This article discusses the Discovery Island Trails at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
When visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, multiple tree trails surround the Tree of Life. These trails are called the Discovery Island Trails. They provide animal encounters, scenic views, and quiet places to escape the crowds.
Upon entering Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’ll first walk through the Oasis. Soon after, you’ll come to a large opening where the Tree of Life comes into view. Naturally, the tree is the centerpiece of the park.
Discovery Island is the immediate area surrounding the Tree of Life. It’s also home to the Discovery Island Trails, which circle the tree, forming one of the park’s most private and intimate areas.
Most guests are entirely unaware these trails exist. So for this review, we’ll look at the Discovery Island Trails and the Tree of Life Garden Trails.
One trail wraps around the front side of the Tree of Life—the second trail 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.
|Discovery Island Trails
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See how many wood
carvings you can find on the
Tree of Life from the trails.
Discovery Island Trails Review
You can expect to see a few things while touring the Discovery Island Trails. For example:
Front of the Tree (Near Entrance)
- Winged Encounters
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
- Saddle-Billed Stork
Winged Encounters at Discovery Island
Winged Encounters is a performance in front of the Tree of Life that happens several times per day as weather permits. It usually takes place between the hours of 9:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.
Winged Encounters is one of those things that you might run into while touring. But if you are interested in showing up for an exact time, check the My Disney Experience app for the schedule on the day of your visit.
With that said, I recommend stopping if you are in the area and seeing these beautiful macaws starting 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.
They get incredibly close.
Macaws are beautiful and can have wingspans up to four feet in length. This one below was out one day, and I got a close-up.
Walking down to the area in front of the Tree of Life, you might see a bird in the distance. This animal encounter is the white stork. If you look closely, you can see it in the picture below.
On the left toward Africa, you’ll run into two additional animal encounters before the first trail.
First, we see the Lesser Flamingos. During the busier times of the day, there is usually a cast member out sharing information about these beautiful creatures.
The next encounter past the Lesser Flamingos is Otter Grotto. There is a sign, as shown in the picture below, that leads to a cave-like area where you might be able to catch a few otters swimming by.
When you step back out of the opposite cave, there is an additional outdoor viewing area with some information about the otters.
Here are a few now.
Traveling to the opposite side of the Tree of Life, you’ll encounter a Ring-Tailed Lemurs exhibit. These creatures play hide and seek a bit, so you might have to 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.
Related: Animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
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, one of the Discovery Island Trails.
The trail winds around, showing off 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 an odd sight to see vultures and kangaroos together.
The Red Kangaroos’ viewing habitat usually closes to the public in the afternoon, and that portion of the trail will be roped off. I’m pointing this out because if you visited the path around 6:00 p.m., you wouldn’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 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. You’ll get to see so many details 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. A few add-on areas of the trail around this area may or may not be open on your visit.
If you take the trail 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.
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. This trail begins right before the bridge to Africa from Discovery Island.
There is a subtle sign at the beginning of the 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. Then, down on your left, you’ll run into the Giant Galapagos Tortoise exhibit.
Here you’ll find the giant turtles roaming about in their habitat.
Sometimes they float in a pool, and I’ve seen them munching on a few green leaves.
Next to the Galapagos are the African Crested Porcupine. You might have to look for them. They tend to hide.
But if you see them, you’ll know it. These guys are larger than you would imagine and quite intimidating looking.
Characters on Discovery Island Trail
Pocahontas used to meet in this portion of the Discovery Island Trail. However, she tends to be on one of the festive flotillas as of late.
Check out the Disney World Characters List to learn more about meeting characters at Disney.
Moving down the trail, you will enter this cave under the waterfall.
Children enjoy exploring this area and getting a hands-on look at the animal carvings. The picture below 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 think they are exiting the theater 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 regularly.
The back side of this Tree of Life trail empties 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, you can inspect the different wood carvings on the Tree of Life up close and personal.
Disney’s Tree of Life at the Animal Kingdom stands over 145 feet tall and features more than 300 animal carvings. I could stand there for hours and find different animals in the carvings.
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 missing out. 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 want more information, we specialize in providing information about resorts. Check out our complete list of Disney World 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.