OverviewMany peaks along the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park have gentle western slopes and fully reveal their wild character only when seen from the east. McHenrys Peak is the most conspicuous exception, while Ouzel Peak is probably the most striking example. Sprague Mountain follows the general rule; from the west it is just a hump along the Divide, while the east face holds a steep glacier, a rugged ridge, beautiful lakes, and great vistas in all directions.
Sprague Mountain is far from the trailheads; even though it is possible to reach it from several directions, it takes eight to nine miles in any case. While many are prepared to go that distance to climb Longs Peak, very few venture that far for Sprague Mountain. It is your chance to have all to yourself this summit that sits more or less at the center of the Park.
Getting ThereFour trailheads provide access to Sprague Mountain from the four cardinal points. From the north one can walk down the Continental Divide from Milner Pass. From the West one follows the Tonahutu Trail from Green Mountain Trailhead. The southern approach is from the Bear Lake Trailhead and Flattop Mountain, while the easterly approach initially uses the Fern Lake Trail and then embraces bushwhacking and scrambling to reach Sprague Mountain from the neighboring Stones Peak. All four trailheads reside in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Green Mountain TH is located along US 34, north of Grand Lake, three miles past the west entrance to the Park. Continuing along US 34 (Trail Ridge Road) one gets to Milner Pass, which can also be reached from Estes Park.
The remaining two trailheads are usually reached from east of the Divide. From Estes Park, drive to the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park. Turn left soon after the entrance gates in the direction of Bear Lake. The Bear Lake TH is at the end of the road. The Fern Lake trailhead is in Moraine Park. A paved road departs from the main road opposite to the Moraine Park Museum. After half a mile, turn left again, instead of going straight to the Moraine Park Campground. The Fern Lake TH is at the end of the road. Along the way, you pass the Cub Lake TH.
A free shuttle service connects the main trailheads of the central area of the park. From the shuttle bus terminal, one line goes to Bear Lake, and the other goes to Moraine Park. Bus schedules are posted at this page. Note that the bus stop is about a half mile from the Fern Lake TH.
The access to Sprague Mountain from Bear Lake is a long hike. Climb for 4.4 miles to Flattop Mountain and take the Tonahutu Trail, which descends crossing Bighorn Flats. Atfter a couple of miles, leave the trail and proceed north for about a mile to Sprague Pass at the head of Spruce Canyon. in your approach to the pass you will sooner or later run into Eureka Ditch, which was escavated in 1902 to divert waters from Bighorn Flats to Spruce Canyon and hence to the east. The ditch is clearly visible when descending from Sprague Mountain to the pass and can be followed to reach the Tonahutu Trail. From the Pass, ascend the steep southwest slopes of Sprague Mountain to the summit.
Red TapeNo permits are required for day hikes and climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is no parking fee and the shuttle is free. The entrance pass to the park is $20 per car and is valid for 7 days. (See this page for up-to-date, complete info.) The fee, however, is not collected before 6:30 AM. All park visitors should follow the Leave No Trace policy.
When To ClimbMost people climb Sprague Mountan during the Summer months. Though an ascent is possible in principle year-round, it would be more difficult. During the summer months, an early start is strongly advised to minimize the danger of lightning. (More people are killed in the U.S. each year by lightning than by hurricanes.) In winter, one should expect ice, strong winds, sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures, and frequent storms. Spring and Fall present the most variability. Summer conditions may prevail until October, or may be already gone by late August.
CampingThere are several camping sites within the park. Details on locations, facilities, reservations, and fees can be found at the camping page of RMNP. Bivy information can also be found on the park's site.
Mountain ConditionsThe park's contact information page lists useful numbers. Two webcams, one pointed at Longs Peak and the other at a stretch of the Continental Divide, allow one to get an idea of the conditions a few miles from Sprague Mountain. Detailed forecasts are provided by NOAA.
Never forget that the weather may change very rapidly in the high country. The temperature may drop by 50°F or more in a couple of hours. Those who have been caught out by such sudden changes without proper equipment and preparation have not always survived.