Sprague Lake CO - The Ultimate Trail Guide

The Colorado Local's Trail Report

view of the mountains towering above still waters at the dock on Sprague Lake Trail Co on a late spring morning in Colorado

Everything You Should Know About Hiking Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado

Local Advice on Seeing the Best Sprague Lake Has to Offer

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!

sunshine piercing through the fog on Sprague Lake Trail CO at sunrise in the Colorado mountains

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.

Where in CO is Sprague Lake Trail?

Directions from Estes Park

view of trees reflected in the water of Sprague Lake CO near a sitting area with two wooden benches along the trail

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.

  • GPS Coordinates (parking lot): 40.320804, -105.607922
  • Nearest Town to Sprague Lake Trail: Estes Park, CO
  • Cell Service: none (we advise having an offline map downloaded and bringing a satellite communication device like this brand we use)

When is Sprague Lake CO Open?

Traveling to Sprague Lake Trail in Summer vs Winter

tips of Colorado mountains enveloped in storm clouds as seen from Sprague Lake CO trail

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:

  • Trail Length: 0.75 miles
  • Elevation: 8,710 ft
  • ADA Accessible: yes
  • Family Friendly: yes
  • Dog Friendly: no (dogs are allowed in the parking lot and picnic area only)
  • Fee: $30 per vehicle (if you have a recreation pass, it’s free, aside from potential timed entry fees)

Is Sprague Lake Trail Worth the Visit?

Who Is This Trail Best For?

fog on the surface of the water on Sprague Lake Colorado with green trees covering the mountainsides

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.

Want to See The Best of Rocky Mountain NP?

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

restroom cabin with vault toilets at the parking lot of Sprague Lake CO trail

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!).

The Best Seasons to Hike Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado

snow covered Colorado mountains towering over the frozen Sprague Lake CO trail

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.

view of the mountains towering above still waters at the dock on Sprague Lake Trail Co on a late spring morning in Colorado

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).

yellow Colorado wildflowers surrounded by green grass found along the trail at Sprague Lake in Colorado

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…

The Best Times of Day (And Days of the Week) to Hike Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado

sun rising above the trees reflected in the water of Sprague Lake in Colorado

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.

Clockwise or Counterclockwise: That is the Question

tips of Colorado mountains enveloped in storm clouds as seen from Sprague Lake CO trail

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.

map of the parking area and hiking trail at Sprague Lake

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.

Where to Stay When Visiting Sprague Lake in Colorado

The Closest Town to Sprague Lake Trail

bright sun on the trees and snow dotted Colorado mountains of Sprague Lake Trail CO at sunrise on a still morning where the landscape is reflected in the water

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:

  • This dreamy, renovated riverfront home is such a beautiful and peaceful retreat, with an awesome location super close to the center of Estes. We’ll be honest, Estes Park, while a super popular travel destination, is not known for having cute vacation rentals (they tend to be really old-fashioned and worn down). But this cute home? A total exception! And did we mention is sleeps 8, has a beautiful outdoor lounge, and comes with a hot tub?
  • This beautiful and cozy mountain home is another total gem. It sleeps 6, making it a great option for groups or families. We especially love the fire pit, hot tub, and full kitchen (a great way to avoid those insanely high restaurant prices that come with visiting the mountains here).

Think a hotel is more your vibe? The Estes Park Resort sites right along Lake Estes and has such lovely views.

tips of Colorado mountains enveloped in storm clouds as seen from Sprague Lake CO trail

Love a Good Mountain Village?

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 Trail FAQs

What Amenities Are Available At the Trailhead?

picnic table with a grill in the mountains near Sprague Lake Trail in CO

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.

What Gear Do You Need to Hike Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado?

hiking trail path with Colorado mountain backdrop at Sprague Lake CO in the early morning

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 case that you get stuck or have car troubles, it’s also a best practice to have outdoors emergency blankets and hand and foot warmers handy in your emergency kit.

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.

Summer Gear for Hiking Sprague Lake Trail: Lots of our winter essentials (like our satellite communication devices and our favorite sunscreen) also apply to summer visits to Sprague Lake Trail.

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.

How to Plan a Sprague Lake Wedding

married couple popping champagne on the dock at Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado at sunset on their wedding day in the summer

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.

married couple walking together on the dock at Sprague Lake Trail in Colorado at sunset on their wedding day in the summer

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. 

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