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How to See Colorado Through an Author’s Eyes

Dig into Jack Kerouac’s or Stephen King’s Colorado

Many types of travelers make their way to Colorado. Of course, there’s the skier, the hiker, the craft beer drinker, the weed connoisseur—but what about the bibliophile? The Centennial state has powdery snow and fun ski-town vibes, but it also has a rich literary history: Several famous writers have called it home, and it has served as both setting and inspiration for those authors’ literary works. Here, a four-stop tour of Colorado that will show you the best of the state through its noted writers’ eyes.

1. My Brother’s Bar, Denver

The Beat writer Jack Kerouac fell in love with Denver after a visit (he eventually bought a home in Colorado), and Sal, the lead character in On the Road, travels to the city a few times. The free-spirited character Dean Moriarty was based on the real-life Neal Cassady, who frequented My Brother’s Bar, the oldest continuously operating bar in Denver. My Brother’s Bar keeps a low profile—a super-basic website and no sign on the door. Inside you’ll find a letter Cassady sent to a friend asking to cover his tab. The bar is also a good place to grab a burger and beer, and—during Girl Scout Cookies season—a box of Thin Mints.

While You’re There

Denver’s the Source—an indoor market with an industrial feel—features local restaurants and shops including a bakery, cheese shop, and brewery focused on Belgian sour beers.

2. The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park

Stephen King wrote the novel The Shining while living in Boulder in the 1970s. In 1974, King and his wife traveled to the small mountain town of Estes Park and checked into room 217 of the Stanley Hotel, where they were the only guests that night. Wandering the empty halls of the reportedly haunted hotel inspired King to write the story of a family living in an isolated hotel in the winter. The Stanley did not originally have the hedge maze featured in the film (and it did not appear in King’s book) but installed one in the fall of 2015.

While You’re There

Estes Park sits at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and has a collection of small shops and restaurants. You can visit Inkwell & Brew to stock up on writerly essentials like journals and coffee, and Rock Cut Brewing Co. to try local beer.

Pikes Peak
3. Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs

In the summer of 1893, Katharine Lee Bates taught English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. While there, she took a trip up Pikes Peak and was inspired by the view from the mountain to write the poem “America the Beautiful,” which originally appeared in print and was later set to music. Bates traveled up the fourteener by prairie wagon, but you can go by car or take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the highest train in the States, which climbs up to 14,115 feet.    

While You’re There

Manitou Springs is a small mountain village at the base of Pikes Peak where you can try naturally carbonated mineral spring water from the fountains around town. The area was settled by Native Americans and then became popular with Westerners who visited for the healing properties believed to come from the mountain air and springs. Local shops and art galleries line the town, and Arcade Amusements, a penny arcade with an unusually large assortment of vintage games and kiddie rides in an indoor/outdoor setting, is worth a visit.  

4. Woody Creek Tavern, Woody Creek

The famous gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote and lived in Woody Creek, a town near Aspen with less than 1,000 permanent residents. There, you can visit Woody Creek Tavern, a rustic mountain bar that Thompson frequented. Thompson’s widow also has plans to open his former residence, Owl Farm, as a private museum available for small group tours.

While You’re There

Aspen is less than 10 miles from Woody Creek and is part of Pitkin County, where Thompson staged a failed campaign for sheriff in 1970. The Maroon Bells—two mountains with a reflective lake at their base—offer picturesque views and hiking opportunities. After taking in the scenery, you can stay at the Hotel Jerome, where Thompson often stayed, and get breakfast at traditional America-style eatery Aspen Over Easy.     

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