With some Craig inns converting to long-term rentals, hunting season gets interesting in Northwest Colorado

Randy Looper got back from a brief no-cell-service trip with more than 60 emails waiting for him.

Looper, the now-former longtime owner of the Elk Run Inn in Craig, was hearing from dozens of hunters — some who had been staying at his community staple hotel for a decade and a half — wondering if they were being pranked. The Elk Run Inn, which Looper had sold to a California-based group this past December, had sold again, and the new owners were converting the motel to long-term rental housing.

Out-of-town hunters, Looper said, who for years had been booking their next season’s stay before leaving at the end of each hunting excursion, suddenly had nowhere to stay.

“These emails — ‘What’s going on? Is this a joke? Am I being Punk’d?’” Looper said of his inbox that August day. “I’ve had emails and phone calls every week basically from hunters saying, ‘Is this real? Where do I go?’”

Looper was caught by surprise, but having sold Elk Run after 17 years of his family’s ownership, all he could do was point hunters elsewhere. And, at least for this season, that meant another city entirely.

“In Craig, there’s Candlewood who has full kitchens (like Elk Run does), but that’s it,” Looper said. “So they had to go to Steamboat.”

Elk Run Inn isn’t the only former short-term lodging in Craig to be converted to long-term. Bear Valley Inn did the same not long ago, as did Vista Valley Inn. Between those three, at least 74 rooms are off the market in Craig. That’s nearly 13% of the previous hotel capacity in the city.

Remaining are about 500 rooms spread between fewer than 10 Craig hotels.

Each one of these hotels reported being full as ever for the majority if not all of of hunting season, which didn’t surprise Looper.

“This is going to be good overall for the other hotels,” he said. “With us gone, they’ll fill faster, and they can raise rates. I raised rates, like anybody else, but I’m sure they can raise them more now because they’ll be so busy.”

Looper, who also sits on the Local Marketing District board, said that he’s optimistic the change will actually be positive for Craig overall.

“You’ve got the bigger hotels that can charge more money than even Bear Valley or Vista Valley or I ever did,” he said. “Rooms will fill up that filled up before, but now they’re paying more money. I think it’s a good thing, actually. I could be mistaken, but I’m going to be surprised if they don’t put up good numbers. The town didn’t always sell out — at times they were, but not always all season — and now we have hotels that can charge more who are busier.”

Candlewood Suites reported a waiting list for its fully booked 76 rooms through the end of the year. Super 8 said it’s booked through October and November at least in its 60. Best Western Deer Park, 45 rooms, has been sold out every night and is throughout the season. Traveler’s Inn, at 42, is the same. With 150 rooms, Quality Inn & Suites isn’t always full, but it is often.

Even the smaller places, like Golden Antler (17 rooms), and Trav-O-Tel (20) are booked through the middle of the season and expect a solid late season, too.

“We’re full up,” said Mei Curley, who bought the Golden Antler three years ago. “Last year was good, but this year we’re booked through November at least.”

There’s a secondary benefit, too, Looper pointed out.

“We need apartments,” he said. “People move to Craig and can’t find houses or apartments, and they need someplace to live. At least temporarily, this is a good start until we get some houses. I think in the long-run, it’s a good thing.”

That said, he wouldn’t have minded if his old place had done things a little differently.

“I kind of wish they’d waited to do it in January instead of August,” Looper said with a good-natured laugh. “Then the hunters who’d stayed with me could’ve figured something else out. I had guys with me 15, 16, 17 years. They came back year after year, and suddenly, they’ve got nowhere to stay.”