RMNP – Emerald Lake

Hiking to Emerald Lake

The 3.2-mile hike to Emerald Lake is the most popular trail in Rocky Mountain National Park on AllTrails.com. The reason why this is so popular is because it is short, moderate in difficulty, and features some of the most beautiful and iconic views in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a must-do trail for visitors in any season.

The Hike

The hike starts from Bear Lake Trailhead. You turn left after the bridge at the trailhead to connect with Nymph Lake and Dream Lake before heading beyond Dream Lake to Emerald Lake.

I arrived at the trailhead around 9 am on a weekday morning and there were only a few cars there, but it does get busier later on in the day.

I used snowshoes for most of the hike since I was one of the first people on the trail that day, breaking trail. It’s much easier to walk on new powdery snow in snowshoes than it is in microspikes. Later in the day, as the snow on the trail gets packed down by visitors, you should be able to make do with microspikes.

NOTE – There are bathrooms at the trailhead, but in the current coronavirus pandemic environment, especially since this is a popular location, I’d suggest going to the bathroom in the woods instead, adhering to Leave No Trace Principles.

Starting Out

After crossing a bridge at the trailhead that leads to a junction, following the signs, you turn left toward Nymph Lake/Dream Lake/Emerald Lake. This trail passes by a lovely view of Tyndall Gorge in front and Glacier Gorge beyond (where you can see the mountains next to Mills Lake and Longs Peak/ Mt. Meeker behind that). The morning I went was quite foggy and the mountains beyond Mills Lake were mostly obscured.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the views from this trail back in September from my hike to Sky Pond, you can check out that post.

Nymph Lake

Half a mile into the hike, you will arrive at Nymph Lake. This is a charming little lake with hints of the tall mountains behind it.

Dream Lake

After another half mile of trekking, you will reach Dream Lake, with it’s iconic views of Hallett Peak. It is only 1 mile from the trailhead to this gorgeous view.

View looking back at Dream Lake from the far end of it –

The wind was blowing something fierce at Dream Lake, as is often the case at alpine lakes.

Trail to Emerald Lake

The trail to Emerald Lake is another 0.6 miles from the beginning of Dream Lake. It’s a little tricky to follow, especially if there has been new snow, so I recommend having a GPS tracking trail app like HikingProject or AllTrails or COTrex to check and make sure you’re on track. That day I broke trail, so it was useful to have an app to consult. I used COTrex – it has all the maps of Colorado, and you can download maps to view offline.

The wintry views on the way from Dream Lake to Emerald Lake in particular were spectacular.

Especially as you get closer and closer views of the sharp and distinctive Hallett Peak –

Emerald Lake

The wind was even colder at Emerald Lake, but I managed to take a panorama of the icy lake –

At only 1.6 miles to reach this amazing destination, who wouldn’t want to go?

Heading Back

On the way back some of the fog was clearing, and there was a slightly different view of the Tyndall Gorge and Glacier Gorge –

There were many more people on the trail by 11am/12pm and snowshoes were no longer necessary on the return journey.

Recommended as a Moderate Hike

On the easy side of moderate, with only 600 ft elevation gain over 3.2 miles, this trail is accessible to most visitors of Rocky Mountain National Park. While the views on this trail are breathtaking at any time of the year, there is something special about experiencing the stark wintry conditions as you pass through several iconic landscapes. I would recommend this hike to anyone who has the opportunity to hike it.

If you’re looking for ways to elongate the hike, you can always add Bear Lake and Lake Haiyaha, or even Loch Lake to your adventure.


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