Loop Hike to Bierstadt Lake, Bear Lake and Sprague Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Updated: Sep 15
One of our favorite places to hike in Colorado is in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Although this is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, which can be crowded during peak season, the park is big enough so that you can still get away from the crowds - at least in some areas. We come here either in early Summer, when the wildflowers are in bloom, or Fall when the autumn colors are at their peak. Fall is when you are likely to see herds of elk as well.
Every time we go to RMNP, we stay at the KOA campground outside of the town of Estes Park. At least two nights is enough for us to hike for two days. RMNP has plenty of interconnecting trails, with various levels of difficulty. You can make your hike short or long, depending on your hiking capabilities and available time. There are trails suited for everyone, just make sure you have a map with you - you don’t want to get lost here if you are venturing farther from the most popular trails.
TO GET HERE
From Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park is about 1 hour and 30 minutes via US-36 W/Denver-Boulder Turnpike. This route will take you all the way to the RMNP Beaver Meadows entrance station. Take note, if you are 62 years old, get a lifetime pass. It gives you and everybody in your car free admission to all national parks in the country - forever. Not a lot of people know this, so I thought I should mention it here just in case. As my husband says, it is probably the best deal you will ever get from the government. We sure have taken advantage of it.
LOOP HIKE (Bierstadt Lake to Bear Lake to Sprague Lake) – 8 to 9 miles
Since hiking in RMNP has many interconnecting trails, there are plenty of variations you can take. Here, we did a loop hiketo three beautiful lakes in the park - Bierstadt lake, Bear Lake and Sprague Lake. We started at the Bear Lake Park & Ride located along Bear Lake Road. We often park here since the free shuttles can take you to the other trailheads which are often crowded.
From the Park & Ride, the Bierstadt Lake Trail will take you to, of course, Bierstadt Lake. Even non hikers can hike there and back without too much effort. It’s about 1.5 miles each way, if you don’t walk around the lake, and only takes less than an hour. You can walk around the lake, but that will take a bit longer.
The other trails to Bierstadt Lake is via the Flat Top Mountain Trail which begins at Bierstadt Lake Trailhead, along Bear Lake Road. The trail is located less than two miles from the Park & Ride. The parking area here is very limited so you have to be early to get a spot. It’s a little shorter to take this trail to Bierstadt Lake, but it is steeper.
Bierstadt Lake to Bear Lake
From Bierstadt Lake to Bear Lake, the trail follows a short section of the Flat Top Mountain Trail. At a junction, there is a sign to Bear Lake, so pay attention or you might end up going to a different destination. It’s about 2 miles to reach it and in about less than an hour. From the junction, the trail goes downhill all the way to the lake. At some point, as you hike around the lake, you will see Bear Lake below you. Photo below.
Bear Lake is very popular so expect to find people all around this area. Most tourists go to this lake since it's just a short walk from the parking lot behind the Bear Lake Ranger Station. You can walk around the perimeter of this lake, which is less than a mile. The view of Hallett Peak as well as Longs Peak from this lake is beautiful.
Bear Lake to Sprague Lake
From Bear Lake to Sprague Lake is longer. It’s a little over an hour hike, depending on your speed. It’s about 3.4-miles going downhill for a short time, then it pretty much levels off as you reach Glacier Creek. The most interesting part along this trail is the impressive cascading water as you cross Glacier Creek. The other scenic spot is an unnamed pond where Yellow Pond Lily thrive.
You will find some wildflowers along this trail as well, but nothing as impressive as in the other areas of the park. But it's always nice to see wildflowers along the trail and I can't resist to take photos of them.
Sprague Lake was once part of a dude ranch and lodge opened by Abner Sprague who homesteaded in the area in 1874. The area became part of Rocky National Park in 1915.
For non-hikers, you can drive to this lake from Bear Lake Road to the Sprague Lake Road. To walk around this lake is just half a mile, and it's wheelchair accessible. The beautiful mountain landscapes seen on this trail will make you want to just hang out here and enjoy the view or do some fishing. There are some benches along this trail where you can sit and relax.
To catch the shuttle bus back to the Park & Ride, just walk from Sprague Lake in about five minutes to the Sprague Lake/Glacier Creek Livery.