There is a secret Disney park just outside of Orlando. It’s huge — 11,500 acres hosting more than 1,000 species of plants and animals. Yet there is no waiting in line. For anything. There are no rides, no costumed characters, no castle, no fireworks. You may often see advertisements for the Disney theme parks, but never for this park. And maybe that’s just as well.
You see, this is the Disney Wilderness Preserve. Haven’t heard of it? That’s why I say it’s a secret — most people I’ve talked with, even those who have lived in this area for decades, don’t know about it. This is a place to escape the crowds, the hustle and bustle, the noise. Here life happens at the pace of nature. And while this property started out as a heavily logged ranch, it’s now been restored to a near pristine environment, including 3,500 acres of wetlands that feed the headwaters of the Greater Everglades watershed. In fact, this is the second stop on the Everglades Trail, with Shingle Creek as the first stop and northernmost point.
I hiked out to Lake Russell, with its miles of natural shoreline — one of the few lakes of its size in Florida with no structures along the shore. You’ll notice from my photos that patches of the trail were soggy and this hike was fairly early in the summer rainy season, so I imagine they get very wet later in the summer. Most such areas are dry (or drier) during the winter season. There’s a nice little clearing at the edge of the lake, inviting one to linger. Majestic cypress trees draped in Spanish moss crowd the shore and shallows.
By the way, if you’re into Geocaching, you might check behind a moss covered log to the left of the clearing at Lake Russell. As I started to photograph the log, I noticed a metal box that turned out to be an official Geocache. You can check it out in the Photo Gallery and/or locate it with our WonderMap.
Did I mention it’s FREE? No doubt The Nature Conservancy would appreciate any donation, but nobody is collecting cash or taking tickets. While The Walt Disney Company purchased the original parcel of land, they turned it over to The Nature Conservancy to protect for all time. The Walt Disney Company also provided funding from the start and they continue to be invested in its operation.
An incredible amount of work has gone into restoring this important natural environment. In fact, this preserve has become a national model for sustainable development and cutting edge conservation management. Many thanks to both organizations for providing this oasis, along with a shout-out to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority for contributing an additional 3,000 acres.
Please, check out the Photo Gallery and WonderMap (below), then place the Disney Wilderness Preserve on your Bucket List! (But let’s keep this Disney park our little secret.) While you’re at it, you might want to check out other Nature Conservancy protected properties, including rivers and marine sanctuaries…you’ll probably be as surprised as I was when I saw how big (and global) they are. And an absolute top-shelf organization.
The Disney Wilderness Preserve WonderMap. Click on the waypoint flags to view location photos.
The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve
2700 Scrub Jay Trail
Kissimmee, FL 34759
Phone: (407) 935-0002