We live within an hour from the entrance to Rocky Mountain, so it goes without saying that we’ve walked Sprague Lake Trail more times than we can count. We’ve seen this trail in every season, and ALL kinds of weather conditions, and our local’s guide will give you that exact expertise, so you can visit this spot with the knowledge of a local.
We’ll cover everything from the best seasons (and day of the week and time of day) to visit Sprague Lake CO to the trail parking situation to entrance fees (and timed entry rules) to how you can even get married here.
We’ll even break down whether you want to hike the trail clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the time of day you visit Sprague Lake. Let’s just say, this isn’t your standard travel blogger’s guide to Sprague.
And of course, we’ll include some of our favorite images from our adventures, along the way!
Disclosure: We’ve included lodging near Sprague Lake Trail in Estes Park, Colorado and gear recommendations in this guide. If you choose to book or buy through our links, we may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support our small Colorado business and allows us to continue creating this free content. All recommendations are crafted with love and expertise, from platforms we use and trust for our own adventures, both in the Rockies and beyond.
Directions from Estes Park
Sprague Lake Loop Trail is located on the Estes Park, CO side of Rocky Mountain National Park.
If you’re on E Elkhorn Ave (which is basically the main road running through town), you’ll drive westbound and hang a left on Moraine Ave (aka US 36 West). This is the road that’ll take you all the way to the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park.
Once you enter the park, drive about 0.2 miles in, and you’ll see a left turn lane. Take that and swing a left onto Bear Lake Rd.
You’ll follow Bear Lake Rd for 5.8 miles, and then you’ll make another left onto Sprague Lake Rd.
About 0.1 miles in, you’ll hit a T in the road, where you’ll want to turn right. This’ll take you directly to the parking lot for Sprague Lake Trail.
Traveling to Sprague Lake Trail in Summer vs Winter
Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado is open year-round, weather permitting. If conditions are treacherous enough in the colder months (and yes, this even includes portions of spring and fall), parts of the park do close, so you’ll want to keep an eye on conditions.
Driving in an AWD vehicle or having tire chains handy is always a good idea when visiting Sprague Lake Trail in snowy conditions.
This trail is still one of the busier ones, even in the winter months. Because of this, the snow tends to get packed down and turn icy. When we do this hike in winter, we always make sure to bring our crampons (these are the ones we use on our winter adventures). They’re essential.
Before you go, these are the essential, must-know Sprague Lake Trail stats:
We love Sprague Lake Trail for two key reasons: its ease/accessibility and the dreamy views.
This spot is perfect if you want to see stunning mountain backdrops while traveling in a wheelchair. The path also has the most stunning pitstops with plenty of room (like our personal favorite, the dock).
Sprague Lake Loop is a shorter trail, with virtually no elevation gain, also making it a great one for families with small children and anyone get acclimated to the higher altitude.
Sprague Lake is just one stop on our full guide to the park. If you’ve never been, we cover all the must-see, iconic spots, along with our best travel advice and tips.
Parking at Sprague Lake Trail is pretty straightforward. There’s a large lot located right by the trailhead (GPS coordinates: 40.320804, -105.607922).
While there is a good bit of parking, it can fill up quickly, so you want to think strategically about what dates and time of day you want to visit Sprague Lake (more on this later!).
Like we mentioned earlier, we’ve done Sprague Lake Trail in every season, and when it comes to favorites that are two obvious winners: summer and winter.
In winter, the lake freezes over, and the snow-covered mountains create an absolutely breathtaking view. And while it’s still busy in this season, it’s not nearly as bad as summer.
We personally like the months of January and February. The winter snow has had some time to pile up and create that wonderland effect.
We generally advise avoiding March (and April, for that matter!). Those are actually the snowiest and most wild weather months here, which can make for a super unpredictable visit to Sprague Lake Trail.
And summer on Sprague Lake Trail? Where do we even begin? The mountains begin to come alive and turn green again, wildflowers start growing, the trail is in its most accessible state and the intense mud and snowfields from the spring are disappearing.
We recommend aiming for the end of June, if you want to see some of the mountaintops still dotted with snow (like in the photo above!), or for July, for prime wildflower season.
Just don’t forget to bring your bug spray to Sprague Lake Trail (this is our fav DEET-free one that we use on all our mosquito-heavy hikes). The bugs are crazy intense here (the lake water paired with snowmelt is a dangerous combo).
Pro Tip: High altitude thunderstorms are quite common on summer afternoons in Colorado mountain country (and they can be extremely dangerous). The best way to avoid them? Visit Sprague Lake Trail at sunrise, when the weather is most predictable. Which brings us to our next point…
We’ll be real with you: Sprague Lake Trail is a busy spot (one of the most popular in the park, to be precise). Given this, it’s best to visit on weekdays, if at all possible (Wednesday is truly the best).
As for time of day, we prefer sunrise for two key reasons: less crowds and alpenglow on the mountains (aka, that warm orange glow that happens when the sun hits the tips of the mountains).
But, if you can’t make it for sunrise, aim for sunset instead. The sun dipping behind the mountains creates the dreamiest rays of light that are to die for.
As a general rule, we avoid visiting Sprague Lake Trail in the middle of the day. Not only is it less scenic, but it’s also very crowded. That’s a lose-lose in our book.
At the start of the Sprague Lake Loop Trail, you’ll cross over a bridge and will hit a T in the path. The left has another bridge and heads towards a more open section of trail with vast mountain views. The right goes through a wooded area.
If you’re visiting in the evening, we recommend going counterclockwise (starting to the right with the wooded area). That way, you hike through the forest while the sun is more intense and get the open mountain views (near the dock, in particular) as you get closer to that warm, glowy golden hour.
If you’re visiting in the morning, opt to go left and go over the second bridge (going clockwise). You’ll want to see sunrise from this section of trail and then meander to the wooded section once the sun gets more harsh later in the morning.
The closest CO town to Sprague Lake Trail is Estes Park, Colorado. It’s literally only about a 10 minute drive from the city center to the Beaver Meadows entrance (which is the one closer to Sprague Lake Trail).
We’ve included lodging options in all of these spots to get you started:
Think a hotel is more your vibe? The Estes Park Resort sites right along Lake Estes and has such lovely views.
When it comes to charming mountain towns, Colorado reigns supreme. But some are definitely better than others. Our guide to CO’s best mountain towns rounds up the ones you need to add to your list.
Sprague Lake is a very well-established area. Not only does it have a large picnic area, with tables and grills, but it also has restrooms on-site.
Some of the picnic tables are located in the middle of the parking lot, but there are also a few tables that are located alongside the creek. This is our personal favorite spot.
Traveling as a family? Plan a picnic in the afternoon and walk Sprague Lake Trail closer to sunset. Talk about the perfect end to the day.
Winter Gear for Hiking Sprague Lake Trail: Winter conditions in Colorado are no joke, especially in the mountains. We highly recommend driving an AWD vehicle with snow tires when traveling to this area.
Cell service in the park is also pretty spotty. We pretty much never go into the mountains without our satellite communication device.
In the winter months, Sprague Lake Trail gets a good bit of snow (pretty standard in the mountains of Colorado), and that snow gets quite packed down. A solid pair of spikes are essential to grip onto the icier parts of the trail (especially the bridges).
And while it’s easy to forget this one, especially in the winter, a really good sunscreen (like the one we’ve used religiously for our high alpine adventures over the past 3+ years) is a must when hiking Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado. The sun reflecting off the snow actually makes it super easy to burn, especially at these high elevations.
Also, since there is a ton of water in this area, with the lake and nearby stream/creek, mosquitos are rampant. Our favorite all natural bug spray is always with us when we come here. For some reason, the mountain mosquitos are a special level of vicious, so this is essential.
Sprague Lake is one of 12 designated spots in Rocky where you can have a wedding or elopement ceremony. And it’s actually our favorite of them all. For starters, the views are gorgeous. And minimal hiking means your elopement attire won’t get super sweaty, either.
In order to get married at Sprague Lake, you’ll need to acquire a wedding permit from the NPS, where you’ll also choose a 2 hour time slot.
We always recommend applying the moment the permits are released (you can apply as early as a year in advance). This is because Rocky limits the number of permits issued, so if you have a set date in mind for your Sprague Lake wedding, you’ll want to get it secured ASAP.
Note: there is a total person limit (including vendors present) for weddings on Sprague Lake trail: 15 in the summer and 30 in the winter.
Sheena and Ed here! We’re hikers, outdoors advocates, and Colorado locals who love sharing everything our state has to offer.
If you’re traveling to Colorado soon, these are a few of our favorite guides:
Empowering You To Have Your Adventure Elopement, Your Way
Colorado Elopement Photographers + Adventure Wedding Photographers