Disney Wilderness Preserve

So I am in Florida and I have finally been to Disney……
The Disney Wilderness Preserve that is and it is probably the only thing associated with Disney which is FREE!


This was another place I had not previously visited, despite having been to Florida a number of times. I think the Disney name leaded me to feel that this nature preserve would be another mock up the Disney fakeness; concrete trees, a man made lake, a plastic heron and a speaker bellowing out sounds of various non-native Floridian bird life. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

About the Preserve

The 11500 acre Disney Wilderness Preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, the same organisation who also manage Tiger Creek Preserve.  In 1992, Disney purchased 8500 acres of land and donated it to the Nature Conservancy. This was Disney’s way of paying a little back to Florida, for the damage the Disney Resort has caused to it’s natural habitat. Disney also donated a substantial amount of money for restoration and with the land donations from additional companies, the Disney Wildlife Preserve was born.

Extensive restoration has taken place to remove plants that are not native to Florida, as well as removing agricultural and farming influences which brought the preserve back up to its original state. There are more than 750 types of plants, 300 species of wildlife (including the Florida Panther) and 50 kinds of butterflies living at the preserve. Many of these are rare or endangered.


The Trails

On arrival, visitors are requested to sign in at the welcome centre. The welcome centre is small but there are some interesting things to see inside and there is the opportunity to borrow binoculars, a compass or information about what wildlife you may see on your visit. As always on these trails, its worth picking up a map at the trail head.

At Disney Wildlife Preserve there is a choice of three trails. It was a hot day again, so we opted for the red “Wilderness trail” which is 2.5 miles long and runs past Lake Russell.

Lake Russell

Just 3/4 of a mile along the trail we reached Lake Russell, which i found stunning.

It is an idea spot to stop for a picnic and to listen to the sounds of nature.  This area is sheltered from the Florida sun and a cooling breeze came off the lake.

These trees growing out of the lake always fascinate me. They are called Cypress trees and they are found throughout Florida because they can withstand flooding better than any other species.

When Cypress trees are found around water, they grow stumps which are called “knees”. Its not clear what the purpose of the “knees” are, but some scientists have speculated it maybe to help oxygenate the roots because these trees often grow in stagnant swamp land. Another theory is that these “knees” may help anchor the tree to the soft muddy soil.

After a picnic, we continued on the trail. We passed this interesting seat.

And some more of the charred tree stumps I spoke about on the Tiger Creek Preserve post.

The landscape was less diverse at this preserve. There were a lot of pine trees, which I found agreeable because i really like them.

The pines which from these trees are quite a size!


In summary

Disney Wildlife Preserve is a great place to hike around, providing spectacular views over Lake Russell. There is no sign of the mouse anywhere and all the nature is real 😉

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  • Tracy McConnachie Collins

    Looks like a lovely place! I thought the same as you – thought it would be all Disney’s spin on it – but it is really special! #feetdotravel

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes it is and there wasn’t even any Disney merchandise in a small store!

  • Shona Grant

    That’s an amazing amount of land, 11,500 acres and substantial donations from Disney too. I love that all flora is now indigenous. Some really lovely spots to rest and contemplate life. I’d better pack my hiking shoes when I visit Florida again!

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes its hard to comprehend tha scale even when you are there!

  • philandgarth

    What an interesting place to visit, I didn’t know Disney invested in wildlife. The Cypress trees look incredible, we actually saw these same roots growing near the water in Hanoi in Vietnam. Those pine cones are whoppers! thanks for sharing the trail.

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes they are incredible and given Florida can flood a lot during hurricane season, they are the perfect tree!

  • Jennifer Pepple

    I’ve recently heard about this area of Disney’s and was glad to read your post to learn more about it. It’s always nice to see nature preserves, especially in areas like Florida that are getting so thick with urban sprawl. I can’t believe the size of the pinecones!

    • Sam H Travels

      I agree Jennifer. Florida seems to be building at such a fast rate, but I hope these areas will still remain!

  • Scarlett Begonias

    Sweet, we always passed this on our way to Disney and still haven’t tried the hikes. We will certainly check it out when we head to Disney again. Florida hiking is very unique! Have you ever seen a map of the Florida National Scenic trail? It’s this massive 1,400 mile trail that starts from the bottom and goes all the way to the top of the peninsula. We really want to try it one day. Great post!

    • Sam H Travels

      No i didn’t know about the Florida National Scenic Trail but I have just Googled and this looks awesome! Now added to my list of things to do for my next visit 😉 Thank you for telling me about it!

  • I absolutely love your introduction and history of how the Disney Wildnerness Preserve was born and it’s good to hear that Disney had some conscience for building it’s theme park so thank you for that. Those Cypress trees are amazing aren’t they and I didn’t know about their “knees”. I would visit this Nature Park, it seriously looks so beautiful. #feetdotravel

    • Sam H Travels

      Thanks Angie. I was pleased to learn the history around the Preserve too 🙂

  • Oana A. Nicolescu

    Wow, I wasn’t expected to see this when I read the title. I would love to spend one day here, walking around. The lake seems absolutely amazing. Will pin it for future reference. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sam H Travels

      The lake was lovely and I didn’t expect it to be so pretty. My photo doesn’t do it justice!

  • Travel Lexx

    Really cool place and I didnt realise that Disney did this – also looks like an awesome trail and the trees growing out of the lake are beautiful! Would love to visit Florida some day

    • Sam H Travels

      I agree – I think the Cypress trees are so cool !

  • 1AdventureTraveler

    What a wonderful place to visit. Great information on the hikes available. I must make it a point to visit before it gets to warm. Love the photos but I’m still looking around the trees in your photos for alligators…. 🙂 I’m sure it is all safe 🙂 thanks for sharing!

    • Sam H Travels

      Hahaha… no alligators in these photos, unless they were hiding behind the trees 😉 I hope you make it before summer 🙂

  • At first I thought this was the same place as the Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground that I had looked into previously but it’s not even close. I had no idea this existed and I’ve lived in Florida almost my entire life. Glad to learn that Disney donated this land to the Nature Conservancy. I’m also glad the mouse was no where in sight!

    • Sam H Travels

      Its great to know I can seek out places that even the Floridian’s don’t know about 😉 I was relieved not to see the mouse too…. although I was half expecting to find a hidden Mickey lol.

  • That seems great that Disney has been trying to make up for the damage they have done. A nature reserve seems a great idea and to be honest everything apart from the Cypress trees reminds me of nature in Estonia. The pines look incredible though! Never seen them so big! Seems like a wonderful hike!

    • Sam H Travels

      In which case, I would really love Estonia 😉 As you are a keen hiker too, I am assuming there must be lots of hiking opportunities?

  • Wow! We did not know this place existed. This looks great! Would not have associated nature with Disney. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sam H Travels

      It was a surprise to me too!

  • SecretTraveller

    Wow, I didn’t know about this place and I’m surprised how many beautiful preserves you have in Florida. Seems like a beautiful place to hike and relax! Wish I could visit in my upcoming trip but might not have enough time. There’s just so much to see 🙂

  • Erin Southerland

    I had no idea this preserve even existed! Thanks for sharing.

  • Wayfaring Sarah

    Awesome! I also would have passed this place up due to the Disney name, but it looks like a fantastic little adventure! thanks so much for sharing 🙂