Review: Historic and (maybe) Haunted Stanley Hotel

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The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO Photo by Claudia Carbone
The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO Photo by Claudia Carbone

Had American author Stephen King not stayed at The Stanley Hotel in 1974, the hotel may not have survived as a destination in the mountains of Colorado. But thanks to King and a nightmare he had in room 217 that inspired his scary bestseller, The Shining, the historic hotel still stands impressively on a hill overlooking the town of Estes Park, with the reputation of being haunted soundly embedded in its bones. On my recent visit, there seemed to be more people on the tours checking out the paranormal activity than there were overnight guests.

The Stanely Hotel: History & Hauntings

The hotel—built in 1909 by F. O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer car—enjoyed a peaceful existence as a luxury summer retreat until the 1970s when its popularity began to fade. After the 1977 release of King’s book and subsequent miniseries filmed there in 1997, The Stanley has risen to the ranks of the most haunted hotels in the world and the fourth most haunted in the U.S. Its most frequent ghosts, they say, are none other than Mr. Stanley and his wife Flora. He apparently shows up in the Billiards Room, and she allegedly starts randomly playing her piano in the Music Room. A deceased maid, Elizabeth Wilson, reportedly torments men who book 217—the room where she was involved in a gas explosion in 1911—making the room either too hot or too cold so they can’t sleep and even getting in bed with couples to “protect” the women. Actor Jim Carrey tried staying in room 217, but abruptly checked out before the night was over and refused to tell anyone why. Besides that famous room, the other most haunted rooms are 401, 407, 428 and 1302. We stayed in room 218, which was not next to King’s (even numbers are in one wing; odd numbers in the other). The only sounds we heard were creaky floors, footsteps and showers going off above us, noises typically found in old hotels.

You can learn these stories and others on the Stanley Tour and Night Ghost Tour, both 90 minutes (signup online).

There’s a slideshow in the lower level of the hotel with photos taken by guests showing abnormalities, which can appear in photos and not to the naked eye. I took this photo in the Concert Hall when there was no one on the stage except the piano. But somebody or something bright was there also.

Concert Hall with shiny object Photo by Claudia Carbone
Concert Hall with shiny object Photo by Claudia Carbone

The Stanley Hotel: Old World Charm

The white four-story 100-room hotel and its smaller sister bed-and-breakfast, The Lodge, built a year after the main building, are beautiful examples Georgian Colonial architecture. The interiors have retained Old World ambiance with grand staircases, fireplaces, antiques, vintage photos and period furniture. The one elevator in the hotel is an original brass oldie by Otis. A third building, Aspire, opened in 2016 with 40 rooms and air-conditioning, which the old buildings do not have. But its modern decor has none of the historic ambiance or haunted history that are signatures of The Stanley.

The lobby of The Stanley with grand staircase and one of two fireplaces Photo by Claudia Carbone
The lobby of The Stanley with grand staircase and one of two fireplaces Photo by Claudia Carbone

Dining at the Stanley

The main dining room Cascades serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (American fare). The food is good, but the service and generic atmosphere is uninspiring. With lots of non-overnight guests, The Whiskey Bar and lounge adjacent to the restaurant is the liveliest spot in the hotel and serves the same menu. The bar claims the largest collection of whiskey, bourbon and scotch in the state.  A more elegant five-course dinner, Tables, is served at The Lodge Friday and Saturday nights with guest chefs doing the honors for no more than 20 people. Next time, we’ll reserve Tables. Steamers downstairs in the hotel is a nice casual spot for breakfast or lunch.

Facilities and Service

There’s a wonderful gift shop off the lobby and six beautiful rooms for events and banquets. WiFi and self-parking are free. Dogs are allowed for a fee. The staff, other than innkeeper Midge at The Lodge, all seem new (maybe due to changing season) and are not very helpful. We noticed a few areas that are in need of TLC; we hope they will be addressed because The Stanley is a lovely property that deserves to shine. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Stanley Hotel, 333 Wonderview Ave., Estes Park, CO 80517, 970-577-4000

What To Do in the Estes Park Area

Estes Park  is a mountain tourist town loaded with shops and restaurants. Area activities include horseback riding, boating, jeeping, rafting, golfing, hiking and biking in summer and  snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. It is best known as the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and Trail Ridge Road that climbs to 12,183 feet (3,713 metres).

Author Bio: Claudia Carbone is an award-winning travel writer based in Denver. Read about other hotels she’s visited in Sleepin’ Around.