Crashing waves, towering lighthouses and scenic viewpoints are abundant along the Oregon coastline, making for spectacular photo opportunities. Miles of sandy shores offer accessible paths for all mobilities to enjoy a trip of a lifetime. Enter Kelcie Miller-Anderson: Instagram influencer, spirited adventurer and disabled environmental scientist who sets out to see the world “with a new set of wheels.” In October 2022, she made a special trip from Canada to Oregon to try out several of Oregon’s accessible visitor amenities.
Always an avid traveler, Miller-Anderson sought out new experiences from a young age. At 24 years old, she was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Disease – a rare genetic disease that impairs the body’s ability to produce energy. At 25, Miller-Anderson became a wheelchair user. She began using social media to become a role model for people with disabilities and to share what she and people with disabilities are capable of – enjoying the outdoors like anyone else.
Statistically, 1 in 5 people living in the U.S. has a disability. Miller-Anderson says that the biggest barrier to traveling with a disability is not always just physical infrastructure, but a lack of information about accessible travel locations, such as trails, restaurants and lodging. Her 6-day trip to Oregon, a long-time dream, was packed with natural wonders, tasty food and sunny days on the beach that could be enjoyed by all. “I was blown away with accessibility everywhere,” she says. Here are some of her favorite experiences.
Coastal Fun in Yachats and Newport
First on Miller-Anderson’s itinerary, Yachats on Oregon’s Central Coast. The 804 Trail from Yachats State Park to a sandy beach 1.7 miles to the north provides expansive ocean vistas and access to tide pools and pebbled coves. Miller-Anderson was surprised to find that the trail, though not noted as accessible, was easily navigable by most wheelchairs. The trail passes behind Overleaf Lodge & Spa, where Miller-Anderson and her mother, who traveled with her, spent the night.
The next day, driving north on Highway 101, they reached Newport and made a visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon’s largest aquatic and marine science educational facility. After a science-filled afternoon, they spent the afternoon at the Historic Newport Bayfront window shopping and tasting saltwater taffy. A highlight of their day in Newport involved a trip to the pier, where sea lions lounged under the sun. “We heard them from a mile away,” she says. “I had my wheelchair at full speed because I was so excited to see them.” She was impressed not only by how vocal they are, but also of how accessible it is to see wildlife from a safe distance. Dinner at Ocean Bleu Seafoods was a hit, with locally sourced seafood and delectable crab cakes.
Last in the area, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was a perfect spot to birdwatch. To access the beach for those with mobility challenges that cannot walk down the road, visitors can request from the ticket window access to a specific accessible route to take a wheelchair or drive down to the lower tide pools. Rest up for the night at the Best Western at Agate Beach for the following days.
Have a Beach Day in Lincoln City and Cannon Beach
In Lincoln City, Miller-Anderson made her way to the sandy shores with the use of rentable beach wheelchairs provided for people with limited mobility. The beach wheelchairs are stored in a locked blue storage container at beach access locations, on a first-come, first-serve basis. They can be accessed with the use of an app (iOS or Android), which Miller-Anderson noted was intuitive to use. From there, she was onto the beach. Lincoln City also puts out mobi mats (short for mobility mats) at three beach locations during the warmer season – a great way for people with low mobility to get onto the beach. Pro tips: the beach wheelchairs can be difficult to move by yourself on the sand, she says, so having someone else to push is helpful, and don’t get too close to the water.
A pit stop on the way to her next destination was the Tillamook Creamery. “It was so accessible. I loved seeing the process of them making all the cheeses and then tasting it, and of course I had to get the ice cream flight,” she says.
A top highlight of her trip: discovering that the sand on Cannon Beach was firm enough to use her manual wheelchair to get around. “We got up early and the tide was out and I got to take my off-road wheelchair down the beach, all the way down to Haystack Rock, and I even got to look into the tide pools,” she says. “I never thought there would be a place where you could get that close to tide pools easily in a wheelchair.” Cannon Beach also offers people with limited mobility to call ahead to the Cannon Beach Police Department for a permit to drive their vehicle onto the beach.
Going to Portland and the Gorge
A quick stop in Portland necessitated a trip to Mother’s Bistro and night stay at a boutique hostel. Lolo Pass in downtown Portland impressed Miller-Anderson with their commitment to making the hostel as accessible as possible. The hostel offers private, accessible rooms as well as shared dorm-style rooms. “They did it right. If you are a wheelchair user wanting to travel with your friends or meet new people, it was phenomenal.”
Finally, during the last day of the trip, Miller-Anderson visited several waterfalls and food destinations along the Columbia River Gorge. A classic stop, Multnomah Falls was “absolutely amazing,” she says. The parking lot has accessible parking and the view of the falls has a ramp for people to reach the viewpoint. Lunch at the Multnomah Falls Lodge had salmon chowder on the menu and was fully accessible. Driving a bit further down, Horsetail Falls was just as beautiful for Miller-Anderson. For science-lovers, a stop at the Bonneville Dam and fish locks was a great way to spend the afternoon learning about the geological history and scale of the dam.
Her last stop along the Gorge was Grateful Vineyard in the Hood River Valley and Thunder Island Brewing in the Cascade Locks. Both locations offered a fun atmosphere with paved parking spots to taste orchard apples, wine, cider and great Oregon beer. “It was a beautiful end to the trip. The whole Mt. Hood area is beautiful too.”