hiking trail in the Elkmont section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
February 27, 2023

You might be surprised to learn that there was once a hotel within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it was actually built over 20 years before the park was established! The Wonderland Hotel was constructed in the Elkmont section of the park in 1912 to attract tourists seeking a mountain getaway, and it remained in Elkmont until it was closed in 1992. Here are the top 3 things to know about the history of the Elkmont Wonderland Hotel:

1. Beginnings of the Wonderland Hotel

abandoned Elkmont building

The town of Elkmont was originally a company town for the Little River Railroad and many of the workers lived there with their families. Elkmont was also a station for the Little River Railroad, and it provided access to Knoxville via a 2-hour train ride until the mid-1920s. Once most of the lumber had been logged from the area, the president of the Little River Railroad Company (Colonel W. B. Townsend) thought that this beautiful region could still be beneficial for attracting visitors. Therefore, in 1911, he gave 50 acres to Charles B. Carter under the condition that he builds on the land within one year. Carter formed the Wonderland Club Company and fulfilled this condition, and the Wonderland Hotel opened its doors on June 11, 1912.

2. Transition from a Public Hotel to Private Club

The Little River Railroad Company took advantage of their railroad to bring tourists, hunters, and fishermen from Knoxville and other locations to the new Wonderland Hotel. These excursions actually gave many people their first experiences in the Great Smoky Mountains! However, by 1919, the Wonderland Hotel had become a private, members-only club with members such as doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. The Appalachian Club was an affluent social club in Elkmont at the time, which eventually became so popular that it was turning away prospective members. The men who could not gain access to the Appalachian Club formed their own association, purchased the Wonderland Hotel, and renamed it the Wonderland Club Hotel.

3. Reopening to the General Public and Eventual Closure

Little River Trail in the Smoky Mountains

It wasn’t until the early 1970s that the Elkmont Wonderland Hotel finally reopened to the general public. In addition to offering 26 unique guest rooms, the hotel featured a dining hall that was known for serving excellent home-cooked meals. Unfortunately, the Wonderland Hotel closed in 1992 and a portion of the hotel was lost 3 years later due to a fire. The remnants of the hotel collapsed in 2005 and the remains were carefully removed, with several artifacts set aside for preservation. If you visit the Elkmont area today, there is a Wonderland Hotel marker with information about the property. A hiking trail behind the marker leads up to the former site of the hotel, where you’ll find ruins of the large brick fireplace.

Now that you’re familiar with the fascinating history of the Elkmont Wonderland Hotel, be sure to visit the Elkmont section of the National Park during your visit! Here is everything that you need to know about exploring the abandoned Elkmont ghost town in the Smokies!