(UPDATED NOVEMBER 2022) The Stanley Hotel (The Shining Hotel) and Estes Park might be the best way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park and see a spectacular part of Colorado. This jaw-dropping area is plentiful with wildlife, elk, and big-horn sheep and has the ultimate historical, haunted hotel. Here are suggestions for spending your time at the Stanley Hotel and Estes Park, based on what my friend Sara and I did during ours.
Staying Overnight at The Stanley
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 stay for the entire summer season, filling the hotel with prominent families and lavish parties.
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 story was so renowned that it became a movie soon after.
The Shining movie wasn’t shot at The Stanley Hotel; a set was erected (on a sound stage in London) to the hotel’s filming scale. The details matched precisely.
However, years later, The Shining mini-series and Dumb and Dumber (starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels) were filmed at The Stanley.
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.
The Stanley Guest Rooms
Mine and Sara’s 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 missed not having a mini-fridge for personal use. The huge bathroom had a bathtub, which was great for warming up after being cold all day.
Besides the historic rooms in the central hotel, The Stanley Hotel also offers extended 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.
Food and Drinks at the Stanley Hotel
Sara and I had breakfast one morning and dinner another at Cascades Restaurant, the onsite hotel eatery. She had homemade Biscuits and Sausage Gravy for breakfast, and I opted for Denver Omelet with crispy red potatoes.
The Whiskey Bar, a separate area that shares the same menu as the Cascades, grabs your attention and has a welcoming feel. Fancy a bourbon or single-malt scotch? You can try 1,200 different ones here. There is also a creative cocktail menu to choose from other drinks, such as the Redrum Punch and the 291 Sm’oaked Old Fashion.
Sara and I sat at the illuminated bar for dinner. 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. Sara had a traditional New York Strip that came with a house salad.
I 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 an imaginative recipe creation.
Colorado Cherry Co. offers a full-service coffee bar, ice cream, grab & go items, and gourmet jams, jellies, and spreads in the hotel’s basement.
The Shining 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 curious about the paranormal activity, the historical aspects, and the Shining movie connection.
Sara and I took the night tour with Robert as our guide. He did a fantastic job gauging what his audience was most interested in and scaling the tour to suit our needs. We began with a short film explaining the hotel’s history 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 hotel’s architecture.
Luckily, a wedding took place during our tour, so it had to be doubly modified because of that and the frigid outdoor temperatures. So, our group was granted access to some of the most sought-after rooms at The Stanley Hotel—407, 428, and Ghost Hunters’ favorite, 401.
The mother of all rooms is 217, which you may remember from The Shining. The occupants of that room were on our tour and allowed us to come inside and see the hotel’s famous Stephen King Suite. We were all crazy busy taking pictures with our phones and cameras, hoping to see some orbs or figures.
Our tour concluded in the basement as we went on a “behind-the-scenes” trek through the dark and tight spaces; it was the perfect closing. Besides the night tour, others are a 75-minute historic Stanley day tour (ages eight and over) and the F.O. and friends Family History Tour (geared toward kids eight and under).
Exploring Estes Park: The Mountain Town
Rocky Mountain National Park’s base is Estes Park, a charming town with many local shops and affordable eateries. My visit to Estes Park was during the off-season, so a few things were closed, but there were no crowds or traffic jams.
Colorado Homestead, Inkwell & Brew, and Macdonald Book Shop were my favorite shopping places. Be sure to save room for homemade taffy pulled onsite in The Taffy Shop— one of the only places in the country makes the tasty treat in-store since 1935.
If that doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, consider Purple Mountain Taffy for delicious caramels or Caramel Corn for candies and popcorn.
The Estes Park Mountain Shop was a great place to buy souvenir t-shirts, Colorado trinkets, and quality clothing and accessories.
I had the Indian buffet at Nepal’s Cafe with an all-you-can-eat or one single-plate option for lunch. Everything there was finger-licking good. Later that day, Sara and I grabbed fries from Penelope’s Old Time Burgers, a retro diner that boasts the best burgers in town and 1950s tunes.
We also had yummy chocolate chip muffins and cocoa from Notchtop Bakery & Cafe, and Mexican fare from Peppers Restaurant, a fast-food counter service eatery, for dinner.
My sweet tooth was satisfied by the Donut Haus donuts, recommended by our friends at The Postcard Jar.
I’m an animal lover, and Estes Park was an excellent place to find them. There was elk—huge and abundant elk—everywhere we looked. They roam through town like tourists. After several hundred pictures, you’d think I would have tired of them, but no.
We also saw wild turkeys, mule deer, and Bighorn sheep by the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance.
Rocky Mountain National Park
You can’t come to Estes Park or the Stanley Hotel without visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most stunning national parks. Sara has been to the Rocky Mountains dozens of times and was a fantastic tour guide. We whizzed around the park like we worked there, and mind you, it was 22 degrees, and the roads had 18″ of snow.
My favorite part of the tour was seeing Longs Peak, standing at 14,259 feet and the highest elevation at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Fun Fact: The park has 415 square-miles.
A Nature and Pop Culture Lover’s Dream Getaway
Our trip to Estes Park and The Stanley Hotel was spectacular. This is a place where the epic scenery and a landmark hotel outweigh any obstacles that may come your way, primarily weather and climate.
Thanks to The Stanley Hotel for our complimentary accommodations. As always, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.
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