“He would write it for the reason he felt that all great literature, fiction and nonfiction, was written: truth comes out, in the end it always comes out. He would write it because he felt he had to.”
― Stephen King,
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Most people can identify the significance of the hotel without knowing the backstory. It’s the literary connections that made this hotel famous, but The Stanley Hotel was a luxury resort long before a man named Stephen stayed in room 217. Opened by brothers Freelan Oscar and Francis Edgar Stanley, the pair came to fame for selling their dry plate technology to Kodak and for their motor engines. The resort was once a retreat for F.O., who was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Over the years, they needed a place for visiting friends to stay, which is how the resort came to be. The Stanley Hotel first opened on July 4, 1909, and their original season was June to October. They also had a lodge for single men to stay, away from the single women. Performers like Harry Houdini and John Philip Sousa came here.
The luxury hotel was the top of the line for the time period, with an elevator, running water, telephones in all rooms, and gas and electric lighting. In 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was created and the town of Estes Park was incorporated shortly after. The hotel didn’t open during the winter until 1983 when heating was added to the building. But in 1974, right before the hotel closed for the season, Stephen King and his wife stayed in the hotel for one night and were the only guests. It was this experience that inspired him to write The Shining.
The Stanley has hosted countless celebrities over the years, including Bob Dylan, and been the site of filming Dumb and Dumber. There’s a concert hall, an in-house psychic, and plays the Stanley Kubrick version of the film on a loop on the televisions. But note that this version wasn’t filmed at the hotel and was changed greatly from the book. Instead, the television miniseries authorized by King is both filmed in the hotel and sticks to the storyline. Room styles include king or queen beds in varying sizes as well as suites, cottages, and condominiums.
But if you’re hoping to get spooked, you’ll need to book your room separately. Haunted rooms are booked many months in advance. Room 217, where King stayed, is said to be haunted by the ghost of Elizabeth Wilson, a former Stanley employee. It has a library of King titles as well as a bathtub, located by the Vortex stairs. Room 407 is haunted by Lord Dunraven, while Room 428 is haunted by the footsteps of a cowboy. If you’re in the attic rooms like 401, you might find that closet doors open on their own. But despite investigations by paranormal television shows, the Stanley staff claims that all of the ghosts are benevolent.
On my trip through Wyoming and Colorado, I knew I’d want to at least pass through the town to check another national park off the bucket list. So when I had the chance to stay at The Stanley, I wanted to see if I would also find inspiration here or if the spirits of past guests would find me instead. And as luck would have it, my friends Laurence and Jessica would be staying here too. So we started with the best way writers find inspiration: at the bar. The Whiskey Bar features the most selections in the state of Colorado, including hard-to-find scotch, bourbon, and whiskey, and a stunning carved wooden bar. The dark liquor isn’t my drink of choice, but I opted for a bitter orange bourbon cocktail for the full experience.
After a few cocktails, I retired to my room and had the best night’s sleep of the entire trip. Was it the whiskey? Or were the ghosts granting me solace for one night? Writers like myself, as well as other guests, will find a coffee shop to provide much-needed caffeine come morning. Dine in one of two restaurants and buy all the Stephen King and Stanley-related souvenirs you could want. But if you don’t do anything else during your stay, take one of the tours.
Both guests and visitors can take tours of the property. First, you’ll watch a short video on the history of the hotel, including videos of the interior of the haunted rooms, as they’re not included on the tour. There are multiple tours, including the standard Stanley tour, which focuses on the history, and the Night Ghost tour, which details sightings over the years. All tours last 90 minutes and discounts are available for hotel guests, AAA members, and active military. Be sure to ask for Lady J as your guide!
Beyond The Stanley Hotel, there’s plenty to explore in quirky Estes Park and the surrounds. You can’t stay in the town without visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. A loop road will take you to the highest point in the mountains, where it’s common to see snow even during the summer. Back in town, grab brunch at Claire’s On the Park before perusing the titles at Mac Donald Book Shop. Or you can get freshly made doughnuts at Donut Haus while they last. Estes Park Brewery offers free tastings and Poppy’s Pizza & Grill even offers vegan cheese for fussy eaters like me.
I’m not sure if I found the same type of inspiration as Stephen King. But I know that I can see why so many, both living and dead, decided they want to stay here.
I received a complimentary stay at The Stanley, but all opinions and experiences are my own.