Travel & Destinations

Take a Hike! Rocky Mountain National Park: A Nature Lover’s Paradise

Rocky Mountain National Park is a top tourist destination admired for its awe-inspiring mountainous beauty, diverse wildlife, and abundant outdoor activities. Millions flock to Colorado Park each year and navigate the winding Trail Ridge Road to experience the scenic beauty of the seemingly endless two-mile-high mountains towering over the pristine region.

Some are also attracted to the various challenging trails stretching throughout the park’s fields, forests, and lake areas. For a gentle introduction to exploring at least some of the 215-square-mile park on foot, hikers should head straight for Sprague Lake, just a few miles down Bear Lake Road past the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center when approaching from the eastern town of Estes Park. The 0.7-mile lake trail loop is flat, beginning with a short boardwalk before transitioning into an easy-to-navigate gravel path.

1. Sunrise at Sprague Lake. Can you spot the moose. Photo Nick Thomas W jpg
Sunrise at Sprague Lake, Colorado | Photo by Nick Thomas

But be warned—it’s one of the most popular U.S. National Park destinations worldwide for visitors of all ages. As a result, in addition to the standard park admission fee, timed park entry reservations are required from late May through mid-October between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. The park requires visitors to have a separate timed-entry reservation for the Bear Lake corridor (where Sprague Lake is located) between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. These may be reserved online for a small additional fee.

If you’re wondering why a timed entry to Sprague Lake is necessary at such an early hour, there’s a good reason – sunrise. As breathtaking as the dawn can be when the sun climbs above the mountains on the lake’s east side and its first light illuminates the peaks of the western range, the view may leave you speechless. If the mountains are still snow-capped in late spring and the sky is clear on a calm morning, it won’t be the cool air that takes your breath away. “It’s just magical,” I heard one lady softly remark to a friend as she admired the mountains and lush vegetation perfectly reflected on the tranquil lake.

2. A photographer keeps a safe distance from moose feeding at Sprague lake. Photo Nick Thomas W jpg
A photographer keeping his distance respecting the grandeur of a Moose | Photo by Nick Thomas

Arriving early not only helps avoid crowds – there were only about 15 cars in the Sprague Lake car park when we arrived at 5:30 am – but it also may offer a unique opportunity to witness wildlife at its most active time. After just a few steps onto the boardwalk, we spotted an adult male moose about 150 feet away feeding on aquatic vegetation by the lakeshore.

Everyone on the boardwalk, primarily seniors, showed respect by giving the massive creature space, which proved wise when the moose unexpectedly merged onto the walking path, trotting calmly just a few feet away from several surprised but enthralled onlookers.

Hikers arriving at Alberta Falls W jpg
Hikers arriving at Alberta Falls | Photo by Nick Thomas

If you are seeking more of a challenge, venture further down Bear Lake Road to the Alberta Falls trail. The falls and lake take their names from Abner and Alberta Sprague, who were among the first settlers in the area in the 1860s. The 1.2-mile round trip to Alberta Falls features an elevation gain of 160 feet with some brief steep sections. When we visited, snow was still melting, making the trail slippery in areas.

On the trail, we met a lady in her seventies wearing a red jacket and a white broad-brimmed hat, wisely wielding a pair of hikers walking poles and navigating the slick ice with great skill (we foolishly left ours in the car!). Explaining she was a veteran hiker with experience walking all over the park, she said the 30-foot Alberta waterfall cascading into Glacier Creek at the end of the trail made it worth the extra effort and just another reason why she loved Rocky Mountain National Park. We couldn’t agree more.


Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns, and interviews for numerous newspapers and magazines. See

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