Tent Camping at Fort Wilderness Info & Our Experience
The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is not exactly roughing it in the strictest sense of the term. Still, tent camping is pretty far from a posh Walt Disney World resort experience–or even staying in the reimagined value resort rooms. Regardless, it was likewise fun and memorable.
This was far from our first time camping or staying at Fort Wilderness. As adults, Sarah and I have stayed at the Cabins at Fort Wilderness several times, and it’s one of our favorite resorts for larger parties. However, prior to this we hadn’t done any “real” tent camping at Fort Wilderness, and my childhood memories were unreliable and hazy.
Growing up, Fort Wilderness was my family’s go-to up until Shades of Green opened in 1994, and we stayed in our truck camper there at least a half dozen times. I have a lot of nostalgia and fond memories for Fort Wilderness as a result, but I don’t really remember the specifics.
Unfortunately, details of a campground are not the kind of thing that makes a strong impression on a kid with the rest of Walt Disney World beyond its borders. Plus, my family camped a lot while I was growing up. Theme parks were our common spring destination, with state and U.S. National Parks being summer vacation.
Of those, my two favorite destinations were Fort Wilderness Campground and Blackwater Falls State Park, and my memories have probably blurred together over the years. That’s probably the first time in history anyone has had trouble distinguishing between West Virginia and Walt Disney World!
Sarah and I have done a good amount of camping, but we’re still pretty far from experts or even enthusiasts. For one, we hadn’t camped at all in almost 2 years prior to this (all of our nice gear is still in our California storage unit). For another thing, much of our camping is born of necessity.
We’re usually camping as a means to an end, not for the experience itself. We’ve frequently just slept in the back of the car if we’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere and it’s a viable alternative. This isn’t because we dislike tent camping, but because it’s easier and often more comfortable.
With that said, we’ve camped in a range of different places: Death Valley National Park’s Racetrack Playa, White Tank Campground at Joshua Tree National Park, and Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, to name a few places. Those, plus a variety of primitive campsites or random spots while hiking.
We mention these not because they’re directly comparable to the Campsites at Fort Wilderness, but because they are analogous. All of the above campgrounds are near iconic spots, and are in high demand. Consequently, you often have to book very far in advance or (in rare cases) enter a lottery.
Even then, the only campground in even the same ballpark as Fort Wilderness price-wise is Doheny State Beach, which is located on some of California’s most expensive real estate and has campsites with ocean views. Of course, it’s no surprise that anything at Walt Disney World is pricey, but these costs border on absurd.
In fairness, there’s an on-site location premium for everything at Walt Disney World, so inflated pricing does make sense. What bugs me (to a degree) is that the campsite costs are inflated by off-site guests booking for the perks but not actually camping. It’s unfortunate that Walt Disney World doesn’t do more to curb this behavior.
In terms of basics, Fort Wilderness Campground offers 5 categories of campsites: Tent or Pop-Up Campsite (what we booked), Full Hook-Up Campsite, Preferred Campsite, Premium Campsite, and Premium Meadow Campsite. The first category accommodates two tents, while the latter four all have space for an RV plus a tent.
Pricing is all over the place, but starting rates for most campsites with hook-ups are over $100 and can reach $200 per night. Our tent campsite cost a little under $100 per night, which was about the same price as a Value Resort for our dates. (Unlike Walt Disney World’s hotels, I know of no good hacks for scoring cheaper campsites.)
Tent campsites offer a paved parking spot and large area to pitch the tent(s). All Fort Wilderness campsites include electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, and a charcoal grill. Some are pet friendly.
All RV campsites at Fort Wilderness include a sewage hookup and paved pads ranging from 10 by 45 feet to 18 by 60 feet. Locations vary, with the most expensive spots being close to Meadow Trading Post, Meadow Recreation Area, Bike Barn, and the Campfire Area.
Comfort Stations are located throughout the Fort Wilderness Campground, and most campsites are probably within a 5 minute walk of one. These offer everything you’d find in a traditional restroom plus private shower stalls with changing areas.
By campground standards, these Comfort Stations are really nice and clean. They’re exactly what you’d expect of Walt Disney World and one aspect of the “resort” that helps justify the premium pricing.
Another advantage Fort Wilderness offers over other campgrounds is the entertainment and recreation options. The daily programming lineup is formidable, making it easy to see why so many “Fort Fiends” spend so much time at the campground and so little time (comparatively) at the theme parks.
I can’t think of any other resort with as much to offer as Fort Wilderness in terms of “things to do” on a daily basis. Maybe Animal Kingdom Lodge?
Throughout Fort Wilderness Campground there are playgrounds, sporting areas (basketball & volleyball courts, jogging trails, etc.), a marina for boat rentals, and much more.
There are also two pool areas, one of which is a feature pool that’s on par with other Walt Disney World resorts. (It’s a bit on the bland side, but far nicer than what you’ll find at other campgrounds.)
Arguably, the biggest advantage and disadvantage offered by Fort Wilderness Campground are the same: its sprawling size. Situated on 750 acres of a pine and cypress forest, Fort Wilderness feels worlds apart from the rest of Walt Disney World.
We’ve seen deer every single stay, turkeys on occasion, and Disney claims there are also armadillos roaming around (Sarah’s dream is to have one creep into our campsite–she’s weird.) It’s a serene and blissful escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.
The downside to this “blessing of size,” is one that mirrors Walt Disney World as a whole: convoluted transportation. Getting around Fort Wilderness requires long walks, renting a golf cart, or using the internal transportation. The bus transportation can be confusing and cumbersome, and is not for the impatient.
There have definitely been some trips where the bus transportation at Fort Wilderness bugged us. The last time we stayed in a cabin with my parents, our trip was more theme park-centric. It was thus probably a mistake to stay at Fort Wilderness then.
In general, the (Walt Disney) World and life move at a slower pace at Fort Wilderness. It’s a simpler time and place, and that really needs to appeal to you and also mesh with the priorities for your Walt Disney World vacation. If you’re theme park commandos, it’s not for you. If you’re fine with a more leisurely experience, it could work.
This campsite stay for us was all about Fort Wilderness–we had no agenda in the parks or anywhere beyond the bounds of the campground. Moreover, we really enjoy long walks in the woods, so the size of Fort Wilderness was all upside. (We’ve never rented a golf cart and didn’t use the internal buses at all this time.)
Our campsite was (more or less) across from the Meadow Recreation Area, but was not a preferred or premium site. The walk there was under 10 minutes, which we felt was reasonable (you could easily be that far from the lobby at almost any hotel).
We were a moderate distance from the Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge construction site (closer than the cabins, farther than some campsites) but couldn’t hear or see a thing. The construction was only really evident to us from the Settlement area.
If you’re primarily spending time at the Meadow or your campsite, it’s pretty much a non-issue (for now, at least). Still pretty far from ideal, and we’re not fans of Disney Vacation Club expanding to a rustic area with some of the oldest-growth trees in all of Walt Disney World.
On an odd and random note, one of the highlights of our stay was a stop at the Meadows Trading Post (no joke!). I was hit with a blast from the past walking around in there–I swear it smells exactly the same as it did when I was a kid.
Now I need to update my Top 10 Scents at Walt Disney World with “the musty old wood from the Meadows Trading Post.” I’m guessing that’s not one many others will share.
While at Meadows Trading Post, I spotted one of my absolute favorite pieces of Walt Disney World merchandise from the last decade–the art pictured above. I meant to go back and buy this before we left, but totally forgot. Hopefully it still exists next time we’re at Fort Wilderness.
Continuing with the nostalgia-trip, I recently stumbled upon this awesome Fort Wilderness shirt design that my mom had (in sweatshirt form) when I was a kid. Definitely going to be keeping my eye out for one in my size that’s not so outrageously-priced!
Our experience camping at Fort Wilderness was otherwise fairly uneventful. Sarah didn’t have her dream of seeing an armadillo fulfilled, and I didn’t get to gorge myself on fried chicken and ribs at Trail’s End. (Did you even stay at Fort Wilderness if you didn’t eat there?!?!?) Despite these massive shortcomings, it was mellow and relaxing–a nice change of pace from how we normally do Walt Disney World.
In retrospect, the memory has aged like a fine wine. This stay at Fort Wilderness was the perfect intersection of being outdoors while still being a part of civilization. Those are two things that we’d absolutely love to be able to do right now, and have camping at Fort Wilderness at the top of our “things we can’t wait to do again at Walt Disney World” list. Funny how that works!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have you camped at Fort Wilderness? What did you think of the experience? Anything else to add that we didn’t cover? Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts/review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Love tent camping but can no longer do so. Last time we rented a site. it was $35.00.
We have stayed at Fort Wilderness in our pop up camper and I love staying there. With the lower price of the campground, we even stayed for 10 nights on one of our stays. This allowed us to be in the parks for 6 days and to spend part of a day at each of the water parks and be leisurely in enjoying Disney Springs. On our first visit to the campground, one of my sons said, “mom, it is really sad when a campground bathroom is nicer than your bathroom at home”! On our last trip, we had an additional 3 people with us so we also put up a tent and my husband and I used that to allow others the use of the pop up. Plenty of room for that. I am eagerly awaiting our next opportunity to enjoy a leisurely paced vacation staying at Fort Wilderness campground.
My family used to stay in the Fleetwood Trailers that were there before the cabins. It was so pleasant to be there after the noise and bustle of the parks. We even used to swim in the lake before algae became an issue! We came just after the train stopped running that was an early form of transportation. We always rented a golf cart to get around. My husband and I took our kids there in the 80’s-90’s and camped in a tent. ( I think my husband and one son spent more of their time in the van with the air-conditioning on.)
So many good memories in that place! I have stayed over the years in almost all of the resorts except for the newest ones. The campground remains high in my estimation, much higher than the AK Lodge .
As soon as I saw the photo from inside the Trading Post, the smell came to mind. So funny you mentioned that. I LOVE the smell of that place because it brings back such happy memories. We’ve probably stayed at Ft. Wilderness more times than all other resorts combined. When we joined DVC, my first question to the rep was “Can we use points to stay at Ft. Wilderness?” He said yes, but didn’t tell us that it takes all the stars to align and an act of Congress. One day we’ll pull the camper down and stay for two or three weeks. What a dream come true that would be. My own bed and not having to leave my dogs at home.
My family has camped (in a tent) at Fort Wilderness twice and loved it. The bathrooms are the cleanest and by far the most nicely decorated I have ever seen at a campground. My kids love the ship-themed water-play area, and the campfire sing-along with Chip and Dale is a huge hit. We remembered to bring our own marshmallows the second time. We also got the fried chicken platter at P&J’s Takeout, which was not only delicious but a great deal as a meal for the whole family. We used the campground price to offset the Animal Kingdom Lodge price and average out to something reasonable. The two experiences are so different that the campgrounds didn’t feel like a downgrade.
Ah, you’ve touched on my favorite place. My hubby and I have stayed there 4 times and counting, usually in December. We stay in the cabins and never go to the parks. We bring our bikes that we store inside the cabin and food for breakfast and lunch. This gives us a big budget for the buffet. We have found loops of cabins that we request because they are so “remote” and I can see deer in the morning while drinking my coffee. We ride our bikes, go canoeing, and walking all over. We used to take the trail to the Wilderness Lodge but that was closed off last time. We make a visit to the WL for a meal at Geyser Point (usually with our bikes). We love the Christmas lights, the “sounds” of Ft Wilderness whether natural or piped in the hidden speakers, and the general peace of it all. I do know what you mean about the smells and I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China. We have so many other things we want to do as we save something for next time.
This article made me realize my family needs to camp at here at least once! A child of the 80s, we drove our wood grain station wagon with pop up tent trailer down the east coat every February for our annual family vacation. We’d do a day at each of the 2 parks, lol, but mostly camp. The nightly sing a long, visiting the horses, the lawn mower tree, the smell of the trading post (yesss!), renting our golf cart or taking a silver flag tram or a brown flag bus depending on where our site was, and the late night make your own pizza at pioneer hall, our parents would have a pitcher of beer and listen to the live music while we’d beg for quarters to play down in the tiny arcade until way past our bedtime. And yes, there were many armadillo sightings coming back late at night after pizza! We’d drive our cart to find them on that exercise trail that, I guess would now lead to the wilderness lodge? If it’s still there at all? Ah, memories!!
I love the vibe of this place plus FW merchandise. I’ve never stayed in a campsite but stayed in cabin once plus 30 years ago when I was approx. 5 years old and that trip was my first early memories of WDW. In the last 5 years, I’ve been to Hoop De Doo plus did nature walks at my stays at Wilderness Lodge.
Last time I thought about camping at WDW was in October and when I had looked at prices (and maybe because we have annual pass and are Florida residents?) it would have been only $59 a night! This was for the most basic campsite.
Thanks for this Tom. Reinforced my desire to stay here sometime. We went for the breakfast buffet once (on your recommendation) a few years ago, and liked the vibe of the place, but have yet to really experience it. I think we’d do cabins rather than camping, and I’m convinced that we’d spend a few non-park days here soaking it all up. I was really worried about the impact of the new DVC construction from one of your previous posts, but it was nice to hear that you weren’t impacted by it on this trip. It’s definitely on my list – I don’t want to do every single on site property, but I do want to try many of them. I’m still just not sure with FW if I should wait until the DVC construction is completed or get in & stay before the completed DVC causes other “disruptions” to the FW experience.
Never stayed at FW but in December, 2018 I sprung for a carriage ride for me and my spouse. This was basically a way to see many of the RVs decked out with more Christmas decorations than in my neighborhood at home. Tons of lights and animated figures. One family had even constructed a full castle out of, I assume, Styrofoam rocks that was maybe 20′ wide and 12′ high, with a drawbridge and an interior, too! And many had decorated their golf carts with Christmas lights, etc. My wife loved it all, so it was worth every penny. (And we enjoyed dinner at the FW buffet beforehand, another plus.)