3 Wheelchair-Accessible Beaches Within 4 Hours of Charlotte
And tips before you go
Our son Ben was born in 2003 with a rare mutation on the MECP2 gene, a condition that has caused an assortment of developmental disabilities, including epilepsy. He uses a wheelchair.
Splashing at the ocean’s edge is still his favorite pastime. But early on, he grew too heavy for us to carry him to the beach, and a wheelchair was too hard to push through the sand. During a 2010 trip to Fort Macon State Park, we learned about beach wheelchairs, equipped with large, inflated wheels that can roll across the sand without sinking. We checked one out for free. Ben sat like a prince on his throne.
Over the years, through trial and error, we’ve adopted a beach routine that works well for Ben: a one-night stay in a wheelchair-accessible hotel room within walking distance of several restaurants. Ben starts off with a dip in the pool, then we head to a nearby beach with beach wheelchairs. He still squeals with delight when he hits the water.
Here are three of our favorite beach towns in the Carolinas that offer services and resources, and all are less than a four-hour drive from Charlotte.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort is a small, walkable town on the Beaufort River. Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park has a paved path with views of the water and quick access to restaurants, and the playground has accessible equipment and sensory-friendly activities.
Hunting Island State Park installed two Mobi-Mats (like a red carpet from the access point to the ocean) and has two beach wheelchairs available at no cost. Find them near the Hunting Island Camp Store and the Lighthouse Gift Shop.
The Visitor Center, Nature Center, and the new Pier at Hunting Island all have ramp access. The Visitor Center’s Virtual Lighthouse has a “climb experience” for people who can’t make the climb on foot.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Champion Autism Network named Surfside Beach and the City of Myrtle Beach autism-friendly vacation destinations, which means a number of attractions, hotels, and restaurants offer sensory-friendly experiences.
Several area beaches offer beach wheelchairs at no cost on a first-come, first-served basis. Wheelchairs and Scooters of Myrtle Beach and Mobility Center have beach wheelchairs for rent.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach is wheelchair-accessible and offers sensory-friendly days.
Cherry Grove Pier is wheelchair-accessible from the parking lot and has a full-service tackle and bait shop for experienced and new anglers. The shop also has a beach wheelchair available at no cost.
Cory Lee is an award-winning blogger—Curb Free with Cory Lee—and wheelchair user who writes about his world travels. He visited Wilmington and nearby beaches in 2018 and found them extremely wheelchair-friendly. Lee lounged on the beaches, toured the Carolina Beach boardwalk, and visited Britts Donut Shop.
Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach have beach wheelchairs free of charge.
The Children’s Museum of Wilmington has sensory packs with noise-canceling headphones, a sensory sound map, and quiet spaces for families.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher earned a Sensory Inclusive Certificate from KultureCity in 2019 after aquarium staff and volunteers were trained to better understand and interact with guests with different sensory needs.
The half-mile Flytrap Trail at Carolina Beach State Park is wheelchair-accessible; so is Wilmington’s 1.75-mile, wood-plank Riverwalk.
VANESSA INFANZON is a Charlotte-based writer and mom. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI.
BEFORE YOU GO
➊ Check the waves and currents before you decide on a destination. “Less tumultuous water may be easier for people with disabilities to access and enjoy, as opposed to choppy water and high waves,” says Alvaro Silberstein, CEO and co-founder of Wheel the World, which helps people find and book accessible travel to more than 80 destinations.
➋ Seek out destinations with accessible water activities. Look for adaptive surfing, kayaking, and scuba diving. Local nonprofits may operate programs for visitors.
➌ Call ahead to restaurants. Ask about peak hours, accessibility, and space for wheelchairs. Do they offer private dining areas for children who need quiet? Do they allow food orders ahead of time so it’s ready when you arrive?