My eldest son had the brilliant idea to head out to a haunted hotel for Halloween weekend, and asked me to check pictures of the place he was considering. My psychic abilities enable me to tell from a picture what is going on with the spirits inside a place, and I happily obliged. This gave me the thought that others of you might be free for a spur-of-the-moment overnight jaunt, and be looking for a good Halloween scare. So, I engaged my spidey-senses to provide you a public service. I took a look at pictures of hundreds of so-called haunted hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts from all 50 states (phew!), to see what was what and to find the best of the best.
The first thing I discovered is that pretty much every hotel has at least one ghost. Hotels are, by their very nature, magnets for spirit activity for two main reasons: hotels aren’t technically inhabited (overnight guests of hotels come and go, with no one moving in permanently to take up residence, which ghosts love and consider an open invitation to move in themselves), and hotels are the site of a lot of suicides, with those spirits often lingering near where they died.
The second thing I discovered is that while most every hotel has at least one ghost, not many hotels have so many ghosts — and ghosts of the troublesome sort — to make you sleep with the lights on. Which is what I was really looking for. In the end, I found seven. And here they are: the seven hotels that I think will keep you up all night with abundant paranormal activity, and that I personally recommend as The Best Haunted Hotels in America.
1. Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
The provenance on this hotel is outstanding: it is a beautiful hotel in a beautiful Rocky Mountain setting, and Stephen King stayed there for a weekend and was inspired to write “The Shining” based on his experiences. Guests’ experiences of the paranormal are so frequent and so spectacular that the hotel now promotes itself as “the ultimate haunted experience.” Based on my look-see, I would endorse that claim, as the ghosts there seem to own the place. Every floor is positively teeming with paranormal activity, some of which borders on the sinister. The top floors of the east wing are the worst (or best, depending on perspective), and guests wanting the immersive experience pay extra to stay there. To my eye, that entire area is filled with a choking fog of paranormal energy, and that side of the building is so heavy it looks like it is sinking into the Earth. In addition to the fourth floor, there are abundant spirits throughout the rest of the building, too — the spirit of a suicide on the front balcony, the spirits of two elderly sisters on the second floor of the west wing, the spirits of children running through the halls, and the list goes on. I doubt that many people get a good night’s sleep in this hotel. And if they do, it’s likely because they gave up on sleeping in their room and made their way to the lobby, which seems to be the least polluted space in the whole hotel. If this hotel is more haunted than you were shooting for (or if they’re booked and don’t have a room….), they offer both daytime and nighttime ghost tours. www.stanleyhotel.com
2. The Crescent Hotel and Spa, Eureka Springs, AR
Running a close second to The Stanley Hotel, The Crescent Hotel and Spa is positively teeming with spirit activity. Almost every guest room has its own resident ghost, and the common areas are populated by more than a few spirits milling about, or sitting and enjoying a spectral fire in the fireplace. The hotel was a hospital at one point in its history, the basement still houses the original morgue (not currently in use), and many of the ghosts are tortured souls from this era in the hotel’s history. One of the many paranormal teams to investigate the hotel caught the holy grail of ghost hunting for the TV show “Ghost Hunters”: a full-body spectral image on a thermal scanner (video of this is on the hotel website). For both guests of the hotel and visitors to the area, the hotel offers guided ghost tours, the Crescent Theatre that features plays about local ghost legends, and on select weekends, they offer a paranormal package: a stay at The Crescent, plus a Crescent Ghost Tour, Spirits of the Basin Tour, professional storytelling (ghost stories, of course!), and a guided overnight paranormal investigation of both the hotel and the nearby haunted Basin Park Hotel, which is kept closed and vacant for these weekends. If none of that interests you, you could treat yourself to a night out at their Adult Halloween Party, which features live music and a costume contest, the prize being a future stay at The Crescent. They have two websites: www.crescent-hotel.com and www.americasmosthauntedhotel.com
3. Queen Mary Hotel, Long Beach, CA
The iconic Queen Mary is a luxury ocean liner, now permanently docked on the waterfront in Long Beach, and outfitted as a world-class hotel. Built in the 1930’s, the Queen Mary was the ocean liner of choice for the rich and famous, was stripped of her grandeur and enlisted to carry troops during WWII, and then was restored to her former glory after the war. Well-known as a haunted site, guests are invited to go on a Twilight Historical Tour, a Paranormal Ship Walk, and to participate in a guided Paranormal Investigation. To my eye, the ship has hundreds of ghostly residents, from different eras in the ship’s history. The ghosts seem to love the ship and to co-exist rather amiably with the living guests, but they are everywhere and there is a definite buzz of activity in the spirit realm. The haunted claims are more than valid and I bet that paranormal encounters and experiences are commonplace. www.queenmary.com
4. Loews Don Cesar Hotel, St. Petersburg Beach, FL
This hotel doesn’t make any of the “most haunted” lists that I found online, and I don’t know why. The place is seriously haunted. To my eye, it rocks a “mental institution” vibe and the paranormal energy throughout the whole hotel looks like it eats people. There are regular human ghosts everywhere, and then some sort of hairy, otherworldly creature inhabiting the front-and-center area of the fourth floor. The shocking pink color of the exterior of this art deco era building doesn’t help matters, but the real trouble is well beyond skin deep. There are no ghost tours or celebrations of spirits, but you are certain to feel their presence, especially after you turn out the lights and try to sleep. My recommendation: pack a cross, some garlic, and a good book. www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar
5. Hotel Provincial, New Orleans, LA
Their website makes no mention of paranormal activity, instead focusing on the hotel as an “architectural gem,” boasting “meticulously restored historic structures” and “the finest hospitality.” While this all seems to be true, my imagined re-write of their homepage would say things like, “More ghosts than we can count!” The place is seriously charming AND seriously haunted, from the main lobby to pretty much every guest room. Even the courtyard pool is surrounded by partying spirits, and the “majestic” fountain out front has ghosts striking rather melodramatic poses upon it. The ghosts here are not attached to particular rooms or particular places — they move about freely and are lively, precocious, funny, up for a good time, and into tricks and games, so if you are looking for surprises and ghostly antics, this is the place. www.hotelprovincial.com
6. and 7. A TIE: Bullock Hotel, Deadwood, SD and The Palmer House Hotel, Sauk Center, MN
Both of these hotels occupy small, historic buildings, and both rock a ghostly, “wild west” vibe. The Bullock hotel is named for Seth Bullock, the first sheriff of Deadwood, and according to hotel staff, the hotel’s resident ghost. To my eye, he isn’t the only spectral resident of the hotel, tho. At its founding during the gold rush, the town of Deadwood was populated by outlaws, gamblers, and swindlers, and many of their ghosts now populate the hotel. Sheriff Bullock seems to keep them in line pretty well, but the paranormal energy there is decidedly rough-and-tumble. Sightings and disturbances are common, ghost tours are offered, and the hotel was featured on Robert Stack’s “Unsolved Mysteries” TV show. www.historicbullock.com
The Palmer House Hotel was built on the site of the original Sauk Center that burned to the ground in 1901. The hotel was erected soon after the fire and legend has it that the hotel is haunted by victims of the fire. Sightings are common, with hotel staff reporting a concentration of paranormal activity in the basement. To my eye, the whole place is haunted, and beset by some sort of paranormal conflict, as if the place were occupied by rival gangs of ghosts. The energy there is volatile and has a lawlessness about it. Expect weird dreams and a sleepless night if you stay there. The hotel is popular among amateur paranormal investigators, and was investigated and featured on the “Ghost Adventures” TV show. www.thepalmerhousehotel.com
(8.) Emily Morgan Hotel, San Antonio, TX
This hotel isn’t technically haunted, so it doesn’t make my official list of the seven best, but I am including it here because a stay would make for a spirit-filled Halloween weekend. The hotel has a few ghosts, so it isn’t completely barren, but what distinguishes this hotel is that it is adjacent to The Alamo, a former mission, and site of the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution. And The Alamo is seriously haunted and occupied by a lot of tortured, tormented, troubled souls. No kidding, it gave me chills just to look at the pictures. www.emilymorganhotel.com and www.thealamo.org
Wherever and however you choose to celebrate the holiday, I wish you a Happy Halloween!