Favorite Hike Highlight: Emerald Lake Trail
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Estes Park, Colorado - MODERATE
This is one of those hikes that you will ALWAYS remember!
The trail is appropriately labeled as a moderate trail and undergoes some elevation changes requiring some moments of scrambling over boulders and walking across log bridges with railings. It is an extremely well maintained trail of RMNP.
* Alicia did this hike in a titanium knee brace 3 months after ACL repair surgery.
According to All Trails:
Emerald Lake Trail is a 3.2 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Estes Park, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking and snowshoeing and is best used from June until October. The hike to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is easily located at the end of Bear Lake Road, 9 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36.
This area is extremely popular so you may want to consider arriving very early or using the free park shuttle to reach the trailhead during peak tourist season.
Wear good hiking shoes, bring food, water, bug repellant of choice, and a few layers of clothing including a rain jacket. Weather can change very quickly in this area.
As you can see from the picture above, Emerald Lake is appropriately named for the color of its water. We think that one of the best parts about the hike to Emerald Lake is that on the way to Emerald Lake you pass two different lakes, Nymph Lake & Dream Lake. Each one of the lakes is stunningly beautiful and are spaced out really well on the hike, making for great spots to take breaks along the way. The first lake you come to on the trail is Nymph Lake:
It is about half a mile into the hike. Nymph Lake is the most easily accessible lake of all three. At certain times of the year it is covered in lily pads and looks like it is straight out of the 1896 John Waterhouse painting, Hylas and the Nymphs, which depicts the Greek youth Hylas trying to fill his water jug but being enticed to his watery end by nymphs.
Although the Waterhouse painting depicts a mythical tragedy, there is nothing tragic about Nymph Lake in RMNP: It is breathtakingly beautiful. The only tragedy was that we didn't spend much time there because we had an slightly rainy day and were determined to reach Emerald Lake. When we hike the trail again we think Nymph Lake is a good spot to rest on the return hike.
The next lake along the trail is Dream Lake. As the trail continues you skirt the edge of Dream Lake. In the distance you can see Hallett Peak, which is a guiding landmark as you get closer to Emerald Lake. The lakes have a creek running between them, water from the snow melt. This makes the water really, really cold. Along most of this hike you will hear the sound of a water rushing down the gorge between the two mountains, supplied by meltwater from the Tyndall Glacier. All of the water makes a great incentive for wildlife to frequent the area. We saw lots of elk along the trail and Dream Lake seems like a fisherman's paradise. We saw a few fly fisherman attempting to catch the trout that were very visible in the clear waters of Dream Lake. After reading a little on fishing in the area it's important to note that a Colorado fishing license is required for those older than 15. Also, greenbackc utthroat trout are a threatened species and can only be legally caught using a certain kind or lure (barbless, artificial lures or flies) and must be released unharmed immediately, so this may not be the lake you want to fish if you are looking to reel in something for dinner.
Be aware that mosquitoes are really intense around some of the water on this hike. In fact, they were so bad that Alicia had to borrow some DEET from a kind fly fisherman at Dream Lake in order to continue. On the other hand, the fish really love the insects which are an important source in their diet. It's rather exciting to see the fish eating the insects that land on the surface of Dream Lake.
When you finally get to the end of the trail, you find Emerald Lake waiting right in front of you. In the background of Emerald Lake you will see the 12,713-foot Hallett Peak and then to its right you can spot the 12,324-foot spires of Flattop Mountain.
According to Hikespeak.com: Although it is shrinking, Tyndall Glacier is one of a handful of remaining glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park. A stream of water flows down the trough below Hallett Peak and cascades into Emerald Lake on a thin waterfall. This glacier-fed stream brings minerals to the lake that are responsible for its beautiful blue-green color.
You are more than welcome to swim and paddle around Emerald Lake but fair warning, the water will be very cold! We think it would be fun to bring an inflatable paddle board and have a picnic on the lake next time we hike it. We hiked this trail before we were making videos. Thankfully we found a really wonderful video of this hike that captures its beauty.
Check out the Emerald Lake hike for yourself:
Please note that reservations will be required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park from May 28 through October 11. For more information, please see https://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm
We hope you enjoyed this info on one of our favorite hikes!
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Scott & Alicia