Freelan O. Stanley and His Haunted Hotel

High-class hotelier

In a place as rugged as Rocky Mountain National Park, a stately Victorian mansion stands out. Thanks to its striking appearance—not to mention the legends of hauntings spurred by a bestselling horror writer—Estes Park’s Stanley Hotel came to represent the park every bit as much as the horses and log cabins that define much of its early history.

Freelan Stanley opened the iconic hotel more than a century ago. Before heading west, Stanley owned a steam motor car company in Maine with his twin brother. In 1903, suffering from tuberculosis, he sought the mountains at the recommendation of a doctor who thought it might improve his health. Like many before him, he found something restorative in the high mountain town of Estes Park.

Still, he wasn’t quite ready to shed all the trappings of his distinguished East Coast life. In 1905, he completed a colonial-style mansion, and two years later began construction on a 48-room hotel meant to cater to wealthier visitors finding their way to the Rockies. The hotel was the first of its kind in many ways for the area. At the time, most people in Estes Park still traveled on horseback and slept in cabins. But the Stanley boasted electricity, running water, and wagon service from the train depot in nearby Lyons.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Grant Ordelheide

The Stanley’s famous ghosts didn’t show up until much later. The hotel was simply a stylish building until Stephen King spent a night there in 1974. It hadn’t been renovated at the time and its former luster had begun to fade, lending it a spooky aura. According to King, he and his wife were the only guests there as the staff prepared to close up for the winter.

Wandering the nearly empty halls, it occurred to King that it would make an ideal setting for a ghost story. That very evening, “I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming,” he later wrote. That night inspired The Shining, which became a bestselling book. In 1980, the classic Stanley Kubrick horror movie adaptation was released. Later, King unsatisfied by Kubrick’s adaptation, made a new film on location at the Stanley.

The book, the movie, the grand architecture, and the hotel’s dramatic location draw people in to this day for an evening and perhaps a whiskey with the hospitable ghosts — including that of Freelan Stanley himself — who allegedly still watch over the hotel. Take a ghost tour before heading to the park a few miles away.