Sprague Lake is one of those classic places that should be on everyone’s list. It is a short, flat, accessible hike with wonderful views of the Continental Divide.
- Distance RT: 0.8 miles
- Difficulty Rating: 7
- Hiking Time: 30 minutes
- Time to Go: anytime, but mornings are best
- Season: June through October
- Primary Ecosystem: montane
- Views: mountain views from edge of the lake
- Possible Wildlife: ducks, geese, moose, elk
- Trail Conditions: gravel trail
- Reminder: The morning is the best time for quiet and light on the mountains.
- Elevation Start: 8,701’
- Highest Point: 8,721’
- Total Elevation Gain: 34’
- Trailhead: This hike begins at the Sprague Lake Trailhead.
The hike begins on the southeast corner of the parking lot. The first steps are across a wooden bridge and then the trail follows a stream that flows into the lake. If you look closely you may be able to see trout swimming in this area. In just a few hundred feet after starting your walk you’ll reach an intersection. You can go around the lake in either direction, but for the purposes of this book, turn right, keeping the lake on the left.
This first section is through a stand of lodgepole pines. This area is one of the calmest sections of the lake and you’ll often find ducks and geese swimming here. At 0.2 miles you’ll leave the lodgepole forest and walk out on a boardwalk through marshland. This is a popular location for birds of all types. There are benches here where you can sit to watch and listen.
Sprague Lake is a very shallow lake built up by Abner Sprague to support the lodge he operated here until 1940. Most of the lake is no more than a few feet deep and you may see elk or moose out in the middle of it from time to time.
After the boardwalk the trail begins to head along the eastern shore. You’ll often see golden-mantled ground squirrels scrambling over the rocks, begging for food. Help keep them wild by not feeding them. As the trail nears the end of the lake you’ll find a few benches on the left side on a section that juts out into the lake. Stop and take in the view back toward the mountains. Just a few feet past this point you’ll see another trail heading into the woods. This is for a wheelchair-accessible campsite.
Continue straight and cross the outlet stream. This area provides some of the best views of the mountains, particularly in the mornings. Get a spot on the bench here and enjoy one of the best views in the park. The trail will begin to travel along the northern shore. You will often find folks fishing here. At 0.5 miles there’s a short side trail that leads to a small fishing dock, which is a favorite location for family photos.
The trail continues along the shore, crossing over another small outlet stream before shortly arriving back at the junction next to the inlet stream. Turn right and this will lead you back to the parking lot.