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Five Things to Know About the Discovery Island Trails

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The Discovery Island Trails are self-guided walking trails around the Tree of Life in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Along the trail are a number of observation stations where you can view a variety of animals, from otters to kangaroos. In addition to the animals, you’ll find waterfalls, wooden footbridges, cave-like tunnels, and quiet spots to sit and enjoy nature peacefully. But if you’re in a hurry to get to the nuts and bolts, here’s your shortcut.

1. There are two ways to walk on the wild side.

As a self-guided walking path, the Discovery Island Trails have no queue, per se. But there are two ways to enter the path. One is just before the bridge from Discovery island to Africa; it’s right across from Creature Comforts. The other is on the right of the entrance to the Tree of Life near the bridge to Asia.

Since the trail is somewhat hidden, and some folks don’t even know it’s there, you won’t usually encounter crowds. You can take as long as you like or spend as little time as you care to. And unlike some other paths at Disney World, on this one you can turn around and go out the way you came in if you like! Since the entrances and exits are close to the Pandora, Africa, and Asia areas of the park, it’s a great attraction to check out while you’re waiting for your Genie+ reservations elsewhere in the park.

2. It’s truly a Trail for Discovery!

The Discovery Island Trails are lined with lush landscaping. It’s beautiful enough to make you forget it isn’t the work of Mother Nature but was created by Imagineers! The pathways wind around the base of the Tree of Life. You can enjoy the waterfalls and explore the “tunnels” created by the root system of the Tree. You’re also able to get up close to the Tree for one-of-a-kind views of the intricate carvings. (More on that later.)

You’ll see both living and carved wildlife

Along the way are different spots to view animals including flamingos, otters, porcupines, red kangaroos, cranes, Galapagos Tortoise, and more. As with the park’s other animal viewing trails, posted signs inform you about the different species and provide background details about the animals you see in their exhibits. Tip: even though you may not see every animal housed along the trail, your best bet is to visit during the cooler parts of the day.

As with any self-guided tour, you set your own pace: while some may rush through and finish in as little as ten minutes, others may spend a half hour or more, taking in the information and sights. It’s your call! Because the paths are not usually crowded, it’s easy to take your time to observe and learn if that’s your choice.

3. Disney played the name game.

According to a couple of different sources I’ve read, the name itself went through a series of gyrations before landing on its current moniker. On Animal Kingdom’s opening day, Discovery Island was called Safari Village and when the trails opened a few weeks later, they were called the Tree of Life Gardens. These names were necessary because Discovery Island was in use elsewhere …

The area that is called Discovery Island Trails today opened to guests on May 24, 1998, a few weeks after the Animal Kingdom’s opening day. At that time, “Discovery Island” was the name of a different island in Bay Lake at Walt Disney World (which also went through a name change: it was first called Treasure Island!). That island was still open to guests and was home to a number of animal exhibits.

When Discovery Island in Bay Lake closed in April 1999, Safari Village was renamed Discovery Island. The Tree of Life Gardens were christened Discovery Island Gardens, which was later changed again to the current Discovery Island Trails. And many of the animals from the former Discovery Island in Bay Lake were moved to the new Discovery Island location in Animal Kingdom. Got all that?

4. The Tree of Life is central to the trail’s tale.

Discovery Island Trails follow a semi-circular path around the Tree of Life, the iconic symbol of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The tree is 145 feet tall and 50 feet around at its base, and the shapes of more than 300 animals are carved into the Tree (including a hidden Mickey, of course). As Disney says, “It’s an epic visual symbol of the diversity, beauty, and interconnected nature of Earth’s creatures.”

The Tree took 18 months to fabricate and has more than 8000 branches and roughly 102,000 artificial leaves. During its construction, famous primate researcher Jane Goodall insisted that a chimpanzee be one of the animals depicted; specifically, David Graybeard, one of the chimps with whom she worked. Disney obliged, of course!

The base of the Tree of Life is home to the theatre that hosts It’s Tough to Be a Bug! But at one point in the planning stages, the Imagineers considered using that space as a restaurant!

5. The Nuts and Bolts.

The Discovery Island Trails are located near the base of the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As mentioned, there are two entrances/exits to the trails. One is to the right of the walkway when approaching Africa, across from the Starbucks locations called Creature Comforts. The other entrance/exit is to the right of the entrance to the Tree of Life itself. Since the Trails are outdoors, guests will be exposed to inclement weather.

The path allows guests to remain in a wheelchair/ECV to experience the Trails. There aren’t any health or safety advisories for Discovery Island Trails and has no height requirement. Since there is no queue for this self-guided walking experience, Discovery Island Trails doesn’t have a Lightning Lane. Discovery Island Trails is open for Early Theme Park Entry but not for Extended Evening Theme Park Hours.

The Bottom Line.

The Discovery Island Trails are by no means a headliner attraction at Animal Kingdom. And frankly, a lot of guests who visit never even notice them! Animals may be most active and therefore visible to guests during the cooler parts of the day. But even during midday, when temps are high, it’s a great place to get out of the crowds and enjoy a little leisure time, get a little rest, and slow down during a hectic day of touring. Connecting with nature is always a good idea!

Have you walked the Discovery Island Trails? What was your favorite part? Let us know in the comments.

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Bob Jacobs

Bob Jacobs lives in Wisconsin where he retired as Editorial Director for a well-known catalog company. He and his wife Cristie have four children, seven grandchildren and a cocker spaniel named Penny the Dog. They’ve visited Walt Disney World regularly since 1992.

One thought on “Five Things to Know About the Discovery Island Trails

  • I have walked the paths of Discovery Island, both the current one and when it was in Bay Lake. Not sure which was better but neither got a lot of visitors. Had to take a boat to the Bay Lake rendition. Also spent a few days at River Country. More fun in some ways than the current water parks.


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