The Only Guide You Need to Sprague Lake
My first thought when I arrived at Sprague Lake was that I couldn’t believe it had taken me multiple visits to Rocky Mountain National Park before ever hiking around this picture-perfect lake. Living in Golden, we visit RMNP, a LOT, yet somehow it wasn’t until I visited the park solo to hike to Lake Haiyaha that I finally made the stop at Sprague Lake. And boy is she a pretty one! Plus, Sprague Lake is truly the perfect addition to a moderate day of hiking other trails in the park, since it’s a short, flat walk to enjoy all Sprague Lake has to offer.
Nestled in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park on Bear Lake Road, Sprague Lake delivers spectacular views of Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Notchtop Mountain. It delivers one of the best effort-to-reward ratios in the entire park. The hike around the lake is less than a mile long, wheelchair accessible, and perfect for kids. What more could you ask for?
This guide will cover everything you need to know to enjoy a visit to Sprague Lake. From how to get there, what passes and entrance fees you need to pay for, what to wear, what you’ll see, and where to take the best photos on this beautiful nature walk, we’ve got you covered!
Where is Sprague Lake?
Sprague Lake is in the Bear Lake Road corridor of Rocky Mountain National Park 7.5 miles past the Beaver Meadows entrance station. You should plan for about a 20-minute drive from the time you enter the park at Beaver Meadows (which is in Estes Park) to when you park at Sprague Lake.
Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance Fees
To enter Rocky Mountain National Park, you will need to pay $30 per vehicle for one-day admission (or $35 for 7 days). Alternatively, if you have an annual national park pass like America the Beautiful Pass, you won’t need to pay any extra for the park entrance. Bonus: You will also get to go through an expedited entrance line at the Beaver Meadows station (when open). The annual parks pass is definitely the best way to enter the park since it pays for itself if you plan on visiting 3 or more parks in a 12-month period.
Timed Entry Permits for Sprague Lake
Even with a national parks pass or Rocky Mountain National Park entrance fee, you will need an additional timed-entry permit from recreation.gov if you’re visiting between May and October. The specific dates vary year-to-year, so be sure to check on the official national park page to confirm whether you will need this additional permit.
There are two different timed-entry permits you can choose from. Option 1 is the timed-entry permit you need for access to Sprague Lake since it is on Bear Lake Road.
Option 2 is only necessary if you will NOT be visiting Bear Lake Road on your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.
You can technically avoid needing to obtain the timed-entry permits if you can arrive at the park outside of the permit-only hours. For Sprague Lake, that means you need to arrive prior to 5 am or after 6 pm. Of course, this is ONLY during the peak months from May to October, so if you’re visiting outside of those months, you don’t need to worry about the timed-entry permit. You still need to pay for the park entrance, though, OR bring your America the Beautiful Pass.
Where to Park at Sprague Lake
The parking lot at Sprague Lake is fairly large. If it’s full when you arrive, don’t worry. Because the hike here is so short, cars rarely stay parked there too long. Wait a few minutes and you’ll be sure to find a spot open up for you!
The parking lot has a bathroom facility and several picnic tables (with fire pits!). It’s a beautiful spot to have your lunch or a snack! Don’t expect any lake views here though. You need to walk a little bit from the parking lot before you’ll see the lake itself. That said, you’ll still get awesome mountain views from some of the picnic tables!
If you do enjoy a meal here, be sure to dispose of all of your trash and leftover scraps in the designated trash bins in the lot. While it’s pretty obvious you shouldn’t leave trash on the ground, it’s also so important to not leave any food scraps behind. Food litter attracts animals to places where they shouldn’t be where they risk being hit by a car and disrupts their natural diets and behaviors.
What Time of Year is Best to Visit Sprague Lake?
In summer there are purple and yellow wildflowers along some parts of the trail, and in the fall Sprague Lake is an excellent destination for viewing the yellow aspens. In winter or spring, the trail may be snow-covered, but you shouldn’t have any issues hiking here, especially if you have microspikes or snowshoes.
History of Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake has an interesting history. I was SHOCKED to learn that Sprague Lake is actually a manmade lake, leftover from Rocky Mountain National Park’s early resort days.
The lake gets its name from Abner Sprague, one of the first European-American settlers to the area. Native American history, specifically the Ute and Arapahoe tribes, lived in the area long before Sprague’s arrival in 1868. Sprague and his wife, Alberta (for whom Alberta Falls is named) settled in the area and would host passing tourists. Eventually, the Spragues built rental cabins and a hotel to accommodate guests. As the resort grew, they decided to create Sprague Lake as an additional attraction in 1914, ultimately building a 13-acre lake on the site. The National Park Service later bought the property in 1932 and eventually tore down the Sprague buildings in 1957. Now all that remains of the Sprague resort is this lake.
Sprague Lake Hike
While the signpost markings say the hike is 0.5 miles long, in reality, it will be closer to 0.9 miles to complete the loop starting and ending in the parking lot. There is hardly any elevation gain on this trail, making it a nice leisurely stroll. You should allocate about an hour to enjoy Sprague Lake, or less if you aren’t planning to stop for photos and walk at a steady pace. We tend to be pretty leisurely though, so for me it took an hour. In the early mornings, you may be lucky enough to spot moose and beaver at Sprague Lake!
Sprague Lake Trail Description
From the Sprague Lake parking area, there is a small bridge to the left which leads to the trail. Be sure to look at the water below the bridge, as there are often trout swimming there.
From here the route is pretty obvious, thanks to the wide gravel path. You can go clockwise or counterclockwise around the loop. I went clockwise, but it is totally up to you. You’ll see all the same things whichever way you go.
What You’ll See on the Sprague Lake Trail
Along the Sprague Lake loop trail, there are intermittent benches to relax and admire the views of the mountains that make up the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park: Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Notchtop Mountain. In the mornings, you have a good shot at being able to see a mirror-like reflection of the entire range in the lake. It was a little too windy (and it does not take much wind…) for still waters on my visit, but nevertheless stunning!
On the furthest point on the lake from where you started, there is a small fishing pier. This is a great spot for photos, as the leading lines of the pier point the eye directly to the magnificent peaks beyond.
Other Activities on Sprague Lake
Those who like to fish will find brook, brown, and rainbow trout in Sprague Lake. If you want to get out on the water, that is also an option. You can paddleboard, canoe, or kayak on the lake. No motorized boats are allowed.
What to Pack and Wear to Sprague Lake
Unless you are planning to do a longer hike (like Emerald Lake or Sky Pond) in addition to the loop around Sprague Lake, you need minimal gear. Here are the basics we recommend:
- Sun Protection: This is so important in the mountains where the thin air makes the sun’s rays more powerful. Even on short hikes or periods outside, you’ll want to make sure you have sun protection! Sun Bum is our favorite sunscreen brand.
- Sunglasses: I love these wooden frame sunglasses, so they are my go-to.
- Jacket: Even in summer it can be really chilly on Rocky Mountain National Park’s lakes! I always pack my Columbia jacket when hiking in the mountains.
- First Aid Kit: An ultralight first aid kit is a must-have for every hike. You never know what can happen, and you’ll be glad to have a first aid kit if you need one!
- Camera: I always hike with my Sony a7iii. It’s a great full-frame camera for capturing all of our hiking memories!
- Snacks: Clif Energy Bars are our favorite snack for road trips and national park visits. It’s got the perfect mix of carbs, fats, and protein to power us through big days of exploring!
- If you’re visiting Sprague Lake in winter, you’ll absolutely want to bring a pair of microspikes with you. These will slide over your boots and keep you from slipping on icy portions of the trail and even the parking lots! Trust us, you’ll be able to enjoy your visit to Sprague Lake so much more if you aren’t worried about falling on the ice!
Guided Tours in Rocky Mountain National Park
Here are some guided tour options to consider when planning your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park!
Where to Stay in Estes Park
We recommend basing yourself in Estes Park when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are some well-rated hotel options in Estes Park, which is just a few miles from the Beaver Meadows entrance station to RMNP.
- The Historic Crag’s Lodge
- Silver Moon Hotel
- Best Western Plus Silver Saddle Inn
- 4 Seasons Inn on Fall River
- Hotel Estes
Click here to search for additional hotels in Estes Park or search below!
Final Thoughts on Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake is a MUST-SEE in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a super-easy stroll that offers top-notch views of the park’s iconic peaks. Because you don’t need much time to visit Sprague Lake, it’s a perfect addition to any other activities you have on deck during your RMNP adventure! And speaking of, check out these guides to other lakes and things to see in Rocky Mountain National Park!
- Bear Lake Corridor Explained – everything you need to know about all the various hikes you can do from the Bear Lake trailhead!
- Bear Lake – a guide to RMNP’s most famous lake
- Emerald Lake – hiking guide to Rocky Mountain’s most popular hike
- Lake Haiyaha – hiking guide to the milky teal lake everyone is talking about
- Chasm Lake – hiking guide to our favorite trail in Rocky Mountain National Park!
- Sky Pond – hiking guide to a challenging bucket-list-worthy adventure in RMNP
- Loch Vale and Alberta Falls – hiking guide to two of Rocky Mountain’s most beautiful views you can see on one trail
- Trail Ridge Road – ultimate guide and itinerary to the highest continuous paved road in the United States – right here in Rocky Mountain National Park!
And one last thing before you go – don’t forget to get an annual national parks pass before your trip and if you’re visiting between May and October, be sure to grab your timed-entry permit for Rocky Mountain National Park!