Rocky Mountain Pioneers Abner and Alberta Sprague

Sprague first came to the area in 1868 with two schoolmates, and eight years later decided to build a homestead in Moraine Park.


Abner (38) and Alberta Sprague shortly after their marriage.
Abner (38) and Alberta Sprague shortly after their marriage.RMNPHC

Explorer, pioneer, homesteader, rancher, civil engineer, resort owner, mountaineer and author: Abner Sprague lived his 91 years to the fullest. One of the first settlers to the area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park, and the first park visitor to pay an entrance fee, Sprague played a pivotal role in the development of both the national park and the town of Estes Park.

The Sprague Resort in what was to become Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague first came to the area in 1868 with two schoolmates, and eight years later decided to build a homestead in Moraine Park. With his wife Alberta (for whom Alberta Falls was later named) at his side, the pair began to offer food to passing tourists. Eventually the visitors became too numerous, leading the Spragues to build several rental cabins and a log hotel for overnight accommodations, in addition to their ranching and sawmill operations.

Regarding his transition from rancher to hotel owner, he is recorded as having said: “We came here for small ranch operations, but guests and visitors became so numerous, at first wanting eggs, milk, and other provisions, then wanting lodging, and finally demanding full accommodations, that we had to go into the hotel business or go bankrupt from keeping free company!”

Sunrise at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sunrise at Sprague LakeDeposit Photos

Man-made Sprague Lake and Dam

Resort ownership had gotten into their blood it seems and in 1914 they finished a new lodge for the stream of travelers. They built Sprague Lake as an added attraction for guests, and enlarged it in 1915 by damming the far end, in order to improve fishing conditions for hotel guests.

The Spragues sold their property to J.D. Stead in 1904 with plans to make a home for themselves in Loveland, Colo. They missed the mountains too much, however, and in 1908 bought property in Glacier Basin where they built a summer cabin.

In 1932, the National Park Service bought the Sprague property, giving them a 20-year lease before taking the buildings down in 1957.

Abner Sprague feeding a deer
Abner SpragueRMNPHC

The Sprague’s Lasting Impressions on Rocky Mountain Park

Although man-made, Sprague Lake remains a popular spot in Rocky Mountain National Park. Enjoy the leisurely 0.9-mile loop in the morning for great pictures of the mountains reflected off of the water. From the trail, you’ll get a great look at the Continental Divide, including Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain and Notchtop Mountain.

Alberta Falls is one of the most popular falls in Rocky Mountain National Park since its trail is less than a mile hike.

Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
Alberta FallsGloria Wadzinski