The Discovery Island Trails in Disney’s Animal Kingdom are located in the center of the park. The trails are not heavily traversed by guests and they are easily the most beautiful area at Walt Disney World. They provide views of animals which cannot be seen any other way, as well as an up-close view of the Tree of Life. Discovery Island is the hub of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which hosts the Tree of Life.
While there is no specific order in which the Discovery Island Trails should be enjoyed, I would generally recommend starting near Creature Comforts (Starbucks) where there is a small bridge and wood-carved sign with a frog on top. This an experience to be enjoyed by following rambling trails with no clear course. They wind around the front and back of the tree, and part of the trail is on the backside, utilizing what is technically the exit for It’s Tough to be a Bug. I have asked cast members on multiple occasions over several years, and it is permissible and welcomed to walk through the sections of the trail that overlaps with the show’s exit area.
Similar to Maharajah Jungle Trail and the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, Discovery Island hosts a unique menagerie. White storks, Red kangaroos, African Crested porcupines, and Ring-tailed lemurs are a small sample of creatures from around the world who call this habitat home. Underneath the small bridge I mentioned, resides a Paroon Shark Catfish. A habitat of otters includes a cool shaded viewing area just a few steps down where you can observe these playful creatures.
The kangaroos have a habitat which can be viewed from the from the Tree of Life, but I prefer to stay back toward the back of their habitat normally only visible on the trail at the front of the tree. A cast member explained to me that the kangaroos dug their own area to relax and stay cool, replicating what they do in nature. Therefore, many guests do not even realize that Animal Kingdom has kangaroos. Perhaps showing a friend or family member the marsupials on your next visit would be a great way to impress even the most die-hard Walt Disney World fan!
Galapagos tortoises and African Crested porcupines also call this area home, sweetly nibbling away at plant life. The roots of the Tree of Life were intentionally designed to give the visitor the feeling that they are shrinking down in size; the roots quickly overtake you. The roots, and ample foliage to some degree, block the outside world and provide a wonderful feeling of isolation.
At 145 feet tall with over 300 animals carved into it, the Tree of Life is a visual spectacle. From the very top down to the roots, creatures of the land, sea, and sky are all featured. The trails allow you to take time and really look at all the details in relative quiet without being obtrusive.
While they should be appreciated on their own merits, images of these carved and real-life animals provide interesting social media content. Horseshoe crabs, a manatee, and a seahorse are carved on the tree; one just needs to take the time to find them. A carved horse looks like it might gallop right out of the tree. While shy, lemurs hopping around are fun to watch. Large Lappet Face vultures spreading their wings make for a striking image. Great photos, videos, and snap chats of these creatures, both alive and artificial, can really make you stand out amongst your friends and social media followers.
Plenty guests post beautiful pictures of Main Street, U.S.A., but how many share images of a coiled snake seemingly ready to strike?
The trails do intentionally ramble but are not a perplexing maze, and actually do a great job of taking you from one side of the park to the next. And while they are in the heart of a Disney park, because they are generally underutilized, it is easy to feel like you are a guest in a sparsely-populated Animal Kingdom. The trails can get busy, but that is an exception, and to some degree, they are one of the quietest areas in the parks. This is certainly not the case around Spaceship Earth, Cinderella Castle, or the Chinese Theatre.
Immersive and unique, it is a shame the Discovery Island Trails are not better enjoyed. When is the best time to enjoy this area? At park opening, many of the animals, especially the porcupine, are at their most active. And, depending on hours and time of year, one may be able to see sunlight beginning to illuminate the Tree of Life. In the middle of the day, the area is a great place to take a break and escape the crowds. I especially enjoy them after a lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue. Toward the evening and night, animal life becomes less visible, but it is not a terrible way to end the day.
Are the Discovery Island Trails a place you enjoy? Do you have a favorite animal on the Tree of Life? Please feel free to share your memories of this area!
Spencer Wright is passionate about Walt Disney World, Disney Film, History, and Old Hollywood. He works in Center City Philadelphia and lives in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He looks forward to writing articles for The Dis Unplugged; currently focusing on Animal Kingdom and the creatures that live there.