We all love Walt Disney World, right? Heck, you wouldn’t be reading this blog otherwise. The rides, the music, the characters, the food… it’s a stream of constant stimulation that we all love. We tackle the parks like gangbusters, trying to fit in as much as possible into a vacation that is never long enough. Feeling exhausted at the end, we go home needing a vacation from our vacation – but, oh what a good time we had!
I rarely hear anyone describe a WDW vacation as relaxing. Believe it or not, there is a place at Walt Disney World where you can take a little respite from all that stimulation to get recharged. The nature path that goes between Old Key West and Downtown Disney takes less than 30 minutes to walk. I finished it in 27 minutes, stopping to take dozens of photos along the way. It’s a great way to slow down and reconnect with the calmer you. A few weeks ago I walked the path so that I could tell you about it. I enjoyed the quiet break so much that I’m sure I’ll do it again and again on future trips.
[1. on the map] I parked in the lot at the far west side of Downtown Disney. Once I made it to the path near the water, I turned left and walked towards Saratoga Springs.
This was the view behind me. The parking lot is on the other side of that construction wall.
Right away I saw some feathered friends. I’m not sure what kind of birds these are. Does anyone know?
Here’s another view looking backwards towards Downtown Disney. You can see Saratoga Springs on the left. That is the parking lot for the the golf course.
[2. on the map] Looking forward again, we see the bridge that leads over to Saratoga Springs. This bridge leads to the boat launch and to the back side of the Carriage House. The pro shop for the golf course is located here as well.
[3. on the map] Here we are on the other side of that bridge looking back over towards the golf course and the nature path. I walked over the bridge just to make sure that it was indeed how you would get to Saratoga Springs.
As you cross back over the bridge you can see the nature path running alongside the canal. It passes by some Purple Martin bird houses.
As soon as you cross the bridge there is a sign that points towards the Treehouse Villas – this is the way to go to get to Old Key West. Going forward will put you onto the golf course, where you are not allowed to walk. A left turn will take you back to Downtown Disney. We are turning right.
[4. on the map] The path curves slightly to the left and away from the water a little bit here. It’s a very pretty walk. Don’t be fooled by the light posts here. This nature path is not lit at night and, as you’ll see on a sign later, it is closed at dusk.
Ah, another bird. I believe this one is a Morning Dove.
I almost missed this one. He blended in to his surroundings quite nicely. I’m thinking this is a Cormorant.
[5. on the map] At this point we come upon another bridge. This one goes to the Treehouse Villas. A sign says that it is for Cast Members only, but I bet it wouldn’t stir up much trouble to use it to get to the path if you were staying at the Treehouses. I didn’t check it out though. Instead I followed the path to the left as directed.
Here you get a little glimpse of one of the Treehouses just beyond the bridge.
After the bridge, the canal splits off into two directions. Boats going to the right end up at Port Orleans and boats going to the left make their way to Old Key West.
This part of the nature path is the most remote feeling, just because there are no buildings in site for a little while. You’re not likely to feel very isolated though, especially mid-day, because this path is used by lots of people. I came across golfers, other guests, landscaping crews and cast members on my journey.
[6. on the map] You will encounter one more bridge along the way. This bridge is for golfers only – just continue on forward.
[7. on the map] Here we are very close to the end of our walk. You can start to see some of Old Key West in the distance. The boats make a right turn here to head towards the Hospitality House.
I was very excited to see a Cardinal in the brush here! In Oregon, we don’t have the pleasure of seeing these beautiful birds so this was a special treat for me.
This is the view behind me, from where I came – so pretty! If you were starting your walk at Old Key West, this is what you would see ahead of you.
Oh look, one last visitor. See him landing in the water right near the edge? It looks like the same kind of bird that welcomed me at the beginning of my walk. He didn’t seem the least bit bothered by my presence in his space.
I couldn’t resist one last look at this serene setting before leaving the nature path.
[8. on the map] Here we are at the end, or the beginning depending on your perspective, of our journey. It’s a little tricky to find this spot from Old Key West if you don’t know where it is, so I’m going to show you. Follow Peninsular Road to where it ends, near buildings 54 and 55. If you are going by bus, get off at the South Point Road stop.
[9. on the map] Next, follow the sign to the pool. It is down the driveway that you see to the left of the bus stop in the picture above. Walk all the way to the round-about. The pool will be on your left. Along the way you will pass some beautiful Old Key West Villas – which we will be happy to rent to you!
At the round-about, veer to the right.
You will see a sign for the Conch Flats Trail. Take a left here. Don’t be confused by the name, this is the nature path. In fact, along the way you will see that it is sometimes referred to as the Saratoga Springs Nature Path, the Old Key West Nature Path and the Conch Flats Trail on different signs. They all refer to the same thing – it’s just Disney’s way of keeping you on your toes!
Walkers, joggers and bikers can all use the nature path. I also encountered golf carts, Segways, tractors, and utility vehicles while I was walking, so be sure to stay aware of your surroundings.
Follow the path to the left to begin the nature walk. It is clearly marked by that sign. The path on the right just leads onto the golf course. Don’t worry when you see this forbidding looking chain link fence area. It seems odd that a nature path would begin this way, but it’s actually how you’ll know you are in the right place. Just past the chain link fence is where you will see the sign for the beginning (or end) of the nature path.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into a lesser traveled part of Walt Disney World. The next time you are feeling like your senses are a little over-stimulated by all that is Disney, I encourage you to wind down with a walk along the canal to ground yourself. It’s really a lovely little trail.
~ Barrie Brewer, Social Media Director