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The true story that inspired the hotel from "The Shining"

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Created by Destination Strange - September 19th 2016

In horror movies, setting is everything. This is super apparent in "The Shining", Stephen King's novel which was adapted for the screen by Stanley Kubrick. Both book and film delve into the tricks the mind can play on those susceptible to paranoia, fear and violence when trapped and cut off from the real, rational and sane world.

Jack Torrance, his wife, and their kid move into a secluded and completely eerie mountain resort called the Overlook Hotel to care for it while it closes for the winter. They slowly succumb to the maddening isolation and fear of the beautiful but spooky old hotel.

Photo of The Stanley Hotel

333 Wonderview Avenue, Estes Park, CO, US

The Stanley Hotel


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The hotel that inspired Stephen King to pen the novel is The Stanley in Estes Park, CO just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. He checked into the hotel in 1973 for a one-night stay with his wife, Tabitha. Fortuitously, they were the only guests at the hotel that night. They pretty much had the run of the place, but King wasn’t convinced they were actually alone. The room he stayed in was Room 217, which is, to this day, the hotel’s most-requested room. The Shining, was inspired by these events and the overall experience of being secluded in the grand resort hotel alone.

The Stanley appeared in the 1990s King-sanctioned made-for-TV series version, as he wasn't a fan of Stanley Kubrick's atmosphere-heavy, plot-light take on his material. Today you can watch both King's and Kubrick's versions on a nonstop loop on the hotel’s Channel 42.

King might not have been crazy, though. The Stanley Hotel was originally opened in 1909, by Massachusetts couple F.O. and Flora Stanley, as a secluded, grand mountain resort. Though the Stanleys have passed, many believe they never actually left. Mr. Stanley has been reported as hovering behind employees at the reception desk, and Mrs. Stanley can still be heard playing piano in the hotel’s music room.

Haunted events have been recorded at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, since as far back as 1911, when Ms. Elizabeth Wilson, a housekeeper, was electrocuted during a lightening storm. Though she wasn’t killed, the room where it happened, Room 217, has become a hotbed of paranormal activity.

Over the years, every single room in the hotel has experienced something strange, from clothes being mysteriously unpacked, to items moving on their own, and lights turning themselves on and off. The fourth floor is often filled with the spectral laughter of children giggling and running down the halls. However, the staff at the Stanley are quick to point out that “there are never any reports of sinister or evil events happening here, because there are only happy ghosts at the Stanley Hotel!” Suuuuure.

Photo of Timberline Lodge

27500 E Timberline Rd, OR, US

Timberline Lodge


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As for Kubrick's version, it was not filmed at the Stanley. The exterior shots were filmed at Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge. Built during the Great Depression as a WPA project, it features year-round skiing, a heated hot tub, and incredible rustic cabin vibes. If you're worried about getting snowed in and being driven mad by cabin fever, just stop by for a drink in the bar.

Sadly, the hedge maze from the movie was filmed at the studio, but the Stanley has one now in honor of the novel!

Photo of The Ahwahnee Hotel

9005 Ahwahnee Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA, US

The Ahwahnee Hotel


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The interiors were filmed at a studio, but heavily drew inspiration from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park. The interior design of the Ahwahnee is actually pretty distinctive, especially where "parkitecture" is concerned: it's got the natural wood and stone look of most other National Park Service lodges, but the interior almost featured a Mayan revival motif, as designed by Henry Lovins. Ultimately, the look blends Art Deco, Native American, and Arts and Crafts elements with a touch of Middle Eastern flair.

So we've seen inspiration from the Rockies and Yosemite... but to throw another park into the mix, the opening scene was filmed along the famously stunning Going-to-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana.

The isolated but breathtaking atmosphere of all of these rustic lodges definitely wavers between hauntingly beautiful and hauntingly... well, haunting. Just try to get some sleep if you happen to stay in one, and ignore any nightmares!