The Stately Stanley: Estes Park’s ‘Shining’ Hotel

Perched atop a hill overlooking the stunning scenery of Estes Park, the Stanley Hotel holds court as one of Colorado’s most notable historic hotels.

The sprawling, stately hotel, built in 1909, was the inspiration for Stephen King’s scary book “The Shining.” The author got the idea for his novel while staying in Room 217, where paranormal occurrences have been reported.

Haunted Room 217 provided Stephen King paranormal inspiration.

Other areas in the hotel have had hair-raising happenings, too.

The spirit of a little girl named Katie is said to visit the remnants of an underground tunnel that once connected the buildings on the property, a tale that was greeted with wide-eyed wonder by my own daughter of the same name, as we stood in the dimly-lit tunnel.

“The ghosts and spirits here at the hotel are not just a story we tell at Halloween,” director of operations Leslie Hoy says as she leads us on a tour of the hotel. “This is part of what the Stanley is all about.”

Elsewhere, an upstairs room reportedly has the presence of a maid who worked at the hotel when it opened: Guests have had their luggage packed or unpacked, and beds made, when nobody had been into the room. And the piano in the Music Room has been heard playing when the room is empty, reportedly by the wife of F.O. Stanley, who built the hotel.

An area at the center of the hotel, on one of the upper floors, is known as the vortex; visitors and the hotel’s resident psychic, Madame Vera, have reported feeling a variety of sensations in this zone.

The Stanley Hotel pool

Hoy relates the early history of the hotel, saying Stanley came to the Estes Park area on the advice of his physician. He had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and it was recommended that he spend time in the mountain air. Stanley settled in with his wife, Flora, and quickly realized the potential for the area. Construction of the main building took about two years and included the creation of underground tunnels that connected the main hotel, the manor house and Stanley Hall, a present-day concert venue. A portion of the tunnels collapsed, but some remain and are a popular component of the hotel tours.

The Stanley opened on July 4, 1909, becoming the first fully-electric hotel in the country. Other cutting-edge amenities included bathrooms in every guest room, and the first telephone party line in the county. Initially open only in the summer months, the hotel was a hit with elite travelers, who would come to spend weeks at a time, enjoying the hotel and the surrounding region. Room rates varied from $5 to $8 a day, with a group rate for conventioneers of $3.50.

These days, the Stanley is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and plays year-round host to thousands of guests who come to enjoy the elegance and comfort of days gone by. Vintage architecture and fine furnishings and décor make a visit to the Stanley special, along with modern-day upgrades.

The hotel grounds encompass nearly 55 acres, with just a portion of that in use for guests. The main hotel houses 97 rooms, along with the dining options and meeting rooms. Nearby, the manor house, a 2/3 scale replica of the main building, offers 40 rooms and houses the full-service spa. Down the hill, Stanley Hall hosts concerts and special events. Adjacent to the hotel, the presidential cottage is a private, five-bedroom luxury getaway. The Cascades restaurant serves Colorado regional fare along with an extensive wine list and specialty beer and whiskey selections.

Inside the main building, tall ceilings, ornate woodwork and period décor await. A grand staircase leads guests to the second floor. A brass Otis elevator also stands at the ready: “The elevator originally operated on hydraulics,” Hoy explains. “It would periodically lose pressure and ‘sink’ down to the main floor.” Floor-to-ceiling lobby windows offer sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and Estes Park, and large fireplaces set off by plush leather furniture are a respite for travelers.

Stanley, along with his twin brother, founded the Stanley Steamer motor vehicle company, using funds they had received from the sale of their photographic process invention to the Eastman Kodak Co. One of the steam-powered cars holds a prominent place in the lobby.

Expansive meeting rooms each have a story to tell, from the Georgian Revival-themed Music Room, to the MacGregor Room, where the orchestra scene from the ABC-television production of “The Shining” was filmed. The Stanley hosts more than 150 weddings a year, often with several taking place at the same time; the 16,000 feet of conference space ensure that every bride has her special day.

Upstairs, the rooms are simple but comfortable, with classic grandeur along with modern-day updates. The spacious closet is a surprise, until Hoy reminds us that the hotel was built as a summer retreat, meaning guests needed space to store several weeks’ worth of belongings. The large flat-screen television on the wall is a nod to the present-day.

Back downstairs, the Ghosts and History tour is wildly popular at the Stanley; the 90-minute tour takes visitors through the public and private spaces and around the grounds, with guides relating tales of the many personalities who have passed through over the years.

F.O. Stanley’s ‘Stanley Steamer’ motor vehicles

“We have more than 50,000 people take this tour every year,” says Hoy. Famous guests have included Theodore Roosevelt, Molly Brown, Stephen King, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand and Johnny Cash.

If You Go

The Stanley Hotel
333 Wonderview Ave.
Estes Park, Colorado 80517
800-976-1377; 970-577-4000

Special rates Sunday-Thursday offer 20% off rack rates.

The hotel hosts special events, including holiday dances, murder mystery weekends, and beer, wine and whiskey pairing dinners. Check the website or go to the Stanley’s Facebook page for updates.

Contact the hotel to reserve a space on the popular Ghosts and History tour, a 90-minute visit through the hotel and grounds, $15/adult, $10/child 5-10. Space is limited.

Kelly Smith is a freelance writer who lives in Denver.