Run Disney? Getting in Some Running at the Most Magical Place on Earth

Running slalom with your grandma’s wheelchair is another running option in the parks…

The most magical of all places: Walt Disney World. But, a trip to the Magical Kingdom can be fraught with stress about how you’re going to get your training in. As a Disney aficionado, here’s my advice.

First: you’re on vacation! Stop worrying about running! You’re going to be walking 100 miles a day (okay, probably 10) anyway, so there will be plenty of exercise.

But, sometimes you need a little time away from your family or maybe you’re a bit type A about your training schedule. Or maybe you just honestly want to have the experience of running in Disney World.

If you really want the experience of running in Disney World, sign up for a RunDisney race. They range in distance from 5K to marathon (and sometimes multiple distances over a weekend, like the Dopey Challenge) and have themes (!!!) like Star Wars and Princesses. People wear costumes and there are mid-race photo ops, not to mention lots of Disney swag. Most importantly, the courses actually run through the parks! Running through the parks is not something you can really do outside of these races, so if that’s your goal, bite the bullet and invest in a race.

But if you’re not running a RunDisney race, there are still opportunities to run on your vacation.

The worst option would be running on the treadmill at your hotel. Many of the Disney World Resort Hotels have full-service gyms available. I have never actually seen these rumored treadmills though because somehow running on a treadmill in a humid hotel gym doesn’t seem very #magical to me. Instead, I recommend choosing your hotel based on runnability.

Early morning swim in the Animal Kingdom Lodge swimming pool!

The best option by far is staying at a hotel near Crescent Lake/Disney’s BoardWalk Area. I think these hotels are generally reserved for Vacation Club members or people in conferences, but the running is GREAT. You can run all the way around the lake, through the hotels and the boardwalk and then also run to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Once, when I stayed at the Beach Club Resort, I ran to Hollywood Studios at 8 a.m. – right when they opened for extra magic hours – and ran through the park before it filled up! Much more magical than a treadmill!

There are other resorts with running options too — the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian both have access to some winding paths. You have to work a bit to get any significant mileage in (lots of back and forth), but it’s possible. The Fort Wilderness area has some trails as well.

That said — you may end up at a resort with literally no running options, for example, Animal Kingdom Lodge, an absolutely beautiful building with giraffes outside but nowhere to run. If you’re really desperate, you can take a shuttle to the boardwalk area for a run … but I would recommend lap swimming which will feel amazing and therapeutic after all of the walking. Or, you could just sleep in and prepare yourself to tackle another awesome but long day!

What are your tips for running at the most magical place on Earth?

I'm a proud resident of Portlandia, ex-running store employee, pulmonary emboli conquerer and connoisseur of high fives. I write about running community, trail running/training and anything else that grabs my immediate interest. I'm currently running for fun with my crazy friends - no races on the horizon YET.

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  1. I stay at the Epcot-area resorts every fall for a conference (Dolphin/Swan/Boardwalk/Yacht & Beach) and everyone says how great the running options are there…. um, no. You can get just under 3 miles for a loop that includes the bus parking lot at Hollywood Studios… it is all concrete (kills your legs), or even better, dangerous wet wood when they hose down the boardwalk every morning. Not fun. Oh, and it is 4000 degrees by 7AM. Treadmill all the way for this girl. Or if I’m really feeling ambitious, I do the 3 mile outdoor loop and then head inside to do the rest on the treadmill.

    1. Last time I went, I stayed at the Polynesian and ran over to the Floridian. Near the Floridian under the monorail is a dirt access road. If you head torwards the magic kingdom it dead ends pretty quickly, but I’m curious how far it goes in the other direction and if you can run on it. I ran a few steps, heard something rustle in the trees and got scared and headed in to use the treadmill instead!

  2. We go to Disney every Feb/Mar and I am usually in the thick of marathon training. We have stayed at Saratoga Springs and you can actually run to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) one way, turn around and run all the way to Old Key West and through that resort on trails. You still have to do loops to get significant mileage in but the loops are not terrible.

  3. We stayed at Ft Wilderness and there is a nice path around the resort and connecting to the Wilderness lodge. I got in about 6-7 pretty easily. The weather is pretty terrible for running and it wasn’t the most amazing run ever and also with kids it’s not exactly pleasant to run AND walk a bazillion miles with tired kids in 95 degree humid weather, but I managed to get out once and it was good.

    Also, if anyone is heading to Disneyland, I also ran there a couple of years ago and the only reasonable place to run is around the parks. You can get in about 4 miles if you do a figure 8. Running beyond the park area is challenging because the traffic and roads are not amenable and the area is questionably safe.

  4. When my family went we stayed at a resort on Palm Parkway, which was kind of between Disney and Sea World. I ran various out-and-back courses on the streets from my hotel the first few days until I learned the area, then I added in some loops. I never had trouble finding multiple well-populated safe-feeling areas at 5:30-6:00 a.m., or finding routes up to 12 miles. I also look at Strava segments nearby to see where others had run in the area.