Running Disney’s Wilderness Trail, or: “I was feeling part of the scenery; I walked right out of the machinery…”

So Boots & I were up at the World on Thanksgiving weekend. There was no one particularly driving reason for us to head there, but we were “in the area” so we decided to make a weekend out of it. And when I say “in the area”, I mean “somewhere on Planet Earth”. Like we really need an excuse. Shameless. Truth be told, we had already driven over to Ft. Myers to celebrate Thanksgivukkah with some close friends. Since we were leaving Friday morning, a realization came that we were less than three short hours away from Disney. So why not? Sure the place would be crowded, but we don’t go for the rides or attractions much anymore. Sounded like a plan.

That said, for all the sightseeing, holiday decoration hunting, noshing, and other assorted goofball fun we were having, I needed to get my miles in. SOME miles in, anyhow, but nothing major. I have the Palm Beaches Half next Sunday (12/8) so I didn’t want to do anymore than 4 or 5 miles, tops. So I planned on a morning run, but SOMEWHERE. As much as I enjoyed our hotel (props to the very fine Caribe Royale), there wasn’t much around there that would prove interesting. Besides, I had heard about the legendary “Wilderness Trail” that lay between Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness resorts; about how it was THE most tranquil stretch for a walk, jog, or bike ride on all of Disney property.

I was pretty much sold.

Sunday morning I woke up just after 6:30, geared up, got in the car and gunned it over to the Wilderness Lodge. It was a cool, overcast, damp morning, with some very light drizzle from the skies, with temps around 62 degrees. Felt like perfect running weather to me. I got to the Lodge, parked, and entered the Lobby. Wow. The Christmas decorations were in full effect, making we want to blow off the run entirely and just chill by the fireplace, soaking in the Xmas Atmos. Naturally this was not to be. But here are some pics I took to give you an idea of how inviting it was inside there:

This tree was several stories high.

This tree was several stories high.


Some size context for you.

Couldn't I just hang out here with a hot choc-o-late?

Couldn’t I just hang out here with a hot choc-o-late?

I know we’re going to be staying at the Lodge in January for Marathon Weekend, but I was ready to move in right then and there. Still, I was on a mission. I made my way past the lobby, and headed outside towards the shores of Bay Lake, making my way to the dock, my “Start Line” area:


At the start, behind me…


…and in front.

I hit my Garmin and took off at a real easy pace. Here’s a satellite overview of my 4-mile course:

Courtesy of Garmin and Google.

Courtesy of Garmin and Google. Click to Embiggen.

I started out running up the sidewalk adjacent to the Wilderness Lodge villas, which took me straight out in front of the Lodge, past the Bus Loading Zones and up near the entrance. I saw the sign for the Trail and turned East, onto a smooth, paved, flat trail. It was unbelievably quiet out, a peaceful, serene picture. And then, almost immediately, I saw this:

Serenity now!

Serenity now!!… wait who’s THAT?

Let me back up with a quick dose of Hokeyboy History… when I first starting going to Disney with the family when I was a tiny kid — back when there were only two resorts (Contemporary and Polynesian), one park (Magic Kingdom), and a WHOLE lot of untouched, pristine wilderness — I remember sitting in the back of our family truckster as we drove down World Drive, staring out the window, soaking in all the magic and fantasy that Disney pretty much excels at delivering, and remaining utterly CONVINCED that all the Disney creatures lived in the forests around the Magic Kingdom. One walk through the foliage, off the beaten track, and you could easily bump into Bambi, Dumbo, the Seven Dwarfs, Robin Hood, and so on. Yes, yes, silly but I was FIVE, so I bought into every last bit of imagination I could muster.

Cut to 37 years later — I’m running through the Disney forests on a trail, and I get greeted by this guy:

Kinda wobbly, ain't he?

Kinda wobbly, ain’t he?

I freakin’ KNEW it!

Listen, I know it’s “just a deer”, but I live in suburban South Florida. We don’t get much deer around these parts. Now if we’re talking pythons, ‘gators, iguanas, and ginormous flying roaches? That’s right in my wheelhouse. But deer? I will remain gobsmacked…

This actual trail portion is about 0.7 miles long, so it wasn’t a very lengthy stretch. There’s an actual Nature Trial that runs adjacent to this one, on the banks of Bay Lake, but it’s a sand/earth trail and I wasn’t feeling like running on soft Earth. Besides, when the trail ended I was right at Ft. Wilderness, next to the Tri-Circle-D Ranch. And I got to meet some new friends, out for a morning bath and some noshing:


I stopped my Garmin and took some time to chat up the handler about the animals and take some pics in the area. I hadn’t been to Ft. Wilderness since I was a kid, so it was really cool to see how little the area had changed (save for the closure of River Country, an area of which I still had massively fun memories). Soon after I headed north to loop around the pool area but took a wrong turn and wound up at a dead end on the banks of Bay Lake. D’oh! Still, I managed to capture this shot of the Contemporary shrouded in fog and cloud cover:



I made my way back up around the Tri-Circle-D Ranch and started my loop around the Ft. Wilderness campgrounds. I started by heading north and circling around the Main Area that features the Hoop-De-Doo Revue and Trading Post. A few people were out and about for morning walks, bike rides, and jogs, so I never felt alone out there. I started the main loop south down Fort Wilderness Trail, passing the 2 mile mark as I made my way adjacent to where visitors and travelers had parked their RVs, completely decked out for Christmas with copious amounts of lights, decorations, and festivity. I got several “Good mornings!” from people setting up their holiday displays, but only really one of my pics came out remotely decent. For me, running and photography simply don’t mix very well.


I took a wrong turn; instead of making a left on Big Pine Drive, I turned left and ended up on sidewalks past the sports, recreational, and Campfire areas. Oops. No matter. I eventually got back onto Big Pine and began to make my long run back. I made another wrong turn (thinking I was making my way back to the Trail) and did a quick loop around an RV area, with quizzical looks from people sitting out enjoying their coffee watching a really lost-looking Hokeydude trying to make his way back. But as I passed Mile 3 I was back on the sidewalk and heading back to the Triple-Circle-D Ranch area, where the Trail would take me back to the Wilderness Lodge.

The rest of the run was as beautiful as before. I was running back on the trail, picking my pace up quite a bit (the area around Ft. Wilderness is not exactly conductive for keeping anything above a slow, easy pace). There were a lot more people on the Trail this time around; plenty of runners, walkers, and bicyclists. Sure enough, there were even more deer around this time, with many people stopping to snap pics. Soon enough I hit Mile 4 and I was back at the Wilderness Lodge. My run was complete. I did a little cool-down walk back into the Lobby, and made my way to the Mercantile store to purchase a choc-o-late milk and a bottle of water. Recovery materials gathered. Mission completed.

I really, really enjoyed my trek on the Wilderness Trail. Depending on what your mileage needs are, you could easily do anything from a 1.5 to a 5 mile run (or more, if you plan a few repeat loops around the property) with some killer scenery and amazing wildlife in a safe, friendly environment. There wasn’t a moment on my run when I wasn’t either on a trail or a sidewalk, so you’ll never have to run on streets keeping an eye out for motor traffic. If nothing else, running the Wilderness Trail makes for a good warm-up if you’re at Walt Disney World and need to get your miles done, or if you’re running a Disney Race and want to keep a spring in your step without disrupting your taper. I’ll definitely be returning to do this run again, that’s for sure. And here’s the tangentially-related video:

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