Up and up and up—the road to Estes Park in Colorado seems to never stop climbing. Up a narrow throat between rocky hillsides, beside a splashing, roaring little creek, the road winds and climbs toward the snow-capped mountains that begin to rise above the surrounding ridges, looming inexorably higher and higher. And then you top the pass, and the view is literally breathtaking. Colorado kindly accommodates this reaction with a turnout where visitors can get back the air knocked out of them by the sight of 14,000-foot mountains looming above a gorgeous little valley tucked away atop the Continental Divide. And there below, imitating the mountains with its sheer bulk and grandeur, lies the Stanley Hotel.

Our ancestors liked to dream big. They let nothing stand in their way, not an unexplored continent, raging rivers, hostile natives, or unforgiving mountains. Drawn by the beauty of this valley where the Arapaho and Ute tribes had summered for centuries, Joel Estes was determined to ranch up here, but the harsh winters and short summers forced him to sell out. The area attracted all sorts of other entrepreneurs, including F.O. Stanley, a guest at the Elkhorn Lodge built by an early scion of the tourist trade. Co-inventor of the famed Stanley Steamer automobile, Stanley saw the enormous tourist potential in the valley to attract the well-heeled crowd and those, like himself, seeking benefit from the healthful mountain air. He built a 138-room luxury hotel, to the tune of half a million dollars—a vast fortune in 1909. Thus began the Stanley Hotel.

His foresight paid off. Estes PaThe Stanleyrk is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most treasured jewels in the U.S. National Park system. Tourists without number flock to Estes Park—and the Stanley Hotel—year after year, to ski, hike, ride, and explore Colorado's famed mountains. Inside the boundaries of the park you will experience the thrill of driving two miles above sea level (there's a sign!) and exploring the rugged backbone of North America. The roads are good but not for the fainthearted; you might want to park and walk out the trails to get a real feel for the rarified air and the endless meadows of wildflowers overlooking steep valleys and long, long vistas.

Today the hotel offers the same 138 guest rooms appointed with some nice modern touches like large flat screen TVs and wireless internet service. The hotel also offers some more modern accommodations in the Overlook Villas. These are large 2,3, and 4 bedroom townhouses that are located just a short distance from the hotel. These newer Villas offer much more room for families coming to enjoy the Estes Park area for longer periods of time, but still offer full use of all the hotel facilities, room service, and transportation.

All of the rooms in the hotel are quite spacious, but the hotel does offer some more deluxe rooms and some rooms appointed with historic early 20th century furnishings and artwork. The best value rooms are the Manor Queen and Classic Queen rooms starting at $199 per night. There are several variations of rooms with queen and king beds with increased rates ranging up to the premium Deluxe King room at $339 per night. The one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom Villas go for $400, $500, and $600 per night respectively. Booking rooms at either the Stanley Hotel or in the Villas should be done well in advance as the popularity of the area and the proximity to Denver makes the hotel an extremely busy destination during the summer and winter high seasons.

Estes Park is not lacking in choices to delight the palate, and if you are staying at the Stanley Hotel for more than a day or two, you should explore some of these great dining establishments. However, the hotel offers an excellent dining room you should try called the Cascades. They offer fresh local Colorado specialties like locally raised beef and fresh caught fish. The restaurant is a bit on the expensive side, but not really for the area in general, and the atmosphere and service are excellent. If you like a little more action and noise, the Cascades Bar, right next to the dining room offers a little livelier atmosphere most evenings and you can eat in the bar as well. Reservations are generally necessary in the Cascades restaurant, but not in the bar. The dress code is casual in the restaurant and throughout the hotel like most wilderness hotels. This is luxury, with a rustic edge.

And speaking of a rustic edge, or at least a rough edge, when it is time to work out those rough edges and tight muscles from a long day of hiking or biking or rock climbing, the Stanley Hotel has the Parlour Spa waiting for you right in the hotel. The Spa offers a variety of treatments geared toward relaxing sore muscles and rejuvenating bodies after long days exploring the local area. The Spa is open 7 days a week, but you will need a reservation, sometimes well in advance. That is something to think about when you make your hotel reservation, if you will want to visit the Parlour Spa, make a reservation there at the same time. You will not be disappointed.

Today the Stanley Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a monument to big dreams and lasting quality. It has everything from ghosts (check out Stephen King's room #217, which inspired The Shining) to elk grazing on the lawn. Only an hour away from Denver, it might as well be on another planet. Surrounded by soaring mountains instead of endless flat plains, located 2500 feet above the Mile High City, overlooking lush forest and a cozy little town instead of the sprawling urban bustle of Denver, this mountain hotel stands with a foot in two worlds. Behind, the Rockies own the view and defy anyone to challenge them. Below, the town braves the worst that winter can offer, with the hotel dominating the landscape—almost. Nothing of man can overwhelm the sheer size and grandeur of those mountains, but the Stanley Hotel certainly tries.