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Trail Mix Adventure

Nothing greater than the great outdoors? Only if there's an accessible and inclusive trail that suits your individual needs.

On an autumn day in October, my sons and I headed to the newly-opened Autism Nature Trail in Letchworth State Park, here in New York State. The park boasts three major waterfalls, as high as 600 ft (183m) in places, and 66 miles (106km) of scenic trails for hiking. It’s been called the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’, and won the USA Today’s Reader’s Choice Award for Best State Park in the U.S.

Our Autism Nature Trail adventure began at the Trailhead Pavilion, where we were able to pick up a laminated map of the trail and all of the Stations within the park.

The Autism Nature Trail is a flat hike on a stone dust walkway, and it’s wheelchair accessible, so it’s an enjoyable walk or wheel for hikers of all abilities.

We headed to our first stop: the Sensory Station. Here, wooden shelves encircle a platform where hikers can select natural materials to explore with their five senses. These natural materials include feathers, branches, rocks, bones, antlers, pinecones, pine boughs, and more.

Next, we moved on to the Sunshine Slope, where three Cuddle Swings are installed along the treeline. Here, hikers can rest, swing, and enjoy the peaceful setting, as two of my sons did.

At the Music Circle, hikers can create their own music on outdoor cymbals and xylophones. A wheelchair-accessible stage enables all guests to sing and share their musical talents.

Emerson playing Xylophone at the Music Station on the Autism Nature Trail
Emerson tries his hand at the xylophone at the Music Circle on the Autism Nature Trail. Credit: Nicole Thibault

The Meadow Run and Climb Station is a place to move your body! With an accessible hill, stairs to climb, a tunnel made out of small willow trees, and several playground pieces, this stop on the trail is all about motion. When you’re worn out, there are several beautifully hand-carved benches where you can rest.

Next on the Autism Nature Trail is the Design Zone. Hikers are encouraged to build structures and play spaces using natural materials such as branches, sticks, rocks, and more. Many previous hikers had built hunts and forts; we used our imaginations and created new additions.

At the end of the Autism Nature Trail is the Celebration Station. We returned our laminated map of the trail, and signed our names with a message for fellow hikers on the chalkboards.

Sebastian on the Balance Beam on the Autism Nature Trail
There are plenty of opportunities to practice your gross motor skills on the Autism Nature Trail. Credit: Nicole Thibault

The Humphrey Nature Center, located near the Celebration Station, houses many exhibits to educate visitors about local plants, animals, geology, and the river ecology of the park.

The Autism Nature Trail is a beautiful outdoor space that was made accessible so that all families can enjoy it. We’re sure it will soon be a destination for travellers from all over the world.

Visitor Information: The Autism Nature Trail is located in Letchworth State Park (56km southwest of Rochester), near the Castile entrance. The trail is open year-round for self-guided hikes. There is programming for visitors through Camp Puzzle Peace, such as guided themed hikes and holiday programs. The Trail itself is wheelchair accessible, and there are restrooms in the Humphrey Nature Center with accessible stalls, a baby changing area, and lots of room for a caregiver to assist if necessary.

Find out more on the Autism Nature Trail website.

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

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