No trip to Estes Park, Colorado is complete without a stop at the town’s most famous hotel. The Stanley Hotel has a fascinating history and is reputedly haunted but it’s most famous for inspiring the Stephen King bestseller The Shining.
They offer a guided tour for a few dollars but we opted to just nose around a bit on our own. The tour offers stories as well as a look at areas of the hotel that are not public. However, you are permitted to independently explore the lobby and a nice museum area downstairs so you can get the gist if you don’t have time for a tour.
The hotel was built by Freelan Oscar Stanley – they called him F.O. – in the early twentieth century.
F.O. had invented a steam powered horseless carriage called the Stanley Steam Engine.
He and his wife Flora traveled west to Colorado in 1903 when his doctor prescribed fresh air to treat his tuberculosis. The doctor arranged for the couple to stay in a friend’s cabin in Estes Park and advised F.O. not to make any plans past six months.
That fresh mountain air must have been good for him because his health began to improve, prompting the couple to build their own home. That house still stands about 1.5 miles from the Stanley and remains a private residence.
As much as the couple loved the beauty and benefits of the area, they were accustomed to the culture and refinements of the east coast and craved something more. So they set out to build a luxury destination that would rival any of the fancy hotels back East and entice the wealthy into the mountains.
Construction on the Stanley began in 1906 and was finished in 1909 with no expense spared. Built in the Georgian architectural style, it was equipped with all modern conveniences including running water, electricity, telephones and en suite bathrooms. It wasn’t heated at the time because it was designed to be a summer resort destination.
Guests had at their disposal a fleet of vehicles, uniformed staff and any number of activities to keep them entertained. It is said that the town grew and flourished because of this hotel.
It has hosted many famous people over the years including Teddy Roosevelt, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, Bob Dylan and John Phillip Sousa. Remember Radar O’Reilly from the tv show MASH? The actor who immortalized this role was Gary Burghoff. He stayed there and they have a picture of him playing the concert piano in the ballroom.
Sadly, the hotel was in decline by the seventies and it seemed destined for the wrecking ball when a young author came knocking. Stephen King spent a single night in Suite 217 in 1974.
He and wife Tabitha actually arrived as the hotel was closing down for the season so they mostly had the hotel to themselves. He was inspired by the grandness of it all, the remote location and by the eerie emptiness. They ate alone in the dining room, accompanied by canned orchestral music that drifted down long, empty corridors.
By the time they left, he had created the bones of The Shining which was published three years later and was set at the fictional Overlook Hotel. Twenty years later, the Stanley would serve as backdrop for the tv mini series version of The Shining.
It was also used in the movie Dumb and Dumber.
Today, it has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and has been expanded to offer different kinds of accommodations, spa services, events and dining experiences. At an average of $450 a night, it was beyond our accommodations budget but we did enjoy nosing around and taking it all in.
The view from here is spectacular and I imagine that a stay would be a splendid retreat. It would be a fun place to celebrate a special occasion too. Learn more about the Stanley at their website!