August 5, 2008

Two-for-One Trailhead Sprague Lake, Boulder Brook Can Be Easy, Tough

By Deb Acord

You're headed to Rocky Mountain National Park for the day and you really want to hike. But you're taking Grandma and Grandpa with you, and they're more interested in strolling than hiking.

And elevation? Forget about it.

Fortunately, there's a place in this sprawling park where the grandparents can stroll while you get a workout. Your starting point: Sprague Lake, a popular day-use area off Bear Lake Road. The lake is picture-perfect, its surface glassy except for the concentric circles that form around anglers who stand in its shallow waters.

Around its edge, a half-mile nature trail is perfect for strolling, sitting at the water's edge or gazing at the impressive 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks lined up in the distance: Taylor, Otis, Hallett, Flattop and Notchtop.

Take a picnic, get the grandparents set up, and look for the trailhead kiosk. That's the starting point for your trip up the Boulder Brook Trail. Start walking up the Storm Pass Trail, a wide, sandy horse path that is often used for rides that start at the Sprague Lake Stables. After a half-mile, watch for a sign marking the junction with the Boulder Brook Trail and begin climbing uphill.

The park service describes this trail as "undeveloped," which means it's narrow, steep and sparsely traveled. The bottom stretch is the steepest and the shadiest, as you climb along the edge of Boulder Brook. You'll cross the creek four times as you climb, the sides of your narrow path carpeted with thick, velvety mosses and dark clusters of ferns.

After a mile of climbing, the trail opens in subalpine splendor, with a picture-perfect view of Longs Peak. A forest fire swept through here in 1900, and graying corpses of trees still lie on the ground. The trail winds back into the forest and soon reaches a junction with the Longs Peak Trail, a perfect place to turn around.

At a glance

* What: Sprague Lake and Boulder Brook Trail

* Where: On the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park

* To get there: The most efficient from Denver - take I-25 north; take exit for Colorado Highway 66 to Lyons; then U.S. Highway 36 west through Estes Park into the park. Turn left on Bear Lake Road and follow signs to Sprague Lake. From Denver, about 75 miles.

* About: This is a great place to set up a family base camp, with an easy nature trail hike around Sprague Lake and a more strenuous hike alongside Boulder Brook.

* Watch for: Black bears, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmot, broad- tailed hummingbirds. At the lake, green-winged teal, mallards.

* Best part: The water. It bubbles, cascades in small but enthusiastic waterfalls, and pools near boulders as it makes it way downhill. Lakeside, the view is one of the best in the park.

* Difficulty of hike: Boulder Brook is difficult because of a 1,430-foot elevation gain over about two miles. Nature trail is rated easy.

* Details: Boulder Brook is not handicapped-accessible; open to hiking only - no horses, bikes or dogs. Sprague Lake Trail is accessible. $20 park entrance fee per car; good for seven days.

Originally published by Deb Acord, Special to the Rocky.

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