Accessible Adventures in the New Forest

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Book a New Forest campsite for your next accessible holiday (Rollz International/Unsplash)

One of the wonders of the New Forest National Park is that it’s pretty much completely flat. There are no mountains, steep hills or valleys for wheelchair users to navigate, and the whole area is liberally strewn with level walking and cycling routes that are well maintained by the park authorities.  

There are also plenty of flat grassy glades perfect for accessible picnic spots, boardwalks along the Beaulieu River for easy strolls, and quiet, off-road cycle paths. Much attention has been paid to ensuring visitor attractions – including theme parks, stately homes, museums and nature reserves – are fully accessible to all. All this goes towards making the park a superb destination for disabled visitors, who can hire trampers to follow woodland paths, ride New Forest ponies under expert tuition or learn to sail in safe waters among many other activities.

Read on for Pitchup’s pick of accessible activities, the best outdoor and cultural attractions to visit and practical advice for visitors with mobility challenges.

Good to know: To counteract the dearth of public toilet facilities in the park, a community scheme allows disabled people to use the toilets at participating businesses free of charge. 

The Gothic-style interior of Palace House is open to disabled visitors (Phillip Glickman/Unsplash)

Accessible Walks in the New Forest

Thanks to its lowlands landscapes, the national park is easily accessible to visitors with mobility issues. All the trails listed below start from locations with accessible parking bays and toilets. 

Hatchet Pond

Length: Two miles/3.05km circular route

Difficulty: easy

Time: an hour

Start: Hatchet Pond car park just off the B3055

A gentle meander around the pond – the biggest area of water in the national park takes you on a level grass or gravel surface. Sometimes the going gets a bit boggy on the southern side of the pond. There are plenty of benches along the way for rest stops, and an ice cream van is often at the car park, which has free Blue Badge car-parking spaces.

Rockford Common

Length: 2.5 miles/4.02km circular route

Difficulty: easy

Time: 1.5 hours

Start: The National Trust’s Rockford Common car park (free to trust members) 

This route takes you through typical New Forest countryside of open heathland and woodland, which is grazed by cattle and New Forest ponies. Look out for the former sand quarry and the Bronze Age barrow, and as the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, you might get to see rare butterflies and birds of prey. If you need to refuel after your walk, there’s a foodie pub just down the road in Ringwood.  

Good to know: for more accessible trails suggestions, check out the national park’s list of downloadable route guides

Accessible Outdoor Activities

Having a disability should not be a barrier to spending time getting active outdoors. Here are Pitchup’s favourite places for adaptive sports experiences in the New Forest. 

Many trails in the New Forest National Park are accessible for wheelchair users (Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

Avon Tyrrell Outdoor Activity Centre

Geared towards helping young people with a variety of mobility and sensory impairments, this fully accessible sports hub offers outdoor survival courses and activity packages for day visits, residential stays and overnight camping adventures. 

Calshot Activities Centre

With a climbing wall, indoor velodrome, dry ski slope and dinghy sailing on the lagoon, Calshot is a one-stop activity hub welcoming disabled guests with Changing Places toilets and adapted equipment for watersports and climbing. Assistance dogs are permitted too, and there’s full access to the café, which has gorgeous views over the Solent. 

Longdown Activity Farm 

With interactive animal activities like sheep feeding and rabbit cuddling, accessible tractor rides and all-inclusive play barns with wheelchair swings, the farm makes a fun-filled destination for families who have young kids with mobility issues. Even better, carers are allowed in for free. 

New Forest Sailability

This charity aims to introduce disabled visitors to the simple joys of being out on the water. There are wheelchair-friendly pontoons with safety rails, and a fully accessible clubhouse for a restorative pint after your dinghy-sailing jaunt. 

New Forest Riding and Watersports Centre

For an introduction to riding, expert teachers take disabled riders out on leading-rein hacks, and there are lessons available for blind riders in the indoor school too.

PEDALL 

There are around 100 miles/160 km of safe off-road cycle tracks – including the popular Burley loop on forest tracks – in the New Forest National Park, and PEDALL provides guided rides for people of all ages with a range of disabilities on a variety of adapted specialist cycles.

Accessible Attractions 

Most of the New Forest’s best-known attractions – including Paultons Park, Home of Peppa Pig World, Beaulieu and the New Forest Wildlife Park – are well set up with facilities for visitors with accessibility needs. Accessible parking bays, plenty of rest areas and mobility-scooter hire are just some of the measures in place to ensure that everyone can enjoy their time in the national park. 

Beaulieu

A full day at Beaulieu means tours of an opulent Victorian mansion and strolls through rose gardens to the Monastic Life Exhibition at Beaulieu Abbey. Petrolheads will want to check out the National Motor Museum and Top Gear World, plus the busy schedule of supercar races, classic car shows and biker days. With all this going on, disabled visitors can make the most of their time by borrowing wheelchairs and electric scooters to get around the expansive complex. Other handy amenities include large-print visitor information and hearing induction loops, accessible parking spaces and toilets, and ramped access into the restaurant. Guide dogs are also welcome across the site.

Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway

With a series of themed gardens, heritage train rides, walks by the Beaulieu River and tours of an 18th-century mansion once owned by Lionel de Rothschild, there is plenty at Exbury to keep you entertained. Disabled visitors can borrow wheelchairs with pneumatic tyres to navigate compacted gravel paths in the gardens, and there is free garden admission for carers as well as mobility scooter hire. Some of the railway carriages on the vintage train are also adapted for wheelchair users. 

Good to know: visit in late spring for the blaze of colour that is the rhododendrons and azaleas in flower. 

Lepe Country Park 

A combination of beach, salt marsh or wildflower-meadow walks, bird hides and D-Day relics make this gorgeous coastal park one of the New Forest’s best family days out in nature. To help visitors with accessibility needs, there’s a sensory garden, ramps to the beach and an accessible pathway to the pond-dipping area, as well as Changing Places toilets and the free use of all-terrain wheelchairs.

New Forest Wildlife Park

For a fantastic family expedition, it’s hard to beat this sprawling wildlife park where activities include encounters with lynx, wolves and wildcats as well as owls, deer and otters. Sensory maps, social scripts and free entry for carers are all part of the deal here, which also offers accessible toilets and car parking. Please note that guide dogs are permitted, but not to all areas of the park due to the presence of free-ranging wildlife. Also, please note that not all of the woodland trails are easily accessible for wheelchairs or mobility scooters.

Paultons Park, Home of Peppa Pig World

Home to five themed areas including the much-loved Peppa Pig World, this amazing theme park covers 140 acres of manicured parkland with 70 rides and attractions, most of which are open to wheelchair users. As well as standard offerings like accessible parking bays and loos, the park goes the extra mile to ensure that everyone has a marvellous time. Assistance dogs are allowed onto the complex, and if you have difficulty standing in line for rides, you can apply for a Queue Assist Pass at least five days in advance of your visit. Discounted Essential Companion Tickets are also available. 

Accessible equipment hire

There are four venues within the national park where you can hire four-wheel-drive, all-terrain, electric trampers for the day. They are Avon Heath and Moors Valley country parks, and Blashford Lakes (where assistance dogs are welcome) and Testwood Lakes nature reserves.

New Forest Mobility Services in New Milton hire out mobility scooters, and you can hire wheelchairs from mobility shops in Cadnam, Christchurch or Hythe.  

Good to know: New Forest Disability can offer further specialised help with mobility needs.

Accessible travel within the park

The New Forest is remarkably easy for everyone to visit and get around. The main railway station is at Brockenhurst, which serves the London Waterloo to Weymouth line, and has direct trains from Manchester and the East Midlands. There is lift access on all platforms and passenger assistance can be requested when you book tickets at least 24 hours in advance on 0800 528 2100 (6am–10pm).

A public bus service run by Morebus has routes all across the park, and every bus has full wheelchair access. The same company also offers hop-on, hop-off open-top buses on three circular New Forest Tour routes between late June and mid September; the lower floors of these buses are fully accessible, with access ramps and large print sightseeing guides. 

When you’d like to explore the park’s coastline, the ferry between Hythe and Southampton Town Quay is wheelchair accessible, and if you fancy a trip to the Isle of Wight, the Wightlink Lymington to Yarmouth ferry has lifts and ramps for wheelchair users.

Good to know: charges normally apply in New Forest District Council car parks, but if you’re a Blue Badge holder you can park for free. 

Accessible accommodation

Here at Pitchup, we believe the New Forest to be a fantastic destination for your next accessible holiday, and to reinforce that belief, many of our campsites in the national park have facilities for mobility-impaired visitors. 

Accessible campsites in the New Forest

Hampshire campsites with disabled facilities