It's worth mentioning that many wilderness areas have very convoluted boundaries that provide access to the margins of these areas. Trapper's Lake campground isn't wilderness, nor is the access road, but it is completely surrounded by The Flattops Wilderness, and the lake itself is wilderness. The wilderness area basically starts at the edge of the campsites. So wheelchair access, albeit not very deep, was certainly possible. I had the great fortune to be a camp host there for one summer.
I also did a good bit of ADA type work on behalf of the USFS under contract back in the 90's. This included making access improvements all over Colorado, and trying to get access policy sorted out and somewhat consistent among about 14 different agencies that played a role managing the sundry wild areas of Colorado. I can't promise that somebody from the Denver Water Board or Summit County Fire and Rescue or Federal Marshal's Office won't mistakenly tell you that you shouldn't be in a wilderness area on a wheelchair, But I tried my best.
While the policy position on physical access is explained above, there remains an affirmative duty to provide access to comparable wilderness experiences to all.
Here's an excerpt from Wilderness Accessibility for People with Disabilities: A Report to the President and the Congress of the United States on Section 507(a) of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the National Council on Disability.
In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act and established the
National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). The NWPS is not an
independent lands system; rather, it is made up of lands managed by
four federal agencies: the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park
Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land
Congress has sole authority to designate wilderness areas, but the
four federal agencies must manage these lands within the parameters
specified by the Wilderness Act. As stated in Section 2(a), the
purpose of the Wilderness Act is
...to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding
settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all
areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands
designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition,
it is hereby declared to ...secure for the American people of present
and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of
Over the years since its passage, some people have claimed that the
Wilderness Act discriminates against the rights of persons with
disabilities because it prohibits the use of motorized vehicles,
mechanized transport, and other activities within federally designated
wilderness areas. Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act states
Except as specifically provided for in this Act...there shall be no
temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or
motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical
transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.
The Wilderness Act was written before the rights of people with
disabilities were part of the national debate. Not surprisingly, there
is no mention of people with disabilities in the Act. Over time, as
people with disabilities began to use the wilderness, the question was
raised whether a wheelchair is a mechanical device and therefore
prohibited from the NWPS. The four federal agencies responsible for
managing the NWPS have responded differently to this question.
In 1990 Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The
ADA gives civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities
similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex,
national origin, and religion. Among other issues, the ADA addresses
specific wilderness access in Section 507(c):
(1) In General--Congress reaffirms that nothing in the Wilderness Act
is to be construed as prohibiting the use of a wheelchair in a
wilderness area by an individual whose disability requires use of a
wheelchair, and consistent with the Wilderness Act no agency is
required to provide any form of special treatment or accommodation, or
to construct any facilities or modify any conditions of lands within a
wilderness area to facilitate such use.
(2) Definition--For the purposes of paragraph (1), the term wheelchair
means a device designed solely for use by a mobility-impaired person
for locomotion, that is suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area.
The primary purpose of this study is to review the management
practices of the four federal agencies that manage the NWPS and to
determine whether people with disabilities are able to use and enjoy