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At Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, guests have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Russell, the adventurous and kind-hearted boy from the movie Up, by earning Wilderness Explorer badges in hopes of becoming a Senior Wilderness Explorer. The free program provides a unique way to visit every corner of this gorgeous park, learn about animals and cultures along the way, and notice details that might otherwise be overlooked.

There are 31 badges available, each requiring the budding Wilderness Explorer to complete one or two simple tasks. Since the program is aimed at preschoolers and kids, most of these tasks are quick and easy, requiring mere minutes of time, and adults are free to participate as well. The badge tasks vary from plaque rubbing to answering questions from clearly posted signs to completing simple math to meeting cultural representatives from other countries to drawing animals. Just like the movie, you’ll become a Senior Wilderness Explorer when all badges have been earned.

All four of us were Wilderness Explorers for the first time during our recent Disney World vacation, completing 12 badges while visiting the animals and enjoying the rides. Completing the badges fit naturally into the day and provided a fun diversion while walking around the park rather than just going from one attraction to another.

What’s in my Disney World Park bag

View everything in my Disney park bag

Let’s Get Started!

Does Wilderness Explorers sound like fun? Then, let’s get started! First, pick up your free Wilderness Explorers Handbook and pencil at Headquarters on the Discovery Island bridge as you enter the park. Disney time tables may state that Headquarters doesn’t open until 10:00 AM, an hour after typical park opening hours, but the Wilderness Explorer Troop Leaders were ready for new recruits when we entered the park during the progressive rope drop even before the park opening.

Earn Your First Badge

After receiving your handbook, the Troop Leader will teach the Wilderness Explorer Call with adorable hand motions just like Russell in Up.

“The wilderness must be explored! CAW CAW! ROAR!”

With that, the Troop Leader places the Wilderness Explorer Call Badge on the page in your handbook and you’ve earned your first badge! Only 30 more to go!

Find More Badge Locations

Included in the handbook is a map showing all badge locations. The self-guided program allows you to go at your own pace and choose only the badges you want to complete. Do only a few and save the rest for another day, or complete them all in one day.

Badge locations are clearly marked with two circle icon signs – the Wilderness Explorers logo and the icon for the badge to be earned at the location. Badge locations are scattered around the park, some associated with attractions (Safari Badge), others along the animal viewing paths (5 along the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and 3 along the Maharajah Jungle Trek), and many along the main thoroughfares in each of Animal Kingdom’s lands. Some badge locations require a little hunt while others are out in the open along heavily trafficked pathways. Completing the Wilderness Explorer program can be as random or as intentional as you want it to be.

Badge Guides, easily identifiable from their orange sticker badge satchels, are stationed near each of the badge locations. If the badge task is self-directed, simply look for the Badge Guide nearby to earn your sticker. They are never far away and are always super helpful and knowledgeable, and willing to answer any questions you might have.

Typical Badge Activities

Badges can be earned in many different ways.

Ride Lines / The Safari Badge is intended to be completed while waiting in line for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. I’m always amazed by how well Disney has incorporated interactive features to attraction lines in recent years to make the wait times more bearable and this is just one more example. Genius! Several questions in the handbook pertain to signs along the queue. What a great way for kids to stay occupied while standing in yet another Disney World line!

Animal Trails / Flamingos, birds, gorillas, bats, tigers, and even animal nutrition and veterinary diagnosis – This is Animal Kingdom after all! There are plenty of badges to be earned from animal viewing and education.

Culture / More than just animals, badges are available for music, cultural representatives, forestry, conservation, and communications.

Observation / The Animal Find Badge merely shows pictures of animals that can be seen throughout the park. Check off the ones that you see and return to Headquarters at the end of the day to earn the badge. We worked on this badge but forgot to return for our badges. Oops!

What do you do with your photos when your family returns home from a Disney vacation? Here's how I create the best Disney Trip Photo Album.

Our Thoughts

We earned 12 badges in one day while completing them at a VERY leisurely pace. All four of us had our own handbooks to complete and we all had lots of fun. We had no plan for completing them and simply earned the badges as we naturally passed the locations during our usual touring day.

We set an unofficial goal of completing ten badges which, as the back page of the handbook stated, meant we would be Wilderness Explorer Minnows. Earn 5 to become a Tadpole, 10 to be a Minnow, 20 for a Fish, and all badges to become a Senior Wilderness Explorer. That would leave plenty more to complete on our next trip. All of the badges can probably be completed in a single day, but it that would likely have to be your focus of the entire day. You can keep your handbook and return later, even years later, to complete the badges.

We LOVE the Wilderness Explorers program. For those who might want to add a little structure and education to a day at Animal Kingdom, this is the perfect solution. It forces you to look at the details of this gorgeous park and to learn even more about animals and African and Asian cultures. We can’t wait to return next year and complete a dozen more badges!

Wilderness Explorers Motto

“A Wilderness Explorer is a friend to all, be it plants or fish or tiny mole.”