Loving the Great Outdoors - Activities at Fort Wilderness Resort

by Rod Wheaton, contributing writer

Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground is not only my hands-down, favorite place to stay in Walt Disney World, but one of my favorite places to hang out and just enjoy Disney life. Why? In my previous articles, I talked about what made Fort Wilderness such a special place, from how it came to be created to the design, and the humorous adventures and antics Keith Kambak employed to get it built. I also covered how Fort Wilderness is a different camping experience from any other from the moment you pull up to the check-in.

Today though, I'll tell you about all the amazing things you can do at this resort, including some that can only be done here and that truly set it apart from any other resort on Disney property.

Just to relax and enjoy…

Sure, there are lots of souvenir shops and places to go shopping at WDW. Like most men, I'll only go shopping if I'm dragged, kicking and screaming… but there's just something different about strolling into the Meadow Trading Post in the center of the resort or the Settlement Trading Post down by the beautiful white beach of Bay Lake. Even if there's not a thing in the world I want, I still can't resist going in and looking around.

The Settlement Trading Post offers shopping opportunities at Fort Wilderness. Photo by Rod Wheaton.

Part country store and part Davy Crockett outfitter, it lives up to the name "Trading Post." Walking in and smelling the scent of the wooden logs it's constructed of, or—depending on the time of year—the fire in the stone fireplace, you're just pulled in. Sometimes it's the simple things that are the most enjoyable, and despite all the other things to do at the resort, one of my kid's favorite things to do even now as teens is to sit by the fireplace and play checkers on the old wooden checkerboard that's been a fixture for years. I never minded, because it gave me time to browse over all the shiny new things I suddenly found I couldn't live without!

The main pool in the Meadows area has a slide, and is a great place to relax and unwind. Photo by Rod Wheaton.

Most people don't realize it, but WDW's first water park, River Country, was located in Fort Wilderness. River Country is long since gone, but there are still opportunities to sit and relax by the water, or get wet and plunge right in. The main pool, located out behind Meadow Trading Post, is a great place to do either one. Back in 2009, it got a major renovation and has a splash area for little tykes, and in the main area a twisting slide that starts from the top of a water tower.

The Water Tower is actually a refurbished "souvenir" from Disney's first waterpark, River Country. Photo by Rod Wheaton.

For all the Disney geeks and trivia buffs, here's a pretty cool factoid: the water tower that makes up the slide is actually a relic from River Country, refurbished and brought back to life as a centerpiece of family fun at the main pool.

The beach by the fort's marina is one of the best on Disney property for relaxing and enjoying the afternoon. Photo by Rod Wheaton.

You'll look so sweet upon the seat…

Bicycling is another favorite at the fort. Since a lot of people bring their RVs, they often have their own bikes along. But even if you don't, it's not a problem. You can rent one over at the Bike Barn in the Meadow Trading Post area. The biking at Fort Wilderness is the best in all Walt Disney World. There are miles of paved trails and camping loops to explore, and especially during certain times of the year, there's an astonishing amount of decorating that campers do to their sites that merit a tour on their own.

Biking the fort is an activity the whole family can enjoy. Photo by Rod Wheaton.

At night, a favorite activity of our family is bicycling along in the cool evening breeze, enjoying passing by the brightly lit campsites as we ride up to the Settlement Depot, and grabbing a hot chocolate before heading down to the beach to catch the Electical Water Pageant, WDW's oldest parade.

Saddle up, and wagons, ho!

Another way to see Fort Wilderness is from a horse-drawn wagon. There are wagon rides, where you and a group of other guests climb into and old-style wagon for a tour—or if you prefer a more private experience, you can book a carriage ride. If the idea of horseback riding appeals to you, there's a great trail ride that winds through some of the wilder country surounding the fort. This was a new one for our family last year. Both my son and daughter wanted to give it a try, and since it was the first year they were both old enough, we took them to the stable and watched them get saddled up.

The Tri-Circle-D Ranch offers a chance to go horseback riding. Photo by Rod Wheaton.

Despite the trail ride being a Disney-fied safe and controlled experience, both came back saying it was one of their favorite things they had done on the entire vacation. If your kids are still too young for the horseback trail, they can still get a pony ride up at the Settlement petting zoo and feel like frontier cowboys and cowgirls.

Horseback riding is a great way to explore nature around the fort. Photo by Rod Wheaton.

For the more action-oriented...

If your idea of a vacation has a little less relaxing and a little more action, the fort still has you covered. If your little girl wants to be the next Merida or your son the next Robin Hood (assuming that as a Disney parent, you are starting the brainwashing early and providing even the old classics to watch), then they may like to try the archery experience now offered at there. And besides, what could go wrong giving pointy weapons to a group of excited kids?

Seriously, though, if your family likes the water, Fort Wilderness gives you access to some water sports unique to the location. You can book fishing excursions from the other resorts, but only at the fort do you have miles of canals and fishing holes to try your hand at. Because it's catch-and-release, there are plenty of big, big fish to try to land. Fishing is so good in fact, that in recent years, Bay Lake has hosted fishing tournaments.

Longtime Disney fans might remember a program called the Marshmallow Marsh. Years ago, you could go to the fort at night and 20 guests would climb into a giant canoe and paddle off into the dark swampy blackness, with a giant lantern at the head of the canoe. You would land on the beach to a great campfire and roast marshmallows, and have a sing-along.

Like River Country, the old Marshmallow Marsh has passed on into fort legend, but there is still great canoeing. You can rent a canoe and ply through the waters of the the resort past egrets, eagles, armadillos and even the occasional alligator. On some trips we intentionally ask for a site near the water so we can see the canoers gliding by.

And lastly, still a favorite…

With all the changes that have come and gone, and all the things to do at Fort Wilderness, there's still one that is a favorite for so many that the other resorts have started to copy it: watching a movie under the stars. The Polynesian Resort, Grand Floridian Resort, and others have started offering outdoor movies on the beach, but it's only because of how popular it became from its start in Fort Wilderness.

Each night, Chip and Dale come to the fort to light the campfires in the large cauldrons around the movie screens and lead a sing-along of Disney classics from an old prairie schooner wagon. While the singing and laughter is going on, kids and grown-ups get to roast hot dogs and make s'mores. If you have kids, it just doesn't get much better. After you have had your fill, you can sit back on the bleachers or a comfortable easy chair as the movies starts up on the big outdoor screen. Off in the distance, you can hear the fireworks from the parks.

I've said before, and I always will, that as much as I love many of the other Disney resorts (I grew up staying at the Poly), there's just nowhere else in WDW like Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground!