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Spooked at Stephen King's Stanley Hotel

AAP logoAAP 3/09/2016 Michael Wayne

© Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images In 1974, a young author and his wife checked into the Stanley Hotel, a historic hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The pair were the only guests that night, as the hotel was about to close for the winter. During his stay, the isolation and eerie nature of the hotel inspired the author to write his next novel.

That author was Stephen King and the novel was The Shining.

A 1980 film adaptation by director Stanley Kubrick catapulted the story of a family stranded in an isolated hotel during a harsh winter into the pantheon of pop culture infamy.

Over the years, amid the collective conscious memories of bloody elevators, ghostly twin girls and a cry of "Here's Johnny" breaking through the bathroom door, the Stanley Hotel's role in the saga has been largely forgotten.

Just not by the Stanley Hotel.

The first thing that strikes me about the Stanley is just how isolated it isn't. While it backs onto the amazing vista of the Rocky Mountains, the Stanley's front porch provides a view of the Estes Park McDonalds.

Oh well: if the restaurant here sucks, at least I have options.

It's not an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson or phantom caretaker who checks me in at reception, but instead a bubbly young woman who can't wait to give me my official Stanley Hotel token, which is good to the value of five dollars in the gift shop.

It feels heavy; heavier than five postcards, at least. I'd just keep the coin if I were you, she suggests.

Behind her hang keys to each of the Stanley's 140 rooms. The only one that stands out is the key to room 217 - the room that features as a hotbed for supernatural evil in King's novel.

"Your room will be..."

She's done this a million times before, and has become a master of suspense; the Stephen King of key vendors.


Damn. She hands me a keycard; the physical key remains on the wall - just for show, like so much else at the Stanley.

Whether or not room 217 still harbours supernatural spirits, I'll never know. But a special ghost adventure package, including a glow-in-the-dark ghost toy, the overnight loan of an EMF metre that measures surrounding electromagnetic fields, and the promise that Stephen King himself stayed in the room - is available for a few dollars more (glad I saved that token).

In the long, drab hallway leading to room 222, I encounter a pair of girls in 19th-century dress and goth make-up staring at me. I get closer, and they keep staring, unmoving. But then their make-up artist shows up to touch up their cheekbones, spoiling the effect.

The Stanley Hotel claims to be haunted, and even runs a nightly ghost tour. Tonight, the tour is sold out, so any ghosts I encounter will have to be found off the beaten track.

I find no ghosts on the ground floor, which features a mini-museum showcasing the movies that have been filmed at the Stanley. I say mini because there are only two: a 1997 TV mini-series of The Shining, and the somewhat scarier Dumb and Dumber (1994).

I find no ghosts in the Cascades Restaurant, unless you count the signed glossies of celebrity guests adorning the walls. Stanley Kubrick's picture is there, but it's not signed.

I find no ghosts at the whisky bar - but plenty of spirits. It's also haunted by a very loud man with a very annoying laugh, and I can only stay for about ten minutes before I'm driven back to my room.

And I find no ghosts in my room. But I do find that the TV features a channel that screens The Shining 24 hours a day. Curiously, it's the Stanley Kubrick film, and not the 1997 version shot in the Stanley itself.

During the night, my alarm goes off at about 3am. I slap the snooze button.

At 4am, it goes off again. This time, I unplug it.

At 4:30, it goes off again.

Suddenly, I feel compelled to write.


GETTING THERE: Estes Park is a small town in Northern Colorado at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Estes Park is around an hour and a half drive from state capital Denver. Travellers can fly to Denver from Australia via San Francisco with United Airlines or Qantas, or via Los Angeles with Delta or American Airlines.

STAYING THERE: For info on The Stanley and the hotel's tours, visit

* The writer travelled at his own expense.

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