Sun Notch Trail, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon – A Warning
Length: 0.75 miles loop
Surface: loose soil and forest debris
Maximum Grade: 14%
Typical Grade: 8%
Maximum Cross slope: 16%
Width: variable, mostly > 36 inches
Vertical climb: 173 feet
Obstacles: Steep grade and cross slope
Trail suited for: pedestrian hiking
The Sun Notch Trail, located 4.4 miles from park headquarters on East Rim Drive, is a short uphill loop trail that offers classic views of the Phantom Ship in Crater Lake. The National Park’s website describes this trail as accessible for “strong wheelchair users with assistance”. There is a wheelchair symbol on the trailhead sign. Warning: this trail is not wheelchair accessible under any guidelines and should be considered dangerous for wheelchair users, and even many ambulatory hikers. There are sections that are too steep, with very high cross slope, and with loose surface materials.
The Park’s Reflections Visitor Guide displays a wheelchair for the Sun Notch Trail but the Map handout describes the trail as “moderate hiking” instead of their “easy” category, both enigmatic terms.
The Sun Notch trail was a killer for this writer. On the way up we met an elderly couple walking down who didn’t make it to the view point because it was too steep and the surface had too loose footing. Even though I was struggling in a wheelchair, I felt sorry for them! A fall for me would start closer to the ground.
Along the rim there is an unprotected trail edge that drops directly into the caldera at one frightening spot, a 1,000 foot tumble. Coming down the loop clockwise, my assistant and I could not brake my manual wheelchair enough, was skidding, and another person ran to catch up to help keep my speed under control (three people/one wheelchair).
The Architectural Barriers Act of 2013 (ABA) covers accessible characteristics of recreational trails in National Parks. There are no categories for “Accessible with assistance” or “Accessible to strong wheelchair users” as described in the Reflections Visitor Guide. Trail descriptions posted at trailheads are required by the ABA but there is none here. If I had info that there were sections with 14% grade I would have avoided this trail. A standard ADA access ramp for a building is no more than 8%. The wheelchair symbol at the trailhead and in the Reflections Visitor Guide is an error and a dangerous liability.