Our big summer vacation for 2018 was an epic road trip that covered 5,090 miles, 11 hotels, 7 states, 6 Dead & Company concerts, 3 weeks, 2 national monuments, 1 national park, and A LOT of stops along the way. On our way to Boulder, Colorado for the final two shows of the Dead & Company summer tour, we spent a day at Dinosaur National Monument and 2.5 days at Rocky Mountain National Park and both were incredible.
Whenever we visit national parks, I’m always on a mission to see as many different things and do as many different things as possible. I want the best overall experience possible because it’s highly likely that we’ll never go to that national park again. There are just too many other places I want to visit!
While at Rocky Mountain National Park, we:
- Drove Trail Ridge Road and stopped at all of the scenic overlooks and roadside pullouts
- Visited all five Visitor Centers and several information stations
- Explored the area around Horseshoe Park and Sheep Lakes
- Traversed historic Old Fall River Road
- Checked out Adams Falls, Chasm Falls, Alberta Falls, Copeland Falls, and the Alluvial Fan waterfall
- Walked along the Continental Divide and out to the Holzwarth Historic Site
- Wandered through the shops in the towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park
- Checked out Poudre Lake, Bear Lake, and Sprague Lake.
Sprague Lake is the very last place we visited and we couldn’t have timed it better. After walking the Bear Lake Nature Trail and hiking to Alberta Falls, it was getting late and we were starving.
Sprague Lake has lots of parking, a large picnic area along Glacier Creek with more than 25 picnic tables and 15 fire grates, a flat walking trail around the lake, gorgeous views, and flush restrooms, so it is a very popular destination for families. Luckily it was late enough that we were able to drive right up to a nearby picnic table to enjoy a late picnic dinner — our last one in the park.
While eating dinner, little ground squirrels ran around the picnic area, and during clean up, a herd of elk ran through the parking lot! We had seen several elk throughout our visit, but this was the first time we saw them running in group, which was awesome. After dinner, we had just enough time to walk the Sprague Lake Trail.
At 8,688 feet elevation, the Sprague Lake Trail is an easy, 0.5 mile loop trail around the 13 acre lake that is accessible and features boardwalks and wooden bridges with views of Flattop Mountain and Hallet Peak.
Sprague Lake Trail is perfect for families because the trail is pretty short and has virtually no elevation gain. Benches found along the trail encourage you to take breaks and enjoy the majestic views the Continental Divide reflected in the water, including Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Notchtop Mountain.
After crossing a beautiful wooden bridge over Glacier Creek, we headed right on the Sprague Lake Trail and just a few minutes into our walk, Brian spotted a female moose standing in the lush green vegetation near the shoreline. As we walked toward the moose, we saw more movement in the area and saw a baby moose walking behind the mama right before they laid down.
We couldn’t believe it! We had seen moose in other parts of the park, but weren’t expecting to see any at Sprague Lake, which made this final stop on our Rocky Mountain National Park adventure even more special.
Once we reached the point in the trail closest to the mama and baby moose, I was able to snap a couple photos, but because they were bedded down for the night, we couldn’t see much more than the mama’s head and the baby’s ears. We did wait for a while, hoping they would stand up, but eventually continued our walk around the stunning subalpine lake to let them relax in peace.
History Of Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake is named after Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in the Estes Park area.
- Abner Sprague served three terms as Larimer County surveyor
- He was the first Rocky Mountain National Park visitor to pay an entrance fee in 1939
- He climbed Longs Peak in 1874 at age 24 and again 50 years later in 1924 at the age of 74
Sprague built a homestead in Moraine Park in 1874 that eventually grew into a hunting and fishing lodge and dude ranch. In 1900, Abner and Alberta Sprague sold their lodge to James Stead and moved to Loveland. Stead continued to operate Stead’s Ranch and Hotel until 1962.
The Sprague’s soon found themselves missing the Rocky Mountains so much that they purchased property in the Glacier Basin area around 1910 and built another magnificent lodge near the current parking area for Sprague Lake. Before Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, Sprague dammed the wide pond on Glacier Creek to create Sprague Lake and provide better brook, brown, and rainbow trout fishing for his guests.
The National Park Service purchased the property in 1932 and gave the Sprague’s a twenty year lease before removing all of the buildings in 1957.
Know Before You Go
- Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is located on Sprague Lake Road off Bear Lake Road in Estes Park, Colorado 80517 in Larimer County.
- Sprague Lake is only 7.0 miles from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and 5.0 miles from the Moraine Park Discovery Center.
- Sprague Lake Picnic Area has 12 picnic tables and grills along Glacier Creek and water. Accessible flush restrooms are open in the summer and vault restrooms are open in the winter.
- Sprague Lake is one of the approved wedding sites in Rocky Mountain National Park and can accommodate up to 35 people.
- The 10 mile long Bear Lake Road begins near the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station and is open year round but it does temporarily close due during bad weather.
- The Bear Lake area is very busy, especially in summer and on fall weekends, which means all parking areas often fill completely by early morning and rangers close access to the road just past the Moraine Park Discovery Center, requiring you to use the free park shuttle buses that run from the Estes Park Visitor Center (outside Rocky Mountain National Park) to various stops along Bear Lake Road.
- The free park shuttle bus stops at the Glacier Creek Stables just 0.25 miles from Sprague Lake.
- Download the Bear Lake Area Summer Trail Guide or the Bear Lake Area Winter Trail Guide.
- Dogs and pets are not allowed. Fishing is allowed with a permit.