A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Wilmington, NC

Wilmington is a beautiful city on the Cape Fear River, located a short drive from beaches facing both south and east. Although downtown Wilmington is among the oldest areas in the U.S., many parts have been adapted for wheelchair accessibility. In this guide, we’ll cover the many wheelchair accessible things to do in Wilmington and its surrounding areas, along with accessible hotels, public restrooms, and transportation.

Wheelchair Accessible Public Restrooms in Wilmington

Thanks to the United State’s ADA law, you can expect any public restroom to be accessible. Below is a list of some of the accessible public restrooms we came across:

  • Wilmington Riverwalk (by the Market Street entrance)
  • Fort Fisher State Historic Site (located outside, to the right of the museum entrance)
  • Brunswick Riverwalk

Wheelchair Accessible Hotels in Wilmington

We’ve put together a detailed guide on wheelchair accessible hotels in Wilmington. Do you want to know how wide the entrance is to your room? How about accessibility in the area immediately surrounding your hotel?

You’ll find all this and more in our post on Wheelchair Accessible Hotels in Wilmington.

Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Wilmington

Below is a description of seven accessible things to do in Wilmington. You’ll be getting a well-rounded Wilmington experience if you visit these places.

1. Wilmington Riverwalk

The Riverwalk is one of the best wheelchair accessible places in Wilmington.

Located in downtown Wilmington on the Cape Fear River, exploring the Wilmington Riverwalk is a must for any visitor to the area.

The Wilmington Riverwalk is nearly two miles long. A wide, wooden boardwalk makes the Riverwalk easy to navigate with a wheelchair. Along the way, you’ll encounter cute shops, restaurants and apartment buildings.

The area around Market Street is the busiest part of the boardwalk since it has the highest concentration of shops. However, thanks to how wide the boardwalk is, it’s unlikely you’ll have issues navigating through the crowds.

The boardwalk is mostly flat, although there are some areas where there are minor inclines.

We recommend visiting the Wilmington Riverwalk hungry so that you can try out one of the amazing restaurants such as Elijah’s or The Pilot House. Between eating a meal and exploring the boardwalk, you can easily spend 2 – 3 hours in this area.

Travel Tip: Grab an ice cream cone at Kilwins. Located just a couple blocks up a gentle incline on Market Street, it’s a must-visit…ahem, a must-eat….on any trip to the riverwalk.

2. Beach It

Downtown Wilmington may be on the river, but many people think of oceanfront beaches when they think Wilmington- and for good reason. Countless miles of beaches are a short drive from Wilmington, lining both the Intracostal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.

Even if you don’t own a beach chair, you’ll be able to enjoy many of the beaches in Wilmington, thanks to wheelchair accessible sidewalks and boardwalks. Let’s take a look at a few of the most notable beach spots.

Wrightsville Beach

A view of the Intracoastal Waterway side of Wrightsville Beach.
The Intracoastal Waterway side of Wrightsville Beach.

Located a short drive from Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach is the closest- and among the most popular- beaches.

Wrightsville Beach runs along a narrow strip of land that allows visitors to enjoy both the beach and sidewalks that run along the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Town of Wrightsville Beach offers free beach wheelchairs so you can roll onto the sand. You can read about how to pick up a chair, along with the hours for pick up and drop off, at the Town of Wrightsville Beach’s website.

Carolina Beach

A view of the ocean from the Carolina Beach boardwalk.

Carolina Beach takes the beach boardwalk cake in the Wilmington area. An elevated, wide, wooden boardwalk runs along the coast. In fact, Carolina Beach was rated one of the top 10 boardwalks in the United States.

Because of its height, the Carolina Beach Boardwalk offers stunning views of the ocean. However, the boardwalk isn’t only about ocean views. A wide, cement section connects with the boardwalk where you can stroll along shops and restaurants.

If you’re wanting to roll out onto the beach, there are free beach wheelchairs you can book through the town of Carolina Beach.

Travel Tip: If you’ll be in Wilmington area during the summer, stop at Britts Donut Shop for a donut. They’re to die for!

Kure Beach

A wheelchair accessible path runs through Kure Beach in Wilmington.

Kure Beach is perfect if you’re trying to please varying interests in your group. Not only does it offer beaches, but Kure Beach is located in the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, making it a perfect place for history buffs.

A paved sidewalk runs along Kure Beach with the ocean on one side and a windswept Maritime Forest on the other.

Stunning doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Venturing slightly inland, a paved path winds through a portion of the fort. Free to enter and fully accessible, visiting Kure Beach and the fortress make for a great wheelchair accessible day trip from Wilmington.

If you’re wanting to get out on the sand, Kure Beach Fire Department offers free beach wheelchairs that can be rented for up to one week. Read here for more information.

3. Downtown Wilmington

The historical downtown of Wilmington.

You’ve surely been waiting for this- a post on Wilmington wouldn’t be complete without talking about the city’s beautiful historical center.

Much of downtown Wilmington is built on a small hill, so manual chairs, in particular, may find portions of downtown more difficult to navigate. However, overall the sidewalks are well maintained and you can expect to find drop curbs everywhere.

A horse drawn carriage in downtown Wilmington.

Since many buildings are historic, they aren’t obligated to comply with ADA regulations. Therefore, when wandering around downtown Wilmington, much of your sightseeing will be done from the road. The Wilmington Riverwalk and restaurants along it are a wonderful exception, as talked about in our first point.

A variety of outdoor markets take place throughout the year in downtown Wilmington and streets are turned into pedestrian-only for them. Some of the streets are cobblestone brick, although you can always hop over to the paved sidewalk.

4. Boardwalk at Riverlights

The Boardwalk at Riverlights is a more off-the-beaten path wheelchair accessible destination in Wilmington.

If you’re looking for pretty views in an area that few tourists know about, head to the Boardwalk at Riverlights. This fully wheelchair accessible boardwalk is technically part of the Riverlights community in Wilmington, although it’s open to the public.

The boardwalk runs along the Cape Fear River, with areas that jut out into the water for extra nice views.

There’s also an impressive public seating and grilling area at Ember Park. The grilling area is the most accessible part of this particular park area, with a tightly packed stone path leading to it.

A fire pit at Ember Park which is part of the Boardwalk at Riverlights.

We recommend going hungry so that you can eat at Smoke on the Water. This restaurant is also ideal since it has an accessible restroom and parking.

Travel Tip: Plan your visit during sunset. You’ll take home quite possibly the prettiest sunset photos during your time in Wilmington.

5. North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

You already know that Kure Beach is a beautiful place to visit. So, while you’re in the area, you should put the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher on your list.

The aquarium is spread out on two floors, with an elevator connecting the two.

When you first enter the facility, you’ll encounter a humid environment where aquatic loving land critters reside. Make sure to visit the albino alligator- it’s quite the sight!

After passing through the terrestrial part of the aquarium, you’ll head into an air-conditioned, two-story area where you can view countless species of fish, jellyfish, and a two-story aquarium showcasing creatures that live at varying levels in the ocean.

6. USS North Carolina Battleship

The deck of the USS North Carolina battleship in Wilmington is wide and flat, making it wheelchair accessible.

From the Wilmington Riverwalk, you’ll see a large battleship across the river. This is the USS North Carolina Battleship, which was used during WWII.

The lower and upper portions of the Battleship are chock full of stairs. However, the Main Deck is accessible, thanks to a wide ramp leading from the information center. The deck is wide and flat.

The ramp leading up to the USS North Carolina Battleship.
The ramp leading up to the USS North Carolina Battleship.

From the Main Deck, you’ll get to observe cannons and read some information plaques. We recommend downloading the USS North Carolina app since for a small fee, you can listen to about 1.5 hours of information about the Main Deck alone. You’ll also get to listen about areas of the battleship that aren’t accessible.

If history isn’t your thing, you’ll surely enjoy the views of Wilmington from this Battleship which are some of the best in the city. Additionally, the SECU Memorial Walkway surrounding the ship is fully accessible.

There’s a special ADA admission for wheelchair users of $6 for people 12 years and older. Wheelchair users ages 6 – 11 enter for $3 and those under six years old enter for free. Additionally, one adult enters for free if assistance is needed.

7. Brunswick Riverwalk

The Brunswick Riverwalk Trailhead.

The Brunswick River oftentimes doesn’t get as much attention as the Cape Fear River, as it runs parallel to Cape Fear, away from the city. However, if you head across the river from downtown Wilmington, you’ll encounter the beautiful Brunswick Riverwalk.

The Brunswick Riverwalk has a large parking lot with accessible parking. From there, a dirt path leads through a forested area before meeting with a wooden boardwalk that runs along the Brunswick River.

The wheelchair accessible wooden boardwalk at the Brunswick Riverwalk in Wilmington.

The terrain is mostly flat, with a mild incline in certain spots.

If you enjoy fishing, there’s a portion of the boardwalk set up for it, with fishing pole holders built into the railing. Two of the holders are accessible.

In addition to taking a stroll and fishing, there’s also a playground and a picnic area. The Brunswick Riverwalk is small but a great option for seeing something outside of the usual Wilmington tourist spots.

Conclusion

With its beaches, historic center, and riverfront boardwalks, Wilmington and its surrounding areas offer attractions for a variety of interests. While wheelchair users will encounter some inaccessible places, particularly with older buildings in the historical center, overall there has been a good effort to make Wilmington accessible.

If you’ve been to Wilmington and its surrounding areas, we’d love to hear about your experience and your favorite accessible areas in the comments section. Traveling to Wilmington and have questions? Leave us a comment and we’ll do our best to help out.

P.S.- Looking to take a half-day trip from Wilmington? Check out our guide on Wheelchair Accessibility at Fort Anderson.