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Exploring the Stanley Hotel and Estes Park, Colorado

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Our visit to Estes Park, Colorado, and the historic Stanley Hotel was nothing shy of awesome. From a ghost tour to winter storm, it was A-OK!

Colorado has to be one of the most beautiful destinations in the United States–The Stanley Park and Estes Park might be the queen bees. Not only is it the address of the amazing Rocky Mountain National Park, a jaw-dropping scenic mountain area with oodles of wildlife and fascinating rocks, but also the ultimate historic hotel.

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The Stanley Hotel, often referred to as “The Shining Hotel“, stands proudly in the center of town with a pretty-as-a-picture mountainous backdrop.

I had the pleasure of spending two nights at The Stanley Hotel and visiting Estes Park, only weeks before peak season with my friend Sara of Travel with Sara. Here is what you to do when you are exploring the Stanley Hotel and Estes Park, Colorado. 

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Staying at The Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel was built in 1909 by F.O. Stanley. It was his gift to his lovely wife Flora, a western getaway from their Massachusetts life. The Stanley Hotel sits up the road from F.O.’s original cottage—today’s hotel was just a place for their friends to stay during their summer visits. As with all of the elite at the time, F.O.’s guests would come and stay for the entire summer season, filling the hotel with prominent families and lavish parties.

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In 1974, renowned author Stephen King spent the night in room 142 at the Stanley Hotel. He awoke from a nightmarish dream and just like that, King had his start, finish, and characters for his most famous novel of all time, The Shining. The novel was so popular that it was turned into a movie soon after. Though the film wasn’t shot at the hotel, the set was erected to the hotel’s scale on a soundstage in London for the filming. Every detail matched The Stanley exactly. Years later, The Shining mini-series was actually filmed at the hotel, as well as Dumb and Dumber starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. 

The Stanley is a luxury hotel and a member of the Historic Hotels of America. One would nearly gasp when they see the sheer magnitude of the fine hotel amidst the stunning Rocky Mountain scenery. The famous hedge maze sits in front of the big front porch, a great place to pass the time and enjoy the fresh air. Inside, a fine dining restaurant (Cascades), tour desk, coffee shop, and upscale gift shop are offered for guests and visitors. 

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The Stanley Guest Rooms

Our classic hotel room overlooked the hedge maze and had a King-sized bed, writing desk area, armoire, 42″ HDTV, and complimentary WiFi. Though we had a lovely room, I did miss not having a mini-fridge for my own personal use.

The bathroom was really large and had a bathtub, which was great for warming up after being in the cold all day. 

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Besides the historic rooms in the main hotel, The Stanley Hotel also offers extended stay modern apartments and condos. It should come as no surprise that The Stanley has “spirited rooms”, or those with a high paranormal activity level. We were sad that no spirits tried to communicate with us during our stay, but I met people who had encounters on our trip. 

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Food and Drinks

Sara and I had breakfast one morning and dinner another at Cascades Restaurant, the onsite hotel eatery. For breakfast, she had the homemade Biscuits and Sausage Gravy and I opted for Denver Omelet with crispy red potatoes.

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At first glance inside of the restaurant, the Whiskey Bar, a separate area that shares the same menu, grabs your attention and has a welcoming allure to it. Fancy a bourbon or single-malt scotch? You can try 1200 different ones here. There is also a creative cocktail menu to chose other drinks if you wish, such as the Redrum Punch and the 291 Sm’oaked Old Fashion.

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For dinner, Sara and I sat at the light-up bar where the bartender provided excellent service and made friendly conversation with his many guests. I couldn’t choose between two appetizers so I had both for my meal and Sara had a traditional New York Strip that came with a house salad. 

I 10/10 recommend the creamy and rich Chicken Liver Pâté served with grilled bread and baby greens. The presentation was gorgeous, too. I also had the Raclette Tartine served over smoked potatoes with arugula and bacon jam. It was a smart recipe creation, but the raclette wasn’t as tasty as that I’d had in Europe the week before.

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In the basement of the hotel, Colorado Cherry Co. offers a full-service coffee bar, ice cream, grab & go items, and gourmet jams, jellies, and spreads.

Stanley Hotel Historic Tours

I found it surprising that The Stanley Hotel offers tours both day and night, several times per day. They fill up quickly with guests who are curious about the paranormal activity, the historic aspects, and of course, The Shining movie connection. 

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Sara and I took the night tour with Robert as our guide. He did a wonderful job of gaging what his audience was most interested in and scaling the tour to suit our needs. We began with a short film explaining the history of the hotel and the wonderful couple who created it. Then, we moved to the first floor to see the Stanley Steamer classic vehicle and learn about the architecture of the hotel.

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As luck would have it, a wedding was taking place the night of our tour so it had to be doubly modified because of that and the frigid outdoor temperatures. Instead, we were granted access to some of the most sought after rooms in the hotel—407, 428, and Ghost Hunters’ favorite room, 401. The mother of all rooms is 217, which you may remember from The Shining movie. The occupants of that room were on our tour and allowed us all to come inside and see the famous Stephen King Suite. We were all crazy busy taking oodles of pictures with our phones and cameras in hopes of seeing some orbs or figures. 

The tour concluded in the basement as we went on a very “behind-the-scenes” trek through dark and tight spaces. It was the perfect closing to the tour. Besides the night tour, others are a 75-minute historic Stanley day tour (ages 8 and over) and the F.O. and friends Family History Tour (geared toward kids 8 and under).

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Exploring Estes Park

Sitting at the base of the Rocky Mountain National Park is Estes Park, a charming town bursting with local shops and eateries. My visit to Estes Park was during the off-season so a few things were closed, but there were also no crowds or traffic jams. 

A few of my favorite places to shop were Colorado Homestead, Inkwell & Brew, and Macdonald Book Shop. Be sure to save room for homemade taffy, pulled right in the shop, at The Taffy Shop. This is one of the only places in the country that makes the tasty treats onsite and has since 1935. If that doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, consider Purple Mountain Taffy for delicious caramels or Caramel Corn for candies and popcorn. 

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The Estes Park Mountain Shop was a great place to buy souvenir t-shirts and Colorado trinkets, as well as quality clothing and accessories. 

For lunch, I had the Indian buffet at Nepals Cafe. They have the option for all-you-can-eat or one single plate, which was a great idea. Everything I tried was finger-licking good. Later that day, we grabbed some fries from Penelope’s Burgers & Fries, a retro diner that boasts the best burgers in town and 1950s tunes. 

Other restaurants we tried were Notchtop Bakery & Cafe for muffins and hot chocolate, and Peppers Restaurant (fast-food style with counter service) for dinner. The best thing we ate in Estes Park were donuts  from Donut Haus, a shop that came highly recommended by our friends at The Postcard Jar

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Visit the Estes Park CVB for more info about the town and attractions. 

Abundant Wildlife

I’m an animal lover and Estes Park was an awesome place to find them. There were elk—huge elk—everywhere we looked. They roam through town like tourists. You’d think that after several hundred pictures I would have tired of them, but no. We also saw wild turkeys, mule deer, and Big horn sheep by the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

You can’t come to Estes Park or the Stanley Hotel without visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, easily one of the most stunning parks in the National Park System. Sara, who has been to the park dozens of times, was a a fantastic tour guide. We whizzed around the park like we worked there, and mind you, it was 22 degrees and the roads were covered with 18″ of snow. 

My favorite part of the tour was to see Longs Peak, standing at 14,259 feet and the highest elevation at Rocky Mountain National Park.

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The Stanley Hotel and Estes Park: A Nature and Pop Culture Lover’s Dream

Our trip to Estes Park and The Stanley Hotel was spectacular. We loved the scenery, wildlife, historic hotel, and even the winter storm in the midst of spring didn’t dampen our spirits. This is a place where the offerings of the scenery and historic hotel outweigh any obstacles that may come your way pertaining to weather and climate. Happy travels! 

Photo Gallery

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Thanks to The Stanley Hotel for hosting our accommodations. As always, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased. 

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Read about more places close to Estes Park:

10 Things you Must Do in Nebraska

Visiting Garden of the Gods, CO

10 Things I Loved About Jackson Hole, WY

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