Stephen King fans are no doubt familiar with the Stanley Hotel. So are fans of the SciFi series Ghost Hunters and other aficionados of haunted places. Located in beautiful Estes Park, Colorado, the Stanley Hotel is the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. The story is that the idea for the novel began after he learned the history of the hotel, particularly its ghosts.
It certainly seemed a perfect place to spend Halloween night.
A first look
The Stanley is easy to find, even for those unfamiliar with Estes Park. Just inside Estes, drivers find themselves taking a large curve. Upon finishing that sweep of road, travelers are treated to the postcard view of the Stanley Hotel, sitting majestically just off to the side of the city proper. When we arrived, it was framed by a shockingly blue sky that further highlighted the white splendor of the hotel. It looked just like the kind of place ghosts might live.
First up-close impressions
The staff was friendly even though business was brisk, and we were checked in and to our room in no time. At the time, the Stanley did not accept single night reservations, so we had to book two consecutive nights.
The room we had booked was one of the cheapest available for four people. It was all that would be expected in a typical hotel with a few exceptions. The bathroom was even smaller than many; we could barely get in and out because of the lack of space as the door opened and closed.
The décor all over the hotel was lovely historic style. Sitting in the Victorian chairs by the beautiful front windows and looking out at the mountain landscape was peaceful even when people traipsed by. The softly creaking floors added to the sense of age and promised to increase the creepy sense after dark.
In fact, the whole room was pretty tiny with a tiny television, but we had not expected to spend much time in the room anyway; we were going to be looking for ghosts.
Checking the place out
After getting settled, we wandered around the main building for a while. Posters explain the beginnings of the Stanley Hotel, built by F.O. Stanley in 1909. Some rooms were cordoned off like museum displays along with placards describing the history and significance of the rooms and items such as Mrs. Stanley’s piano and an early car. The age of the building was visible, a place where haunted rooms and ghosts roaming the halls could easily be imagined.
Halloween special celebrations
Some of the Halloween displays at the Stanley Hotel were great. In one corner of the lobby, an easel held a number of stills from the Nicholson version of The Shining along with a few props including the door to the infamous room 217. Along another wall sat a variety of jack-o-lanterns that the staff had carved. They ranged from one apparently with a hangover spitting up pumpkin seeds to those reflecting the faces of celebrities who had stayed at the Stanley, such as The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
A Halloween party was also scheduled for the evening of the 31st. It was adults-only, so we didn’t attend since our children were teens. The event promised music and fun, and costumes were encouraged.
Visiting the ghosts
You need to sign up for the haunted Stanley tour early if you want to take part because it reaches capacity quickly. A guide takes visitors all through the grounds including the basement and outbuildings, some of which are areas you can’t get to by yourself, so taking the haunted tour is a great choice if you are looking for ghosts or even just ghost lore.
The ghost stories recount hauntings just about everywhere at the Stanley Hotel. Deaths from accidents seem to be the primary cause of hauntings, but sometimes it just appears that the ghosts are attached to an object or place, like the billiard room Mr. Stanley enjoyed so much. His ghost is said to still play on occasion. Even though we saw no ghosts on the tour, the legends and tour of the grounds were worth it.
Cost: about the same as other motels/hotels.
Décor: for those who love history, the Stanley is a fun destination.
Activities: a ghost tour. ‘Nuff said.
The Shining: Kubrick’s version played continuously on one of the television channels.
Old building, old trappings: some people who have visited the hotel during the summer complained about the heat since there is no air conditioning. We had no problem during our stay (it snowed Halloween night), but visitors should keep this in mind.
Noise: the party, although a floor below us and half the hotel away, kept us awake late. Showers, walking and voices were enough to rouse us early the next morning.
The sleeping town: Estes Park is a tourist town, and it is pretty much shut down by Halloween. We enjoyed trekking through the area during the day, and the picturesque town is nestled in the middle of a scenic landscape. But there was no opportunity for shopping or even browsing. Few restaurants were even open.
Crushed hopes: a focal point of the book and the television movie more closely based upon it than Kubrick’s The Shining was the elevator. Although I normally hate elevators, I was really looking forward to riding in this one. But it was out of order.
Ghosts: we didn’t see any. We didn’t see anybody who saw any.
It says a lot that we would all gladly return to the Stanley Hotel for a Halloween stay. We would ask for a larger room or two adjoining rooms, preferably the deluxe rooms. Rooms are available in the Manor House next to the main building, and that might be a good choice since it would eliminate the noise. Such lodgings would certainly be more expensive, but saving for a while longer to get them would make the trip more enjoyable.
If you are unwilling or unable to pay that much but still want to experience the haunted hotel, dress appropriately, take snacks with you, sign up for the haunted tour early, and be prepared for an interesting Halloween experience. The ghosts may be quiet at the haunted Stanley Hotel, but Halloween night in a haunted hotel is a Halloween night not easily forgotten.