Wilderness Lodge opened on May 28, 1994, located on a site originally proposed to house a hotel known as Cypress Point Lodge in early master plans for Walt Disney World. Much of Wilderness Lodge's design is inspired by both the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park and the Ahwanee Lodge at Yosemite National Park.
The 2000 addition of Disney Vacation Club Villas, originally known as The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, took a greater inspiration from early railroad hotels with a simpler clapboard and shingle approach that was intended to give the effect of having been built before the original Wilderness Lodge. In 2017, the Villas were renamed as the Boulder Ridge Villas, when they would receive additional placemaking in the form of props for a "Boulder Ridge Railroad and Mining Company".
In 2017, the southern wing of Wilderness Lodge was refurbished and rebranded as the Copper Creek Villas, with a series of cabins being built alongside the lake shore, known as the Cascade Cabins. The interior designs of the rooms in the Copper Creek section were given a contemporary overhaul, with the design intent of these new offerings being to represent modern living in the Pacific Northwest in contrast to the 1800s setting of Boulder Ridge and the early 1900s setting of Wilderness Lodge.
Wilderness Lodge's backstory begins in the early 1800s and was primarily told in the Silver Creek Star, a newspaper that served as Wilderness Lodge's hotel guest guide, though these articles would be phased out in favor of just focusing on guest services.
Colonel Ezekiel Moreland, a widowed field commander during the War of 1812, set out to survey the great Northwest in 1822, though his expedition of 50 men faced disaster from storms, floods and bison stampedes and Moreland was left to go it alone. Writing to his daughter Genevieve, he proclaimed "I take to the wilderness alone. The good earth will provide me with everything I need to survive. I have my gun, I have my courage and I have my determination. What need I of anything else, especially of cowardly scoundrels who turn ashen in the face of the smallest adversity."
He would not be heard from again until two years later when he returned to St. Louis with a great bounty of beaver pelts and furs to make him wealthy. He invited his daughter Genevieve to a beautiful place he discovered on his long journey, Silver Creek Springs. In time, she would establish Wilderness Lodge as an outpost for artists, scientists and nature enthusiasts in 1848 as well as a wilderness preservation area surrounding the Silver Creek Springs area.
Silver Creek Springs runs through the resort, starting from a hot spring found towards the back of the lobby. From this hot spring, a stream runs under a bridge, down a waterfall, and enters the hotel pool before running into Bay Lake. Additionally, an artificial geyser known as Fire Rock Geyser, can be found along Silver Creek. Silver Creek's hot springs made it a common stop for different native tribes in the area during winter, with a particular rock formation being a popular place to start campfires. According to legend, during a particularly harsh winter, a hunting party found themselves trapped in the valley by the snows. Forced to keep their campfire going continuously, the hunters wasted much of their firewood and kept trying to find more fuel to feed the fire. After about a week, the fire rock cracked and quaked, with a geyser of water extinguishing the fire and sending their teepee flying away. Believing this to be a bad omen and the Earth's response to their wasteful use of fire, the hunting party fled and never returned to the valley. The geyser has been regularly erupting ever since.
The resort has several dining options, including room service. There are two main restaurants at the resort:
- Artist Point — Restaurant serving food prepared in the style of the American Northwest, featuring meals from Washington State, Oregon, and British Columbia. These include dinners such as cedar plank salmon, and grilled buffalo. In 2018, Artist Point was overhauled into a character dining location with characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- Whispering Canyon Cafe — Restaurant geared primarily towards families with younger children. Known for a rambunctious and mischievous atmosphere where waiters engaged in various hijinks with guests, though these have recently been toned down.
The resort also features quick snack eateries, including Roaring Fork Snacks, Territory Lounge, and Trout Pass. Guests staying on the 7th-floor Concierge level can access the Old Faithful Club, which offers continental breakfast, cheese and wine tastings, and beverages and snacks throughout the day.
The Wilderness Lodge contains one store named The Wilderness Lodge Mercantile, located in the main lobby of the resort. The store sells many Disney items available throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, as well as items specifically themed to the Pacific Northwest and the hotel itself. Since the addition of The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, the shop has begun selling limited grocery items as well. A Disney pin trading booth is located across the lobby from the store.
Teton Boat and Bike Rentals rents boats for guests to use on Bay Lake, and bikes to use on the trails around the resort.