The Discovery Island Trails are made up of different trails that circle the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Each trail provides different animal encounters, scenic views, and additional items to enjoy.
When you visit Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, you will venture through the Oasis area before coming to a large opening where the Tree of Life comes into view. The tree is naturally the centerpiece of the theme park similar to Cinderella Castle over at the Magic Kingdom.
The area where Tree of Life sits is known as Discovery Island. And here is where you’ll find the Discovery Island Trails offering one of the most private and intimate areas of the park.
In fact, most guests are completely unaware these trails exist. This review will cover both the Discovery Island Trails and the Tree of Life Garden Trails.
One trail wraps around the front side of the Tree of Life and the second winds around the backside. Additionally, we’ll discuss the animal encounters available in this area and look at a few tips on how to utilize the trails during your day.
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Try to see how many wood
carvings you can find on the
Tree of Life.
Discovery Island Trails Review
Here are a few of the things you can expect to see while touring the Discovery Island Trails.
Tree of Life Base and Exhibits around Discovery Island
- White Stork
- Lesser Flamingos
- Asian Small-Clawed Otters
- Ring-Tailed Lemur
Tree of Life Garden Trails
- Red Kangaroo
- Lappet Face Vulture
Discovery Island Trails
- Galapagos Tortoise
- African Crested Porcupine
- Pochahontas Character Meet
- Saddle-Billed Stork
Winged Encounters at Discovery Island
Winged Encounters is a performance that happens out in front of the Tree of Life several times per day as weather permits. The show takes place between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Winged Encounters is not listed on the daily time’s schedule that you pick up at the park entrance.
For me, Winged Encounters has always been one of those things that you might run into while touring. But if you are interested in showing up for an exact time ask a cast member in the Discovery Island area for that day’s schedule.
With that being said I do recommend stopping if you are passing by and see a few of these beautiful macaws beginning to perch on their designated landing area.
A few of the Animal Kingdom’s bird experts will be out to provide some information on the macaws. They’ll also instruct you on the best way to take a video before the birds take flight directly over your head.
You might can tell they get really close from the above picture. Or you might also get a nice shot of them flying past the Tree of Life like below.
The macaws are beautiful and can have wingspans up to four feet in length. This one below was out one-day last year and I was able to get a nice close-up shot.
If you walk down to the area in front of the Tree of Life you might see a bird out in the distance. This animal encounter is the white stork and you can kind of see it in the picture below.
On around to the left toward the Africa side, you’ll run into two additional animal encounter areas before running into the first trail.
The first encounter is the Lesser Flamingos. During the busier times of the day, you might encounter a cast member in this area discussing these beautiful creatures.
The next encounter past the Lesser Flamingos is the Otter Grotto at Discovery Island. There is a sign as shown in the picture below that steps down to a cave-like area where you might be able to catch a few otters swimming by.
When you step back up out of the opposite area of the cave there is an additional outdoor viewing area with some information about the otters.
The ones at play here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom are called Asian small-clawed otters.
If you travel around to the right side or the Asia side of the Tree of Life, you’ll encounter a Ring-Tailed Lemurs exhibit. These creatures tend to play hide and seek a bit, so you might have to really look for them. One thing to keep in mind is if the animals at various encounters are not out they will usually have something draped over their signage to help indicate their absence.
Tree of Life Garden Trails
After you pass by the Otter Grotto you’ll run into this sign and a pathway to the right. This is the Tree of Life Garden Trail entrance. This trail makes up part of the Discovery Island Trails, but the beginning of the trail has a sign indicating this specific trail.
The trail winds around with a lot of wood carvings displayed in the roots of the Tree of Life.
There are so many different carvings to point out on your journey.
The Tree of Life Garden Trail offers a few animal encounters like the Red Kangaroos. You can usually see several out lying around in the shade. This enclosure is also home to the Lappet Face Vulture. It’s kind of an odd sight to see vultures and kangaroos together.
The Red Kangaroos viewing habitat will usually close to the public in the later afternoon, and that portion of the trail will be roped off. I’m pointing this out because if you were to visit the trail around 6:00 p.m. you won’t even walk by the kangaroo area.
Eventually, you’ll make it to the base of the Tree of Life. Don’t worry it’s not a long trail, but its a great place to take your time.
The Garden of Life Tree Trail is startlingly impressive and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying the walkthrough.
There are so many details you’ll get to see up close here that aren’t visible from the outskirts of the Tree of Life.
Below is a picture of the gardens you’ll encounter after passing by the Tree and going under the waterfall.
There’s a picture of the waterfall in the background. There are a few add on areas of the trail around this area that may or may not be open on your visit.
If you take the trail all the way across you will come out on the Asia side of the park around the entrance of “It’s Tough to be a Bug,” and the Wilderness Explorer’s Clubhouse which is home to the UP! characters meet.
This trail can be taken almost any time during the day at leisure. But if you have a full schedule you might want to take it at certain times as you travel across the park. The Tree of Life Garden Trail is good to take when:
- Traveling from Pandora over to Asia.
- Traveling from Harambe over to Dinoland.
These are by no means shortcuts, however, you shouldn’t experience any crowded areas on your way over on these trails.
Discovery Island Trails
If you continue walking past the Tree of Life Garden Trail toward Africa you will run into another animal encounter, the Cotton-Top Tamarins. Right past them is the bridge to Africa from Discovery Island.
And right before the bridge is a subtle pathway with this signage for the Discovery Island Trail.
Here is a view from the pathway looking back out to Creature Comforts across the way.
This path continues down around the backside of the Tree of Life.
Animal Encounters on Discovery Island Trails
On the left-hand side at the first opening, there is usually a Saddle-Billed Stork. Down on your left, you’ll run into the Giant Galapagos Tortoise exhibit.
Here you’ll find the large turtles roaming about in their habitat.
Sometimes they are floating in a pool, and at times I’ve seen them munching on a few green leaves.
Next to the Galapagos are the African Crested Porcupine. You might have to really look for them, they tend to hide.
But if you see them you’ll know it. These guys are really larger in size than you would imagine and quite intimidating looking.
Characters on Discovery Island Trail
Pocahontas also meets in this area of the trail.
Pocahontas may or may not be out depending on what time of day you are walking through the Tree of Life Trails. She is a little off the beaten path, as is this trail, making her an excellent meet with little wait in most cases. Make sure to check out the Disney World Characters List to learn more about meeting characters at Disney.
Moving on down the trail you will enter this cave that goes under the waterfall.
Children really enjoy exploring this area and getting a hands-on look at the animal carvings. This picture below kind of details how many people you will probably see in the area. None.
The only time you might encounter a crowd is on a busy day when the “It’s Tough to be a Bug,” theater lets out. If that happens while you are in the area, I suggest pausing where you are and letting the crowd clear.
I always find it kind of funny, because guests just think they are exiting the theater and move with the rest of the crowd. They never realize they are on a beautiful trail with animal encounters, character meets, and more.
I can’t fathom how much work went into this area, especially for it to be mainly enjoyed by locals and people who visit on a regular basis.
This backside of this Tree of Life trail empties out at the entrance to the Asia Bridge from Discovery Island.
Adventurer’s Outpost is the only place in the parks to meet Mickey and Minnie together.
Final Thoughts on the Discovery Island Trails
The Discovery Island Trails at Animal Kingdom are a real treat to experience on your visit. When you are on the trails there’s also an opportunity to inspect all of the different wood carvings on the Tree of Life up close and personal. The Tree of Life at the Animal Kingdom stands over 145 feet tall and features more than 300 animal carvings. You can read more about it here on Disney’s site if you like.
If you think of the Tree of Life as only a beautiful centerpiece to see in the distance or have your family photo made in front of then you are really missing out. The Animal Kingdom is more of an experience park with a few exceptions like Pandora, World of Avatar, and rides like Expedition Everest.
For instance, Kilimanjaro Safaris is the ultimate experience. Then there are multiple trails with habitats like visiting the Sumatran Tigers on Maharajah Jungle Trek or seeing the gorillas on Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.
If you are looking for more information, we specialize in providing information about resorts, check out our full list of Walt Disney Hotel Reviews. Some of our favorites in the area include:
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Review
- Coronado Springs Resort Review
- Caribbean Beach Resort Review
- Art of Animation Resort Review
Make sure to take the time to experience the Discovery Island Trails during your Animal Kingdom day. I can assure you that you won’t regret it.