RMNP: Sprague & Bierstadt Lakes | Colorado | 12/01/19

Kyle and I haven’t spent much time in Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter, but it seemed like a great place to spend a beautiful (almost) winter afternoon. I have a long list of hikes that I want to do one day, many of which are in Rocky, and some of which are so short that it makes the most sense to combine them and do multiple in one day.

Sprague Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, CO | 12/01/19 | 0.94 miles | 34′ gain

Our first stop was Sprague Lake. I always pass the Sprague Lake turn off when heading down to the Bear Lake & Glacier Gorge Trailheads, but I had never thought to stop. But I’d like to do all (or at least most) of the trails in Rocky one day, and this one was on the list. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much. Short, accessible, flat…maybe also boring?

I imagined hoards of people and difficulty finding a parking spot, but the lot was probably only half full when we arrived at 12:30. Thank you winter! Recent storms dumped a good amount of new snow and extreme wind gusts the day before seemed to have kept most people out of the park. No problem for us!

Sprague Lake

We put on our micro-spikes and followed the snowy path around the lake. Most of the trail was well packed down and easy to follow. The initial views of the lake weren’t anything too special, though the hike was peaceful and it was surprisingly warm out.

Sprague Lake
Trail around Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake was named for Abner Sprague, who operated a resort lodge on the lake from 1910-1940 with his wife Alberta. Right before Rocky became a National Park in 1915, Sprague dammed the lake, increasing its size to 13 acres and improving the fishing for his guests. Near the lake’s outlet, we spotted a large cutthroat trout (and a few smaller ones) through an opening in the ice.

Can you spot the cutthroat trout?

The views along the east edge of the lake were by far the best of the hike, and absolutely worth the short walk.

From left to right: Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain
Me and Kyle in front of Sprague Lake

Rejuvenated after our surprisingly beautiful hike around Sprague Lake (and gorgeous weather!), we moved on to our next hike, Bierstadt Lake!

Bierstadt Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, CO | 12/01/19 | 2.94 miles | 690′ gain

Just down the road from the Sprague Lake Trailhead is the trailhead for Bierstadt Lake. Kyle and I had actually intended on hiking this trail in the past, but the tiny lot had always been full. Luckily, the parking lot was almost empty when we arrived around 1pm. The hike to Bierstadt Lake would prove to be more difficult than our short walk around Sprague Lake, but we welcomed the exercise.

Forested trail to Bierstadt Lake

I wouldn’t normally complain about only 600′ of elevation gain, but snow adds an entirely new dimension to hiking. I’m definitely not used to hiking in snow! In winters past, I’ve avoided snowy travel most of the time, electing instead to wait until lower elevation trails are melted out. But I don’t intend on doing that this winter! I need to keep increasing my stamina.

Quaking aspen & Ponderosa pine

The forest was beautiful and I enjoyed the hike even though snow was involved. The trail had been packed down some, but wasn’t nearly as heavily used as the Sprague Lake Trail, so we post holed here and there and slopped around the rest of the time.

Gorgeous trail to Bierstadt Lake

The trail ascended a steep hillside and then switch-backed numerous times across the face. As we climbed, the forest gave way to an open area filled with sagebrush, something I didn’t know grew in Rocky! The sun melted the snow in the open area into ice, and we found our micro-spikes to be extremely helpful here.

Above the forest now
Steep sagebrush slope

The views from this slope were amazing and I stopped constantly to take yet another photo. Numerous trees were down across the trail, and Kyle moved the smaller ones out of the way.

Long’s Peak (14,259′) is magnificent from this angle, towering nearly 6,000′ above the valley below!
Close up of Long’s Peak
Sprague Lake from the Bierstadt Lake Trail

When we reached the top of the slope, we plunged back into the forest and then descended to the lake.

Bierstadt Lake

Bierstadt Lake looked smaller than I anticipated, but we decided to follow the trail around the lake anyways. Shortly after starting along the loop, the trench we were following became a ski track and we got sick of post holing every step so we cut over to the lake and walked on the ice instead. Now the lake looked much bigger, and as we made our way around, we saw the views that bring people here.

The sun was in a bad spot, so imagine this looks 10 times more beautiful.

Like the well-known Colorado 14er Mount Bierstadt, Bierstadt Lake is named for Albert Bierstadt, a famous landscape painter of the 1800s. I imagined him sitting on the shores of this lake (probably in summer) and painting for hours.

The ice made me nervous, like it always does, but proved to be very solid and we walked clear across the lake. We found some interesting icy footsteps, interesting in that the footsteps were raised above the surface of the lake.

Frozen footsteps on Bierstadt Lake

By the time we got back to the car, we were ready to head home so we opted to save the last short hike on my list for another day.


14 thoughts on “RMNP: Sprague & Bierstadt Lakes | Colorado | 12/01/19

  1. It’s amazing how much this has changed in the last month. We did the same combo of hikes in early November and neither lake was frozen solid enough to walk on and both trails were mostly clear, except in shady spots. Looks like you guys had a gorgeous day!


    1. Thank you! I do love the desert as well. We’ll be visiting Joshua Tree & Saguaro National Parks in February and I might just have to do the ladder & rope hike from your latest post while in Joshua Tree 🙂 it looks amazing.


  2. emilyhikescolorado

    Rocky Mountain National Park is amaaaaaazing during the winter. Hiked to Bierstadt Lake this year in early March – very cool alpine lake in the winter but seems to hold a lot of snow due to lack of wind in that area. Sprague is always a stop I recommend for everyone visiting the park for the first time! Amazing views there and always a chance to see a moose 🙂


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