falls brush your face. The boat is accessible for wheelchair users with ramped entry and assistance if required. I had to strategically position myself to see past other taller passengers and the edge of the boat but got a great view from my manual wheelchair. Stand back if you don’t want to get wet!
Arriving at the falls is as breathtaking as the boat trip itself. Niagara Falls is actually three separate waterfalls – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Canadian Horseshoe Falls – and all are viewable free-of-charge from the Canadian side. Enter via the Table Rock Information Centre which houses breathtaking views of the falls, information, accessible bathrooms, and accessible interactive displays. Ramps around the falls can be quite steep, but easy access to the centre from the hotels can be found using the accessible Incline Railway – it offers great views and level access to the guest centre which is your gateway to the falls.
What to do in Niagara
Stay the night and enjoy a spectacular light show projected onto the falls – many accessible hotels even have a view of the falls out the window. By day take in the Floral Clock – photographed nearly as often as the falls, and the picturesque town of Niagara on the lake.
The Sky Wheel has accessible enclosed capsules with views over the Falls, as does the Skylon tower which takes you 770 feet upwards in a car outside the tower to view the Falls from the top. Discounts are offered for wheelchair users or those unable to navigate steps to the outdoor observation deck. You can also see Niagara Gorge’s stunning rock layers at the White-water Walk on Rapids accessible boardwalk. There’s also a casino, restaurants, arcade area and tourist attractions.
I accessed the Falls booking a wheelchair access private shuttle, booked online, which transferred me from Toronto Airport to my hotel. As I was fit and strong I was able to push around the area to explore, alternatives are to use power assist, use accessible buses or book a wheelchair access tour vehicle with or without guide. Be aware some ramps are steep and some terrain uneven however there are so many ways to see the Falls even from the visitor centre and hotels you won’t miss out.
Can you do Canada? Yes you can!
Tips for visiting Niagara falls
- Accessible toilets are available on board the boat to Niagara Falls, and in the terminal.
- Keep your electric chair or scooter controls dry from spray: pack plastic bags, towels and ask for spare raincoats. Chose to sit indoors on the ship away from waves.
- Before boarding the boat take in the views of the falls from accessible look-outs.
- Best locations for accessible photography include the Horseshoe Landing look-out and Grand Hall of the Table Rock Information Centre, or Rainbow Bridge – the pedestrian crossing to the USA.
- Don’t forget your passport.
- A novelty for Australian travellers is the need to cross the border by land to the USA to experience the other side of the waterfalls, which can be done via vehicle or as a pedestrian. As a wheelchair user I was provided a special dedicated customs officer to facilitate the process and security screening.
For more of Marayke’s travel tips visit