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The Stanley Hotel is a stunning Colonial Revival-style hotel located near the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. The hotel has become known as the most haunted hotel in Colorado and quite possibly the most haunted in the United States. After spending a single night there, author, Stephen King was inspired to write one of his most popular novels, “The Shining”, which was later turned into a film starring Jack Nicholson. Since then, The Stanley has hosted quite a few paranormal investigators and has even been featured on A&E’s “Ghost Hunters” and The Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures”. Guests have reported all kinds of spooky experiences and the hotel is said to be haunted by a few different ghosts; including past owners, some children, and even a couple of pets. The haunted Stanley Hotel is located in Estes Park and is just an hour and a half from Denver. The property grounds are expansive, beautiful, and surrounded by wildlife. The hotel features 140 rooms, dining areas, ballrooms, and even an underground cave system. Continue reading to find out how to visit the haunted Stanley Hotel and read some spooky guest experiences, including my own.
History of the Haunted Stanley Hotel
Estes Valley was once a remote and rustic area that was known for its open lands and peaceful meadows. In the late 1800s, it began to become popular with hunters due to its extensive wilderness and American settlers began to flock to the area. In 1903, Freeman Oscar Stanley, the inventor of the steam-powered car, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The doctor prescribed sunlight and fresh, dry air. At the time, many people with tuberculosis headed to the Rocky Mountains in hopes of a cure. Stanley made the decision to relocate to Colorado from Maine for the summer. He chose to stay in the town of Estes Park and over the next couple of months, he saw dramatic improvements in his health. He returned to Estes Park each summer and made a complete recovery by 1907.
Stanley and his wife fell in love with Estes Park but they were accustomed to a much more sophisticated and glamorous lifestyle. They decided to build a beautiful hotel that would be up to par with those back east. The 48-room hotel opened in 1909 and had electric lights, telephones, en suite bathrooms, a fleet of steam-powered cars, and a full staff. It was unlike anything Estes Park had seen before and did wonders for the area. Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 and by 1917, Estes Park was a fully functioning town with a power plant and water-works.
In 1926, Stanley sold his hotel to a private corporation. The venture failed and the hotel was sent into foreclosure. Stanley repurchased the hotel, to only sell it again in 1930 to Roe Emery, a businessman who owned automobile companies and lodges. By the 1970s, the hotel had become extremely run down due to lack of investment and until 1983, it was shut down every year during the winter. If it wasn’t for the writer, Stephen King’s famous stay then the hotel could have very well been torn down. Today, the hotel has been restored to look like the grand hotel it once was. It’s elegant, tastefully decorated, and just a tad creepy.
The Stanley Hotel and “The Shining”
In 1974, horror novelist, Stephen King was living in Boulder, Colorado. He was in the process of writing a book and was experiencing some writer’s block. He wasn’t happy with the book’s setting and someone recommend he visit The Stanley Hotel. He drove an hour north to the hotel with his wife and as they were arriving, he found that the hotel was getting ready to shut down for the winter. They ended up being the only guests on the property that night. They were served dinner in an empty dining room with orchestral music playing in the background which echoed down the long, empty hallways. He knew he had a book by the time he went to bed.
That night, while staying in room 217, he experienced terrifying nightmares. He dreamt that his then 3-year-old son was being chased through the hallways by a firehose and when he awoke he had the premise for “The Shining”. “The Shining” was published in 1977 and became one of King’s most successful books. It was later made into the well-known Stanley Kubrick film by the same name; however, it was not filmed at The Stanley Hotel and was almost entirely a set. Room 217 is featured in the story and is the hotel’s most requested room.
Scary Stories from the Stanley
Over the years, The Stanley has earned its reputation as the most haunted hotel in the United States. Employees and guests have retold countless spirited experiences at the hotel, ranging from sounds to forms showing up in photographs to visible appearances. These are some of The Stanley’s more well-known hauntings:
In June of 1911, a disaster put The Stanley’s room 217 on the map. A large storm knocked the power out and the hotel turned to its backup gas lamps. Elizabeth Wilson, the chief chambermaid was sent to light the lamp in room 217. It turned out that the gas had been on for quite some time and a huge explosion occurred as she entered the room with a candle. The force was so great that she was thrown into the dining room below and the southwest end of the hotel was destroyed, sustaining about $50,000 in damages. Elizabeth managed to survive the experience and returned to her job at The Stanley after her recovery. She remained loyal to Mr. Stanley and continued working at the hotel until her death in the 1950s.
There have been a number of odd happenings in and around room 217 since her passing. Staff members have reported seeing a woman dressed in an old fashioned maid uniform near the room. A tour guide reported that while she was giving a tour, the door to room 217 opened and then closed as she approached with her tour group. There was no one in the room at the time. Guests of room 217, have reported that they have left the room only to return to find their clothing folded and put away. There have also been reports that the awkwardly-located light in the bathroom will sometimes turn itself on for guests.
The 4th Floor
The fourth floor is frequently visited by spirits and seems to have more stories than any other location in the hotel. In the hotel’s early days, families would come and stay at The Stanley for the summer. They would often bring their nannies to take care of their children while they were out during the day. It was a time when children were to be seen and not heard. The children ate in a designated windowless dining room and the nannies were mostly lodged on the fourth floor. Today, guests report hearing children running and giggling through the halls, only to open the door to an empty hallway.
Room 401 was featured on Ghost Hunter’s and is their favorite room. It may also be one of the creepiest. It is said to be haunted by a male ghost. Lord Dunraven, an Irish man, never visited The Stanley but once owned the land it was built on. Women staying in room 401 have reported that they have felt a presence in the room and that while standing in the room’s closest, have heard whispering and have even felt someone inappropriately grabbing them and/or touching their hair. Men who stay in the room have reported a hostile presence and have had items go missing. One man had his wedding ring sitting on the bathroom sink and while in the bathroom, he watched it mysteriously move and fall into the drain.
Room 407 has a friendly ghost. Guests staying in this room have experienced someone “tucking them in.” One night, a mother and son were staying in the room. The little boy kept kicking his covers off while he slept and reported that someone would keep covering him back up throughout the night. The boy assumed it was his mother and mentioned it to her in the morning. The mother had not awoken during the night and claimed it was not her. Other guests have reported feeling like someone was sitting on the edge of their bed but when they got up and turned on the light, no-one was there, just an indentation in the bedsheets.
Guests of room 428 have reported hearing footsteps above them and what sounds like furniture being moved about. This is physically impossible though as there is nothing above room 428 and the roof in that area is sloped. Guest, mainly women, have also had a ghostly experience with a “cowboy”. Plenty of cowboys have stayed at the hotel throughout the years but there are no reports of one actually dying there. However, a cowboy has been seen standing in the corner of the room or pacing near the end of the bed. Guests have also experienced the flickering of lights in the room.
If you join one of The Stanley’s official tours then you’ll have the opportunity to visit the hotel’s underground cave system. During the hotel’s early years of operation, staff moved through the hotel by way of underground tunnels as not to be seen by guests. Guests and staff have reported feeling unexplained breezes and the tunnels often smell of baked goods. It’s said one of the ghosts that haunt the caves is a past pastry chef. The ghost of a cat has also been seen wandering through the lower levels.
My Experience at The Haunted Stanley Hotel
While on a road trip this past August, I decided to book a stay at the haunted Stanley Hotel for my birthday. “The Shining” is one of my favorite films and a visit to the Stanley had been on my bucket list for quite some time. My friend and I booked a “spirited room” and requested room 407. I was hoping to have some kind of fun, spooky experience but didn’t want to be absolutely terrified. Room 407 seemed like a good choice and upon checking in, I was excited to learn that my request had been fulfilled. I didn’t feel anyone “tucking me in” but we did experience a couple of odd things.
We began the evening with some cocktails at the bar and later sat down for dinner in the hotel restaurant. After our meal, we stopped at the bar to purchase a few bottled beers to take back to our room. We had a tour booked later that night and decided to spend the next hour or so relaxing and enjoying some drinks. It had been a long day of driving. At 10 p.m., we put the four empty bottles in the metal trash bin and headed downstairs for our ghost tour. Afterward, we returned to our room where we got ready for bed and quickly fell asleep. Less than 30 minutes after drifting off, we were awoken by a loud crash. We both jumped and screamed. (No one came to check on us, so I’m assuming this happens often?) The crash had come from the trashcan and sounded as though someone had picked up the plastic liner with the bottles and dropped it into the metal bin. It could have been that one bottle shifted causing the others to fall but it seemed to have more force behind it than that.
I had a difficult time staying asleep after that. The room was rather warm and throughout the night, I felt sporadic gusts of cold air pass alongside the bed. There were no ceiling vents in the room, no open windows, and the only source of air was a portable a/c unit that was placed on the other side of the room and pointed in the opposite direction.
Things to Know Before You Go:
How to Get There
The Stanley is located in Estes Park, Colorado. Estes Park is easily accessible from most of northern Colorado and is about 80 miles (129 km) from the Denver International Airport. Your best bet is going to be renting a car at the airport. Estes Park is a small town and you are likely going to want a car so you can explore the area. The drive takes about 1 hour 30 minutes and the last 20 miles is a mountain climb of almost 3,000 feet (915 m). Driving is going to be the quickest and most affordable option. However, there are other methods of transportation: taxi, bus, and shuttle.
Estes Park Shuttle offers daily shuttle trips from the airport and other locations surrounding Estes Park. This may be a good option if you are just doing a day trip. The ride from the airport takes about two hours and the roundtrip fare is $95 USD/per person. The Denver/Boulder area has a great public transportation system. Bus or rail can be used to move about the region. A regional day pass can be purchased for $10.50 USD. Public transportation is going to be the most affordable, but also the most time-consuming and a bit complicated. From Denver, you can take the bus to Boulder and then take a taxi the remainder of the way or take the rail to Lyons and then take the Estes Park Shuttle from there. A taxi may be the most convenient but is also the most costly. You can expect to pay about $180 USD each way.
Ghosts Tours and How to Visit The Stanley as a Non-Guest
Anyone is free to come by and check out the common areas of The Stanley. However, areas like the underground caves and the hotel’s spirited hallways are only accessible via tour. The tours don’t enter guest rooms, but you will still be able to get a glimpse of the infamous door of room 217. There are two tours available: The Historic Stanley Day Tour and the Historic Stanley Night Tour. The tours are basically the same, with the obvious exception, one takes place at night. I definitely recommend the night tour if you are looking for that extra creep factor.
The walking tours are 60 minutes long and give a detailed history of the hotel. You will also learn about some of the many ghost sightings and where they occurred. Ghost sightings certainly aren’t guaranteed but the hotel is beautiful and the guides make the tours a lot of fun. Make sure to book your tour well in advance as they do tend to sell out quickly. Hotel guests must purchase a ticket in advance as well. There are no additional tickets set aside for guests upon arrival. Tickets can be purchased here and the prices are as follows:
Day tour: $23 per person/ $20 per person for guest
Night tour: $28 per person/ $25 per person
Other Ways to Visit as a Non-Guest:
Aiden Sinclair is The Stanley’s resident illusionist and apparitionist. His show, Illusions of the Passed, takes place on weekend nights and non-guests are welcome to attend. Tickets are available for purchase here. Illusions of the Passed combines magic with the paranormal and connects the living with those that have passed.
Non-guests can also enjoy The Stanley’s restaurants and bar. The Whiskey Bar & Lounge has a great cocktail menu. There are lots of fun and tasty drinks, including a Redrum Punch. Georgia’s at the Lodge is their new breakfast restaurant, located in the Lodge portion of the property. It has a great menu and a cute patio area with views. The hotel offers dinner in their restaurant Cascades, but I personally wasn’t impressed. The food was mediocre and extremely overpriced. If you’re staying at the hotel, I recommend going off-site for dinner. I really enjoyed my meal at Bird & Jim, located nearby in town.
How to Book a Haunted Room at The Stanley
If you wish to stay in one of The Stanley’s haunted rooms, you’ll need to book one of the hotel’s “spirited rooms”. The hotel’s spirited rooms include rooms 217, 401, 407, and 428. These rooms are available for booking either online or over the phone. If there is a particular room that you wish to stay in, this can be requested in the notes; although, it can not be guaranteed. These rooms book quickly, especially during the high-season. I recommend making a reservation at least a month in advance during summer months and about six months in advance if you wish to stay around Halloween or in the month of October. The haunted rooms come at a premium and at the time of this post, the average cost of a “spirited room” was around $350-400 USD/night plus taxes.
Other Things to Do in Estes Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-do while in Estes Park. The park is incredible. It has mountains, forests, and even alpine tundra. It’s known for its Trail Ridge Road which winds up into the mountains and eventually reaches an elevation of 12,183 ft (3,700 m). It’s the highest continuously paved road in the United States. Other things to do in the park include a walk around a Bear Lake or a hike up the park’s tallest mountain, Long’s Peak.
Explore Downtown Estes Park
Downtown Estes Park has over 300 shops and is a great place to pick up souvenirs. You can find everything from hand-made crafts to jewelry and outdoor gear. There are also some great eateries and pubs in the mix.
Take a kayak or boat Lake Estes. It’s conveniently located right down the street from the Stanley. The small lake is great for kayaking since you don’t have to worry about large boats. The views from the lake are incredible and there’s a lot of wildlife in the area. We spotted a beautiful group of elk right off the side of the road.
Where to Stay Near the Stanley
If you plan on visiting The Stanley but its rooms aren’t in your budget then there are plenty of nearby options. Estes Park can be pricey during the high season, but if you book far enough in advance or go during the low season then you should be able to find something more affordable. Another option is to stay in either Boulder or Denver and do a day trip to The Stanley. The following are a few great options:
Historic Crag’s Lodge by Diamond Resorts
Historic Crag’s Lodge is located just 3 miles (5 km) from Rocky Mountain National Park and is just a 10-minute drive from The Stanley. The rustic mountainside lodge is a cozy cabin-like retreat with a pool and spa.
Hotel Estes is a locally owned and family-operated hotel in Estes Park and is just 5 minutes from The Stanley. The rooms are clean and have a rustic decor. They offer large, “family rooms” that are perfect if you’re visiting with kids.
Aloft Denver Downtown
Aloft Denver Downtown is a new hotel in downtown Denver. The hotel is chic and edgy and its location is great. It’s super walkable and the 14th Street Mall is just a couple of blocks away. Great deals can usually be found during the off-season.
Have you had a paranormal experience or visited somewhere rumored to be haunted? I’d love to hear about your experience. If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Interested in other unique hotels? Click here to learn about the incredible Giraffe Manor in Kenya.