Allenspark, Colorado

A visit to Rocky Mountain National Park often means staying in adjacent Estes Park. But you can ditch the big tourist crowds and go not too much farther away – to Allenspark. It’s a quieter alternative. And you may see a side of the park you haven’t seen before.Allenspark, about 17 miles north of Boulder and 12 miles south of Estes Park on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway (Colorado 7), was a hot spot for ski jumping competitions from 1922 to 1940.

Its popularity has come and gone but it has a die-hard population of a few hundred residents who like the town’s laid-back atmosphere and proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park.Near Allenspark, several guest ranches offer horseback riding and fishing.

This enclave of cabins, cottages and small inns really is a bedroom community, with few stores or shops. When you leave the scenic highway (and it does offer gorgeous views of Longs Peak and more) to take Business Loop 7, you’ll suddenly find yourself tucked into the forest on the edge of the park.

Leave the fancy lodging to Vail and Aspen. The accommodations in Allenspark are on the rustic side, from the historic 1930s Allenspark Lodge to an array of cabins and a handful of bed-and-breakfast inns. “It’s a quiet little town,” says Gene Mackey, publisher of the Allenspark Wind newspaper. “If you blink when you drive through, you’ll miss it.”

Allenspark is near the Wild Basin trailhead into the national park, a lesser-traveled hike to a waterfall, the Calypso Cascades, and Thunder Lake beyond. “It might be busy the first mile or two, but then you’re pretty much alone the rest of the way,” Mackey says.

In addition to access to some of the lesser-traveled hiking trails in the park, visitors can find horseback riding and fishing to complete their days. There are several guest ranches in the area. If wheeled rather than hoofed transportation is your thing, rent an ATV and go exploring on the trails that allow them.

A main reason to go to Allenspark, surprisingly, is for the dining. The cozy Fawn Brook Inn serves gourmet fare to unsuspecting diners. Many Denverites even make the drive for dinner. Our recommendation: try the roast duckling, and save room for the killer chocolate mousse.

Near Allenspark, several guest ranches offer horseback riding and fishing.

There’s also some quirky shopping to be found at times, though stores tend to come and go. In summer, check out the small-town July 4 festival with arts and crafts booths. And if you love wildflowers, this is the place to visit in July, when columbines and paintbrush, the usual suspects among Colorado flora, blossom. It’s also a great place for leaf-peeping in the fall, when the aspens turn to gold.

In all, your visit to Allenspark will be a quieter experience than staying in Estes Park or Grand Lake, but the rewards can be great. And if you really want more variety in restaurants, they’re only minutes away in Boulder.

If You Go

Allenspark is located about 12 miles south of Estes Park on the Peak to Peak Scenic and Historic Byway.