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Geek Road Trip: The Stanley Hotel, birthplace of Stephen King's The Shining

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Jun 26, 2018, 4:00 PM EDT

Estes Park, Colorado, is a sleepy town with a population of fewer than 6,000 people. It's most notable for being the home of a national landmark known as the Stanley Hotel. The hotel's doors opened in 1909 and in its 100-plus years of operation has welcomed a wide range of internationally renowned guests, from Bob Dylan to Emperor Akihito of Japan. However, there's one guest that has added far more to the hotel's legacy than either party could have imagined when he checked in on October 30, 1974.

After setting his first two books (Carrie and Salem's Lot) in his home state of Maine, bestselling horror author Stephen King decided it was time for a change of scenery. He randomly selected Boulder, Colorado from an atlas. King and his wife Tabitha soon found themselves checking into the Stanley Hotel, as Estes Park was a stone's throw from Boulder. With the season winding down, they were the only two guests in the entire hotel that evening, the eeriness only amplified by the fact that they stayed in Room 217, which was allegedly haunted.

The couple sat down to a solo meal in the grand dining room, surrounded by tables with chairs already stacked on top of them. Afterward, Tabitha went to bed and King headed to the bar for a drink, poured by a bartender named Grady. He soon joined his wife in their room and later recounted, "That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind."

Stanley Hotel, the Shining

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Today the Stanley Hotel is most famous for being the location in which The Shining was born. It's no small legacy and the hotel does a great job of upholding it. It's even gone so far as to install an actual hedge maze like the one featured in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 cinematic adaptation of the novel, despite the fact that the film wasn't shot in the hotel.

Since providing King with the inspiration for one of the great horror novels of all time, it's been the location of two major film shoots, one being for the TV adaptation of The Shining and the other being Dumb and Dumber (1994). The Stanley is, needless to say, still up and running, a fully functional hotel that is open for business all year, so you don't have to worry about getting snowed in by yourself with all the ghosts.

Oh, did we forget to mention the ghosts? The Stanley is famous for its reputation as one of the most haunted hotels in the country. From Room 217 (it's real, but good luck getting a reservation as it's almost always booked) to the concert hall, paranormal phenomena in the hotel has become such a prominent aspect of its reputation that it's even been the subject of episodes of Ghost Hunters and, more importantly, Ghost Adventures, meaning you can spend your summer in a hotel in which Zak Bagans has yelled at spirits. The hotel doesn't shirk from this facet of its legacy, either. One of the Stanley's premier attractions is the Night Spirit Tour, which takes guests on a tour through some of the darker corners of the hotel.


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With such a prominent legacy hanging over it, it's sometimes easy to forget that the Stanley is a great time even without the ghosts or literary lore. A particularly cool draw is Table: A Culinary Journey, described as a sort of weekly pop-up restaurant that takes no more than 20 guests per night. The Stanley also houses the stellar Cascades Restaurant as well as the Colorado Cherry Co. You can sample gourmet snacks and then take in a show featuring master illusionist Aiden Sinclair, who has a residency in the hotel through September. His show features a theatrical seance in the style of those which were performed in Victorian England.

The concert hall features legit acts like David Crosby and Jake Shimabakura, a far cry from that Rolling Stones cover band you caught in Myrtle Beach with your family. And if you somehow find yourself having exhausted the litany of activities offered on site, Estes Park itself is full of cool shops and restaurants (plus Denver is just an hour's drive away).

The Stanley is both a place to stay and an attraction in and of itself. You could travel out to Estes Park for a stay and between the building's rich history, great selection of restaurants, and countless activities, never leave the grounds.