A white Georgian Colonial Revival hotel on a hill overlooking Estes Park
If you’ve heard of The Stanley Hotel, it’s probably because you’re a Stephen King fan. The story goes that the author and his wife visited the hotel in 1974, on the night before it shuttered for the winter season, and were the only guests. During the night, King jolted awake from a nightmare involving a fire hose chasing his screaming son down the hallway. He lit a cigarette, and by the time it was down to the butt, he’d laid the blueprint for what would become “The Shining” in his mind. The movie wasn’t filmed there, but the TV miniseries was, as were the scenes from “Dumb and Dumber” where Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels’ characters were in “a little place called Aspen.”
The hotel is named for the man who built it (or, more accurately, paid for it): Freelan Oscar Stanley. Stanley was an inventor (he and his brother were the duo being the Stanley Steamer, a steam-powered car) who came to Estes Park in 1903 to spend what he and his physician thought would be his final days, as he had a gnarly case of tuberculosis. Surprisingly, he ended up making a full recovery and, in 1909, constructed a home there, as well as a lodge for his wealthy friends to spend the summer. That lodge would go on to become The Stanley Hotel.
Four miles from Rocky Mountain National Park
The hotel is located 66 miles north of Denver in the tiny mountain town of Estes Park and surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest. Rocky Mountain National Park, the vibrant heart of the Rockies, is likely the reason you trekked out to Estes Park. Between the massive herds of elk, nimble bighorn sheep and pine-covered slopes, the park doesn’t disappoint. That being said, it’s an increasingly popular park, so if you’re looking for a deeper dive (and insight into the quieter areas), Yellow Wood Guiding does fabulous ranger-led tours. Here are some spots nearby to check out while at the hotel.
- Bird & Jim — Estes Park can be a challenging place to eat healthily. Most of the shops on the main drag dish out exclusively saltwater taffy and ice cream. As a result, Bird & Jim acts as a beacon of fibrous hope. The menu changes seasonally but is heavy on salads and sandwiches with organic ingredients.
- Kruger Rock Trail at Hermit Park Open Space — A favorite local hike, Kruger Rock is a moderate four-miler that weaves through ponderosa pines up to the 9,335-foot summit. Views from the summit include Mount Meeker, the Continental Divide and the Mummy Range.
- Cloud Ladder Via Ferrata — The newest and steepest via ferrata in the United States, the Cloud Ladder basically involves climbing 600 feet up a vertical rock face with a simple carabiner system. Depending on your relationship with your own mortality, it’s either an adrenaline-pumping thrill or a terrifying afternoon.
- Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew — One thing that’s important to note about dining at high elevation is that your taste buds dull. What still tastes good? Sugar, spice and fat — three of the main components of barbecue. The buffalo ribs and pulled pork are especially good.
- Estes Park Brewery — Slinging a dozen or so beers, wings, pizza and burgers, this is one of the most happening nighttime hangouts in town.
Historic (and small) spaces
Because of The Stanley’s alleged connection to the paranormal, the hotel is usually fully booked between Labor Day and Halloween. If you’re hankering for a spooky-season supernatural sighting, plan ahead. And if you want to bed down in the same room King plotted his novel, good luck. That room, 217, is booked out six months in advance — or nearly a decade if you want to stay on Halloween.
Within the main property, the rooms haven’t changed much since the hotel’s inception in 1909, which means it’s not going to look or feel like a modern hotel. The doorknobs are notably lower than you’d expect, the rooms are small, there is no air-conditioning, and each of the rooms has classic furnishings (much of which could use some TLC). That being said, the rooms weren’t designed to spend a lot of time in. Stanley expected his guests would enjoy the common areas and the grounds.
Each room has either one or two queen-size beds or a single king. Furnishings are simple, perhaps except for the flat-screen TV.
- Spirited Rooms: While these rooms are essentially the same as others within the main property, the hotel charges more because it’s believed there’s a greater likelihood of experiencing something paranormal. They are rooms 217 (where King stayed), 401, 407 and 428.
- Presidential Cottage: Three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, a kitchenette, dining and living room areas and a private deck. There are also two lower-level units, each with a king-sized bed and a bathroom.
- The Lodge at The Stanley rooms: If you’re looking for a room with a more boutique feel, these are a good bet. They aren’t, however, in the original hotel.
- The Residences at The Stanley: These fully equipped private condos come in one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom sizes. These accommodations are found behind the original hotel.
Dining, tours and a possible supernatural encounter
Officially, The Stanley maintains that it’s not a haunted hotel. That’s largely because they don’t want guests to expect a paranormal encounter (or ask for their money back when they don’t get one). Still, they play up their “The Shining” connection with memorabilia, bar drinks with names like “Redrum,” a (very short) hedge maze and multiple nightly ghost hunts.
If you’re there just because you want to stay in a historic hotel, there’s a pool, various restaurants, some grand communal spaces and beautiful grounds to walk around. If you’re a hotel guest, parking is free. If not, expect to pay $10 a day.
Hotel tours: The Stanley offers two tours: the Historic Day Tour and the Spirited Night Tour. The daytime tour covers the history of Estes Park and the hotel, as well as a bit about Stephen King, the various celebrities that have stayed and some pop culture. The after-dark tour leans hard into the spirited parts of the hotel. The latter is admittedly pretty hokey.
Cascades Restaurant & Lounge: If you have a hunger that only rare meat can satisfy, you’ve come to the right place. Look for the “MEN WALK ON MOON” New York Times article, much like the one Jim Carey’s character gets excited about in “Dumb and Dumber.”
Whiskey Bar: Technically in the Cascades Restaurant & Lounge, the hotel treats it like a separate entity. It has one of the largest whiskey collections in the state.
The Post Chicken & Beer: The motto is “Hot Chicken Loves Cold Beer.” That should give you a pretty good idea of what’s on offer in this restaurant found in a renovated 1909 carriage house. Guy Fieri also featured it on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.”
Aiden Sinclair’s Underground: Hidden behind a bookcase on the lower level of The Post Chicken & Beer, this speakeasy-style lounge hosts magic shows (often with a seance theme) with its eponymous performer several nights a week.