In the basement of a restored concert hall dating back more than 100 years, paranormal investigator Lisa Nyhart opens her Ghostbusters-style metal suitcase of gadgets and pulls out a Spirit Box, which uses radio frequencies to monitor EVP, words and noises from the beyond described as Electronic Voice Phenomena.
Flipping the box on, she adopts the firm yet friendly tone she uses to communicate with the Stanley Hotel's unseen guests. "Paul?" she calls out into the dark hallway as members of her tour group huddle closer together. "Are you there?"
Located in Estes Park, a Colorado resort town just east of Rocky Mountain National Park, the venerable Stanley Hotel has earned a spirit-ridden reputation. Stephen King wrote The Shining after spending the night in Room 217. The popular Syfy TV show Ghost Hunters and Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures have both filmed there.
And every year, thousands of believers and wannabe believers converge on the property to test their inner skeptic and decide for themselves if the truth really is out there.
Nyhart, who works for the hotel as the resident paranormal investigator, says that on her ghost hunts people realize they are in the presence of a spirit when they feel cold air or spidery touches on their heads or the backs of their legs. Doors crack and creak. Voices can be heard singing. Flashlights turn on and off, occasionally on the guest's command.
One of the most reliable spirits is a former maintenance man named Paul, who worked at the Stanley Hotel for 10 years before his death from a heart attack while shoveling snow in 2005, Nyhart says. Sometimes on her tours around 11 p.m.-the hotel's one-time curfew-he gets active, occasionally interacting with people.
"We have more nights with activity than [without]," says Nyhart. "It's a Disneyland for spirits."
You don't have to be a guest to take one of the hotel's many ghost tours, which range from simple storytelling sessions to five-hour, hi-tech hunting expeditions around the property. But many people opt to stay, paying a premium for a night in one of the specific haunted rooms.
Room 217, for example, books up years in advance for Halloween weekend, when the hotel's annual costumed Shining Ball takes place, says Daniel Swanson, spokesman for Grand Heritage Hotel Group, which owns the Stanley Hotel.
And while King himself has yet to show up, there's evidence that the 1977 bestseller still haunts him: A Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, is scheduled to come out in September 2013.
Other guests have experienced odd phenomena within the room, possibly tied to one of the hotel's first maids, Elizabeth Wilson, Swanson says. As the story goes, she was injured during a lantern explosion in the room. Since her death, guests have reported "extra housekeeping services" in the room, with their belongings being put away or unpacked. She's also been known to get in the bed between unmarried couples, upholding the morality standards of her day, he says.
Other haunted areas of the hotel include the fourth floor, where people are most likely to hear children laughing or running in the hall; the ground-floor music room where Stanley's wife Flora has been heard playing piano; or the ballroom, where apparitions have been spotted.
Windows open and close in a room at The Lodge, the former bachelors' quarters renovated in 2012 as a boutique hotel-within-a-hotel. Other encounters at the hotel are documented on the Stanley's Facebook page, where guests share stories and photos.
On her first visit to the Stanley, Tiffani Harry of Worland, Wyo., stayed in Room 408, hoping to connect with Matthew, a child spirit who's been known to pull the bed covers off guests. While her blankets stayed in place, she saw "shadows out of the corner of my eye," towels slide off their racks and lights in the room turn on and off. The final straw came when her TV shut off without anyone touching the remote, she says.
"My husband is a total skeptic," says Harry. "But even he wondered about that."
THE STANLEY HOTEL
333 Wonder View Ave., Estes Park, Colo.; 800-976-1377; stanleyhotel.com
Number of rooms: 140
Number of visitors: 100,000
Most-haunted rooms: 217, 401, 407, 418, 428 in the main hotel; 1302 in the Lodge
Rates: $119-$469 per night, depending on room and season
SEEN ON FILM: TIMBERLINE LODGE
The imposing facade of the Overlook Hotel in the movie The Shining inspires chills from the beginning. That grand mountain hotel seen in the film's opening is Timberline Lodge, located in Mount Hood, Ore.
Director Stanley Kubrick used the all-season ski resort, built between 1936 and 1938 as part of the Works Project Administration, instead of the Stanley Hotel because, it's said, the latter didn't have sufficient snow. According to the lodge, the sets were built at Elstree Studios in England, where the mock-up of the lodge's south face was one of the largest built at the time. Some of the interiors, also created overseas, were based on the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, California. The hedge maze, which figures prominently in the movie, doesn't exist at either Timberline or the Stanley.
A National Historic Landmark, the Timberline is significant for its Depression-era carving and wildlife artwork that pervades all aspects of the building. A three-story, six-sided stone chimney dominates the building, creating numerous fireplaces where you can warm up with hot cocoa after skiing (the lodge sits at 5,960 feet).
You won't find ghost tours at the Timberline, though the iconic shot of Jack Nicholson's madman grin is used to advertise murder-mystery events. "Hardly a week goes by when someone doesn't ask about The Shining," says Timberline Lodge spokesman Jon Tullis. "But no, Timberline is not haunted."
This article is excerpted from GoEscape, USA TODAY's travel magazine, on sale now. Buy wherever magazines are sold or at goescape.usatoday.com.
Chris Gray Faust, USA TODAY