Tom Sawyer Island: A Hidden Gem in Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park
Tom Sawyer Island: The Hidden Treasure of Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park (and Disneyland too)
Did you know that one of the biggest playgrounds in all of Walt Disney World is right inside Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park? In fact, the same goes for Disneyland in California. I’m talking about Tom Sawyer Island and I am always surprised how often I hear from long-time veterans of Walt Disney World who have never set foot on Tom Sawyer Island.
Tom Sawyer Island has been a favorite of mine since I first set went to Disneyland in the mid-1960s as a very young boy. It became even more a part of my Disney experience when the Walt Disney World version came along in the 1970s and it remains a favorite spot of mine to this day.
Here are the many reasons why I love Tom Sawyer Island and why it should be added to your list of Disney must-dos.
The Only Attraction Designed by Walt Disney Himself
From a historical perspective, Tom Sawyer Island — the original version in Disneyland Park — holds the distinct honor of being the only attraction that was actually designed by Walt Disney himself. That should be reason enough to visit and it’s also a great trivia question that you can use on your friends to test how well they really know Disney.
Walt Disney was a big fan of Mark Twain and his Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer novels and so Walt wanted this piece of Americana included in his park. As the story goes, when Walt saw the original plans for the island back in the mid 1950s he didn’t feel that Imagineers had captured the mystery and imagination that he wanted the island to deliver to guests. So just before construction was about to begin, Walt personally took hold of the plans for Tom Sawyer Island and re-imagined the space with a new shape and hidden coves and treasures. This is the version of the island that we know and love to this day.
Adventure and Innocence of Days Gone By
For the uninitiated, Tom Sawyer Island is a glorious place for parents and children alike. For parents, the island makes for an excellent place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the park and to get away from the intense Florida heat (the island is mostly shaded by tree canopy). For kids, the island holds as much intrigue and adventure as you could possibly pack into one space (thanks to Walt himself). If you find yourself getting overheated in the Magic Kingdom, or if the kids have reached their limit for walking or standing in line, Tom Sawyer Island is an excellent destination where kids can be kids and parents can get a relatively tranquil break from the Kingdom outside.
The island itself has many great things to see and do, and to be honest it’s almost as much fun to explore as an adult as it is for the kids.
There are mine shafts and caves, a barrel bridge and an old mill, a pirate playground and a fort that overlooks Big Thunder Mountain Railroad across the water. With lots of nods to the Mark Twain novels (if you’re a fan of Twain, you’ll love it), you can really feel the adventures of Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe and Becky Thatcher as you make your way around the winding trails and bridges that criss cross this wooded isle of adventure.
Even getting to the island itself was well conceived, as you board a replica wooden raft to carry you from the shoreline across the Rivers of America to Tom Sawyer Island.
When you disembark you will find a map to help guide your journey. Take the time to explore as much of the island as possible — it really is worth the time and effort.
Some of my personal favorites and recommended highlights include:
- The Rifles Roost in Fort Langhorn
- The Secret Escape from the Fort (beware if you are claustrophobic)
- Walking the Barrel Bridge
- Climbing to the top of Potter’s Mill
- Walking through the Ambush Cave
- and if you have young kids, the Scavage Fort.
Plus there is much more to see and do while exploring this adventure-come-to-life.
How to Get to Tom Sawyer Island at Walt Disney World
To get to Tom Sawyer Island, head through Frontierland towards Splash Mountain. The landing for the rafts is located across from Splash Mountain and near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Here you can board a raft to take the short five-minute ride to Tom Sawyer Island. The island itself is rarely crowded and the wait for a raft is never usually that long.
Tom Sawyer Island is truly a hidden gem in Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park and guests often overlook it. If you have never visited, do yourself a favor and set aside an hour to take a trip back in time to a simpler era inspired by Mark Twain and conceived by Walt Disney himself. Odds are you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Are You Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation?
Be sure to read my Guide to Planning A Walt Disney World Vacation and my post on the Five Golden Rules of Walt Disney World Vacation Planning.
Mike Belobradic: The Finer Side of Disney Travel
Luxury Travel Blogger – Deluxe Disney Travel Specialist
The Finer Side of Travel™ #LuxuryDisney