by Terry Ward
Any family setting out on the great American cross country road trip will likely make their way to the beautiful Colorado town of Estes Park, an Old West-style village cradled by mountains that also happen to be the getaway to one of the country’s national treasures — Rocky Mountain National Park. And the most quintessentially old Colorado spot to bed down with the gang while visiting Estes is far and away the historic Stanley Hotel. Ghost hunters have this hotel on their radar, which dates to 1909, thanks to the alleged presence of haunting spirits in several of its rooms and common areas. The daily historic and ghost tours through the property are a lure for non-guests, too. Author Stephen King felt so inspired by his stay at The Stanley that he’s said to have penned half of his horror novel, “The Shining,” here (one look at the upstairs hallways will tell you why).
But don’t let all the ghost and gore lore detract from the fact that this is one very welcoming and appealing property for families looking for a warm, welcoming all-American experience. The pretty white buildings of the 139-room hotel occupy a hillside that is just a five-minute drive from downtown Estes Park (yes, you could walk into town with the crew) and are backed with dramatic cliff formations. And the experience of staying here differs quite dramatically depending on whether you visit during the high season months of summer or the quieter winter and shoulder seasons. With the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park a short six miles away, and endless terrain in the surrounding areas for outdoor pursuits, The Stanley makes a prime base for activities such as snowshoeing, ice climbing and sledding during the winter. And your summer options are even more abundant and include such fun as group carriage and horseback rides, fishing, boating and rafting.
At the end of a day of outdoor adventures in one of North America’s most spectacular regions, when you stroll into The Stanley’s lobby and catch the old fashioned elevator or climb the grand staircase up to your room, chances are the hotel will greet you more in the way of a home than a hotel. And if the kids hear strange noises in the night, of course, it’s probably just their youthfully overactive imaginations-
Our Editor Loves
- Haunted hotel tours
- Plenty of outdoor activities
- Ourdoor pizza oven in summer
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Looking at the hotel from the outside, you'll see the original Stanley building and then a smaller replica right beside it, called The Lodge at the Stanley. This one is more of a boutique property with just 40 rooms. Both offer family accommodations, but the feel is quite different and The Lodge at the Stanley has more of a romantic slant (Note: If your kids are young and noisy, save the honeymooners next door the hassle).
Let's start with the main hotel building, which is where you have the most choice of rooms and also where you'll find the "haunted" rooms (they go for a premium, since a certain segment of the public is more than willing to shell out extra money for the chance of a ghostly encounter). Of the standard hotel rooms in the main building, the deluxe king and superior king rooms both have king beds, with the option to request a rollaway for a fee per night. Both have Jacuzzi tubs and flat-screen TV's. The rooms dubbed "historic" are smaller and haven't been renovated recently, with queen or double beds and furniture that slants more old-fashioned than modern. The classic rooms are a good bet for families with two children, as you have the option of two queen beds instead of a single king. And because the building is so old and has been preserved as such, none of the rooms connect.
Suites, available in both the main building and the adjacent lodge, are a good option for families who like a little more privacy -- one room has a king or queen bed, and there's another room with a pull-out sleeper sofa so you can easily accommodate a family of five with the addition of a rollaway.
If you're traveling with an even larger group, consider the Presidential Cottage, with three bedrooms and two and a half baths (each bedroom with a king bed) upstairs, and a kitchenette, dining room and living room downstairs. The private deck here is a nice place to dine alfresco in the warmer months. There are two garden-level units attached to the Presidential Cottage, too, each with a king bed and private bathroom. If you buy out the whole cottage facility, you'll have a total of five rooms.
Guest rooms in the Lodge are more contemporary than in the main building, and while the Lodge is meant to reflect the design and style of the main building, things are definitely more stylish here. There are standard hotel rooms in the Lodge with king or queen beds, and the suites have a king bed in one room and a pull out sleeper in a separate room. If you stay in the Lodge, breakfast -- a gourmet spread that includes homemade blueberry scones and almond croissants -- is always included in your rate. Another option is to book one of the property's Overlook Condos, located behind the main building. These have far more of a residential feel, with one-, two- and three-bedroom units that sleep up to 10 people. And the condos also have dining rooms, family rooms, kitchens, and even personal hot tubs and private garages. You lose the historic feeling of staying at the hotel or Lodge here, but for larger groups, it may be ideal.
While I puke have used it a lot less busy (wedding season!) this is a great hotel that is cheaper on weeknight than weekends, with comfortable rooms & only a bit of haunting. Mitch in the whiskey bar is a pro & the food is pretty good too (albeit a bit overpriced). Worth the splurge and the ghost tour.
by Nanette D
We truly enjoyed our stay at the hotel. The staff was courteous, check in was easy, parking was fine, and the hotel was beautiful and historic. We took the night tour and enjoyed the onsite restaurants and bar. We will be back!
With so many families visiting Estes Park during the summer months, this is the season when family fun at the hotel is truly the focus. The Stanley arranges family rides aboard fire engines through the cute downtown area, there's a pizza oven that's fired up on an outside terrace for tasty meals everyone can agree on, and the whole group can gather around for ghost stories that are mild enough for the ears of even the youngest in your entourage (the ghost hunting tour, on the other hand, is only open to adults 18 and up). If your family's particularly interested in the paranormal, consider signing up for the monthly five-hour ghosts hunts that take you inside the hotel's most haunted places in search of restless spirits.
During the summer months, check out the Butterfly Encounter, a weekly butterfly release staged on the hotel property. With the help of local students, the program bolsters the area's population of Monarch butterflies, and kids love to watch the insects as they flutter skyward. There's a small rectangular pool onsite that's open during the summer months only. And nearby at Estes Lake, the Lake Estes Marina rents kayaks, canoes, pontoon boats with room for nine people and even fishing gear for a day of fun on the water. Natural pursuits are certainly the calling in Estes Park, but if your kids fancy a round of bowling, there's an alley in town, and also a small family amusement park (Ride a Kart) with go karts, bumper boats, an arcade and bungee trampolines.
During the winter months, outdoor activities are more limited, but you'll still find plenty to do -- whether heading out on a snowshoe tour, ice skating around the downtown rink or spending your time playing in the snow in Rocky Mountain National Park, where there's even a great little sledding hill perfect for kids. For all your gear rental needs in town (from bikes and sleds to snowshoes and whatever other outdoor equipment your gang requires) hit the Estes Park Mountain Shop.
There are two main dining areas at The Stanley, both right off the main building's lobby and more or less connected. The Whiskey Lounge is an atmospheric bar with pressed tin-style ceilings and a long onyx bar with an old West feel and cozy dining areas where families are welcome. Connected to it is Cascades, a dining room/restaurant with a quieter dining room feel (complete with white linen tablecloths) that's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kids are equally welcome in both the lounge and Cascades, and the kid's menu is one and the same for both. Likewise, you can request a highchair and crayons and drawing paper to keep your kids busy in both spots. Most of the kid's offerings are inexpensive (less than $5) and include chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers, pasta with butter and parmesan or marinara or Kraft macaroni -- all served with a side of fries or carrots. Where the kids will really lose their minds, of course, is dessert, with such offerings as dirt and worms, root beer floats, PB&J sundaes and brownie ice cream sandwiches.
A nice treat for the whole family during the summer months (from Memorial Day through September) is the outdoor pizza oven. Sit at tables on the hotel's back patio and wait for a delicious wood-fire pizza to emerge (kids love watching the dough slide into the oven). Cascades is the spot for breakfast, too, with such kid-friendly eats as short stacks of silver dollar pancakes, mini Belgian waffles, cereal and oatmeal, as well as eggs and omelets. If you prefer something more grab-and-go for breakfast, pop downstairs to the counter-serviced Steamer's cafÃ©, a coffee and gelato bar serving bagels, pastries and sandwiches, in addition to a range of tasty espresso drinks and hot chocolate.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Wireless Internet is complimentary and works well everywhere on the property, from the lobby lounge to the hotel rooms.
You'll definitely want to check out some of the family-friendly restaurants in Estes Park for additional meals during your stay. Grubsteak is a family-style favorite, with the usual mac and cheese, cheeseburger and hot dog offerings for kids. And Mary's Lake Lodge, with live music on Fridays and Saturdays and a casual mountain feel, is another good bet.
There are no public laundry facilities at the hotel, but dry cleaning services are available and there are coin laundromats in town.
Picnicking in the national park is a prime family pastime, and you can grab deli sandwiches to go at grocery stores in town or from delis and restaurants such as the Big Horn Restaurant.
Babysitting is not offered at or through the hotel.
Dogs under 50 pounds are welcome for a fee per night, and you can treat Fido to special packages that include homemade treats and a special bed.
Onsite parking is free for guests in the winter and summer.
The hotel has a very small but adequate gym open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a few treadmills and weights, and beautiful jogging trails are just out the door (the concierge will point the way).
As you'd expect from a haunted hotel, The Stanley has a resident psychic, Madame Vera, who has been doing readings in Estes Park for more than 25 years and has an office in the hotel basement. And whether you're looking to connect with a loved one who's moved on or just want to know what your future holds regarding career and love, there's a price for every service.
During the summer, from June through the end of September, free shuttles bring guests from The Stanley into Estes Park and onward to the visitor's center at Rocky Mountain National Park (from where you can catch another free shuttle into the park). It's an efficient, if often crowded, way to get around.
Check out Riversointe Spa, located in the garden level of the The Lodge at the Stanley Hotel. Facials, massages, body treatments, manicures, pedicures and more are offered. If you simply want to enjoy some peace and quiet, head to the Relaxation Room and sip on some hot tea, or step into the infrared sauna.
The Art of Smart Timing
June through August is high season in Estes Park, and by "high," we mean vertiginous. The town gets absolutely packed with roadtrippers from around the country, and travelers from around the world, who are drawn to the excellent camping and outdoors activities in the area. The Stanley runs close to capacity (if not at capacity) during this time, and the pool is perpetually packed. Of course, summer also brings the most reliably nice weather, which is why Estes Park is such an appealing place to be this time of year.
If you have flexibility in your schedule, consider visiting during the beautiful and far less crowded month of May, or even late April. And don't rule out winter for a family vacation. In addition to the hotel being far less crowded, you'll have easy access to restaurants (no waiting in line) and can enjoy outdoor activities like snowshoeing, sledding, and horse-drawn wagon and sleigh rides at the Aspen Lodge Resort & Spa, just a few miles down the road.
Estes Park is located northwest of Denver, and if you fly into the international airport, it will take around an hour and a half to get here. When snow is falling or has freshly fallen, of course, count on the ride taking a bit longer. If you're not driving your own car to Estes Park, the Estes Park Shuttle van service makes the trip six times daily during high season and four times daily during the winter months. All major U.S. airlines, as well as several international carriers, fly into Denver's International Airport, and all the major car rental companies are located in the main hall.
For Mom and Dad
It's going to be hard for mom and dad to get some time on their own since the hotel doesn't offer babysitting services and there isn't a kid's camp option onsite. If you have older kids or other means of supervision for your children, by all means, plan a night on the town on your own.
Cascades restaurant at the hotel serves delicious Colorado game and the more casual Whiskey Lounge is always a fun spot to hangout and meet characters from around the world (amazing selection of whiskey as you'd expect, too). And if you're tempted to go off property, the riverfront Other Side Restaurant does a fine seafood buffet on the first Friday of every month, and serves things like elk chop and Colorado trout. Landlubbers should set their sights on Twin Owls Steakhouse for candle-lit dining with lots of local Colorado beef and game on the menu. If you're up for some entertainment after your meal, head to Mary's Lake Lodge for live music on Friday and Saturday nights and lots of local color. And Friday and Saturday karaoke nights at the downtown Estes Park Irish pub called Lonigans Saloon are always a good time, too.
If you choose to stay at the hotel, take advantage of a Couples Spa treatment at Riverspointe Spa.