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abandoned building in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hiker Discovers Real-Life Wonderland in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Do you remember when you were a little kid and you would go exploring, and you would always imagine discovering a secret city or magical hideaway? That may have just been us, but wouldn’t it be cool if it happened while you were hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Well, for hiker and videographer Jordan Liles that is just what happened. In may 2013, Liles entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with just his video camera and his curiosity. He had heard the legends of the Wonderland Club, but he wanted to explore the area for himself.

Jordan Liles Uncovering the Mysteries at the Wonderland Hotel

At nearly 23 minutes long, the video that Jordan Liles recorded during his exploration of the former Wonderland resort gives a thorough explanation of the history and current state of the land. You can watch the entire video by clicking play below.

As you can tell by the video, the original Wonderland Hotel is no longer standing, but it is very interesting to get such a close up view of the historic buildings that once accompanied the hotel at the resort.

In 1995, the majority of the original building for the Wonderland Hotel was lost in a fire. Ten years later, the remainder of the structure collapsed. In 2006, the National Park Service collected what they could from the site in terms of historically significant objects to preserve them. These items included guest room doors, windows, bathtubs, and more.

About the Wonderland Hotel

fall leaves in the Great Smoky Mountains National ParkLocated inside the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Wonderland Hotel was once a vibrant tourist attraction. The hotel first opened its doors in the summer of 1912 and was an instant success.

The main building of the Wonderland Hotel was a two-story, wooden-framed building that was constructed of local materials. The Smoky Mountain hotel had a total of 26 guest rooms, each of which were specifically designed so that no two matched. Considered luxurious for the time, most of the rooms came equipped with their own private bathroom that included a claw-foot tub.

Outside of the rooms, guests could enjoy a warm summer evening from the comfort of the Wonderland Hotel’s large wrap-around porch or dig into a delicious freshly-prepared meal in the hotel’s spacious dining room.

To access the hotel, guests would take the passenger car on the Little River Railroad. Used mainly by the logging business in the area, this railroad was the main route to get to and from the hotel from nearby towns. Once the logging community moved away from what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the railroad was removed, and a road was built in its place. Today, that road is called the Little River Road and is considered to be one of the most scenic fall Smoky Mountain drives in the area.

Little River in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National ParkThe Wonderland Hotel and the Formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As we all know, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934, but it took several years of planning before the park was able to open. In 1923, the owners of the Wonderland Hotel, then called the Wonderland Club, helped form the Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, the spearhead group for the formation of the national park. Because of these efforts, the Wonderland Club was able to secure a lifetime lease to remain in operation for only $1 a year.

In 1952, the remaining members of the club traded their lifetime lease for a 20-year renewable lease after merging with the Elkmont Preservation Association. The hotel remained in operation until November of 1992, 80 years after it first opened.

Today, what remains of the Wonderland Hotel, along with the entire Elkmont district, is considered one of the 11 most endangered places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Modern Lodging in the Smoky Mountains

Although the Wonderland Hotel no longer stands, guests wanting to travel to the area still have an abundance of luxurious lodging accommodations to choose from. At Visit My Smokies, we pride ourselves on bringing guests the ultimate guide to all the relaxing cabins, condos, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds found in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

To learn more about all these great lodging options, be sure to click on the Where to Stay in the Smoky Mountains tab on our website!