The Haunted Stanley Hotel | Haunted Denver

The Haunted Stanley Hotel

Fact or Fiction?

333 E Wonderview Ave

Tucked away near the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, just 70 miles from bustling downtown Denver, Colorado, sits one of the country’s most notoriously haunted destinations, as well as the famed inspiration for Stephen King’s acclaimed horror novel The Shining—the Stanley Hotel.

This historic, 140-room Colonial Revival hotel in Estes Park is one of the oldest hotels still standing in Colorado and has been treating its guests to luxurious amenities, gorgeous mountain views, and a plethora of frightening folklore since it first opened its door on July 4th, 1909.

With a history like the Stanley’s, as well as its claim to fame, is being the hotel that left horror author Stephen King shaking in his boots, it's no wonder that this menacing monument to early 20th century Americana has long been attracting its fair share of both ghost hunters and casual lovers of the paranormal.

But the question remains: how much of the Stanley Hotel’s reputation is fact, and how much if it is fiction?

Did You Know?

  • The Stanley Hotel was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.
  • The Stanley Hotel was opened by the inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley.
  • A gas explosion once destroyed a large section of the hotel.
  • A hedge maze and remodeled bar were added in honor of The Shining.

Is it Haunted?

The Stanley Hotel has had its fair share of unusual activity over its long history, and employees, guests, and historians alike agree that, believer or not, it is difficult to ignore the reputation it has built as one of the most haunted hotels in Colorado—perhaps even the entire country.

In fact, the Stanley has been sought out by every major ghost hunting show on television, as well as a growing list of documentarians, podcasters, and amateur ghost hunters, many of whom have discovered not one, but many paranormal hot spots spread across the hotel and its grounds.

After years of close study, bolstered by the success of Stephen King’s The Shining, the Stanley Hotel has become not only the most haunted hotel in America but the most documented, boasting everything from full-body apparitions and strange sounds to paranormal pranks that have left more than one guest making a hasty retreat from the building.

Of course, despite activity being recorded in nearly every room of the hotel, some places have stood out more than others.

The Vortex

One hot spot that has caught the attention of psychic mediums worldwide is the hotel’s main staircase, an impressive piece of classical architecture that has for many years been affectionately referred to as “the Vortex.”

This stairway, which connects the hotel lobby to the second-floor suites, is believed to be a kind of paranormal portal, a tunnel of spiritual energy that is often sighted as the reason why so many ghosts and lost spirits continue to hang around the Stanley Hotel.

It is not only psychics, though, who believe this, as many guests and employees of the hotel have witnessed this haunted highway for themselves, and it has continued to be an area with numerous documented sightings.

Most recently, a young girl was photographed on the stairs by a guest, despite no little girl being present at the time. The picture was so clear and so persuasive, it even made it on the national news. Look it up and see for yourself, as many consider it the most convincing evidence of the Vortex.

The Concert Hall

The concert hall, built by Stanley himself as a gift for his wife, Flora, has long been the site of some strange, late-night concerts.

It would seem that Flora, who cherished the Steinway grand piano her husband had gifted her on the hotel’s opening day, would play in the hall as often as she could, even despite there being a bowling alley for Staley and his friends built underneath the stage.

It seems that Flora’s love of music has never really left the Stanley, because even today classical piano can be heard coming from the hall late at night, long after the musicians have left and the guests have retreated to their rooms.

These ghostly concerts have been documented for many years, but have noticeably increased since the hall was renovated in 2000, making it one of the most active spots in recent years. Some believe it is the spirit of Flora herself, still making sure that her guests are being entertained, or perhaps striving to keep that old-world charm of the Stanley Hotel alive.

The Fourth Floor

The fourth floor of the Stanley, while not as famous as some of the other areas, makes up for that fact with sheer numbers. Here, more than anywhere else, strange and unusual activities, including actual ghost sightings, are a regular occurrence.

In the early days of the hotel, the fourth floor was little more than an enormous attic, used for storage during the winter months when the hotel would close down for the season. It wasn’t until years later that it was built up, first as in-house lodging for female employees and their children, and later as hotel suites.

Now, many guests on the fourth floor speak of children running through the halls, laughing and playing into the late hours of the night. In the rooms themselves, closet doors are said to open and shut on their own, and peoples items, especially clothing, tend to go missing, only to reappear later put away neatly in a drawer.

Of all the rooms, though, room 428 seems to be the most active, with reports of heavy footsteps moving across the room and furniture being rearranged as the occupants sleep. Even more troubling, the ghost of a lone cowboy has made himself known time and time again, surprising a sleeping guest by appearing at the edge of their bed.

Strangely enough, there is no record of a cowboy dying in that room, but many Estes Park locals believe he is the spirit of James Nugent, known as “Rocky Mountain Jim,” a local mountain man and explorer responsible for much of the town’s founding.

Known as a bit of a ladies’ man, his spirit is said to gravitate toward female guests, sometimes giving them a cold, ghostly kiss in the middle of the night.

Room 217

The Stanley may have its fair share of hauntings, but they all pale in comparison to the hotel’s most notorious (and coveted) hot spot—Room 217.

In the early years of the hotel, Room 217 was the location of a horrific accident, one that would prove an early indicator of the sordid history that would follow the Stanley for the rest of its days.

Late one night, as a Colorado snowstorm was fast approaching, the head housekeeper, Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson, was making her rounds, lighting the acetylene lanterns throughout the hotel in case of a power outage.

Unfortunately, what Mrs. Wilson did not know—couldn’t have known—was that there was a leak on the second floor, slowly filling the entire wing with flammable gas. As she entered room 217, lighting a match beneath the lamp, an explosion rocked the hotel, destroying the room, the hall, and the floor beneath it, dropping her down into the dining room below.

Amazingly, no one was killed, not even Mrs. Wilson, who sustained little more than two broken ankles and a story she would tell until her dying day. Still, the damage was done, and the legend was starting to unfold.

Despite not dying in the blast, many believe that Mrs. Wilson, who passed away at the ripe old age of 90 in her Estes Park home, is still clinging to the room that caused her and the hotel so much trauma.

They could be right because guests in Room 217 have long been reporting personal items being moved around the room, or lights being turned on and off. Some unmarried couples have even felt a cold force wedged between their sleeping bodies, proof they say that the old-fashioned Mrs. Wilson is still there, watching for any funny business.

While it’s a persuasive story, Room 217 has left its mark on history in other ways, as well, and if it weren't for the nightmares of a young, struggling writer who had been staying in the room for the night, some of the most iconic characters, moments, and motifs in modern horror would have never been realized.

Stephen King and The Shining

In October 1974, a young Stephen King and his wife, author Tabitha King, decided to take a late summer trip from their home in Boulder to the nearby resort town of Estes Park, booking a night at the Stanley Hotel only a few days before they closed for the Winter season.

This room, which was Room 217, would prove to be the catalyst for one of King’s most memorable novels, one that would years later be adapted by Stanley Kubrick and become one of the most talked-about horror films of the century.

It started with a nightmare, one where King watched helplessly as his young son was chased through the hall of the Stanley Hotel by an enormous, living firehose, one that would eventually win out, wrapping around his son like a giant snake and swallowing him whole.

King would wake in a pool of his own sweat, retreating to his hotel window to smoke a cigarette and think about the eerie death of his son. There, looking out into the seclusion of the Colorado wilderness, the first ideas for The Shining would come to him, just a few years away from its eventual completion.

The novel, which would become a major part of 20th-century popular culture, tells the story of an alcoholic writer and his family staying at a secluded Colorado resort, known as the Overlook Hotel when the haunted hotel is stirred awake by the son’s psychic power, known as the Shining.

The novel, King’s first huge success, would go on to sell more than 350 million copies worldwide, and eventually be adapted by renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, whose version would meet similar acclaim, even despite King famously disapproving of the final product.

The second adaptation, spearheaded by King himself, would be filmed at the Stanley Hotel, better fitting his original vision to television, as well as honoring the terror he felt that night, long ago, in Room 217.

The Overlook Hotel Stephen King created for The Shining may have been fictional, but his interpretations of horror’s most haunted hotel room was not. Room 217, as well as the Stanley Hotel’s reputation as a whole, continues to frighten, not just in the land of television, movies, and literature, but in the real world.

The History

Before the Stanley Hotel, this picturesque site in Estes Park, Colorado was home to the Estes Park Hotel, built in 1878 by Windham Thomas Wyndham Quinn the fourth Earl of Dunraven, an Irish baronet.

Lord Dunraven, like many others before him who had set their sights on the newly opened Western Territories, hoped to create a luxurious, resort experience where other aristocrats, like himself, could experience the American West without sacrificing any of the opulence they had grown accustomed to.

The hotel was a great success, serving both new-money business magnates from New England and old money aristocrats from across the seas, until one fateful August when a fire in the main lodge grew out of hand, consuming the hotel and leaving nothing behind but ash and rubble.

While it is an unfortunate end for Lord Dunraven and the fruit of his labors, the dream of bringing a taste of sophistication to the wild Rockies would live on, this time under the care of Freelan Oscar Stanley, a Vermont inventor and owner of the steam-powered car company Stanley Steamer, who purchased the property in 1909.

Stanley, already long familiar with the area, had moved to Colorado, like so many others, in hopes that the dry, mountain air would help curb the spread of his tuberculosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs that was spreading like wildfire in the growing metropolises of New England.

Not happy with the rustic accommodations of Estes Park, though, Stanley chose to follow in Lord Dunraven’s footsteps by creating a luxury resort where upper-class Easterners like himself could experience the untamed wilds of Colorado in relative comfort.

At a building cost of over $500,000, the Stanley Hotel was even more magnificent than its predecessor, and when it opened its doors on 4th of July weekend 1909, it quickly became one of the premier summer destinations west of the Mississippi.

To this day, the Stanley Hotel is a touchstone destination in Colorado, known far and wide for its stunning architecture, cozy atmosphere, and, most importantly, its haunted past. In fact, it is said that nearly half of its annual guests are there for one reason and one reason only—to catch a glimpse of one of the hotel’s famous ghosts.

The Stanley Hotel Today

Today, visitors from all over the world still visit this Colorado gem, many of them fans of The Shining‘s influence on popular culture, or even amateur ghost hunters themselves.

And while the current owner of the hotel is still yet to be totally convinced of the claims about his establishment, he embraces the lore and culture that has stemmed from the hotel's notorious past, and encourages a new generation of supernatural sleuths to explore the great Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel is located at 333 E Wonderview Avenue Estes Park, Colorado, and despite its summer origins, is now open year-round.

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