Bookmark and Share

Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park features the best hiking throughout Rocky Mountain National Park - from easy, family-friendly strolls to popular panoramic vistas.

Emerald Lake

Trail Features: Alpine Lake, Outstanding Views, Wildflowers emerald lake
Trail Location: Bear Lake
Roundtrip Length: 3.5 Miles
Trailhead Elevation: 9475 Feet
Total Elevation Gain: 650 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 367 Feet
Highest Elevation: 10,110 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 4.84 (easy)
Parking Lot Latitude 40.31196
Parking Lot Longitude -105.64581

Trail Description:

The hike to Emerald Lake begins from the Bear Lake Trailhead, located at the end of Bear Lake Road, 9 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. Due to the extreme popularity of the area you may want to consider using the free park shuttle to reach the trailhead during peak tourist season.

Just beyond the trailhead the Bear Lake Loop splits off to the right, while the trail to Emerald Lake branches off to the left. Most hikers will stop at Bear Lake to check out the beautiful scenes from the east shore before proceeding to their ultimate destination. If starting in the early morning you might have an opportunity to go home with some great photos of Hallett Peak reflecting off the water. If wishing to avoid the crowds that flock to this extremely popular area, I highly recommend starting in the early morning anyway.

From Bear Lake the trail makes a steady climb up to Nymph Lake. Every now and then you'll catch a glimpse of Longs Peak through the trees. Due to the heavy amount of foot traffic this area receives, much of this section of trail has been paved.

At just over a half-mile from the trailhead hikers will reach the south end of Nymph Lake, a pleasant lake ringed by pond lilies. If you continue up the trail for a short distance you'll have a nice view of Hallett Peak standing sentinel over the lake.

As you proceed around the lake you'll encounter a fairly steep climb for a short section that includes an outstanding view of Longs Peak off to your left. Continuing higher will provide spectacular views of Hallett Peak as well. This section of trail, between Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, also offers an abundance of wildflowers during the summer.

dream-lakeAt roughly 1.1 miles from the trailhead you'll arrive at the junction for the trail that leads to Lake Haiyaha. To continue on towards Emerald Lake hikers should turn right and walk a very short distance to the foot of Dream Lake.

The views of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain from the east shore of this beautiful subalpine lake are simply outstanding.

It was at Dream Lake several years ago that my wife and I came across a group of about 30 Buddhist monks from Vietnam. They were taking part in a Buddhist monk convention in Estes Park, and decided they wanted to do a little hiking in the mountains - while dressed in traditional clothing. We chatted with a couple of them, and even had our picture taken with one of them. It was probably one of the most unique and memorable hikes that either of us has ever had.

The trail to Emerald Lake continues by skirting around the north shore of Dream Lake, while pressing deeper into the Tyndall Gorge. Once past the lake the trail begins climbing a series of steps. As you gain altitude you'll pass through a very pleasant and impressive looking pine forest. On your left Tyndall Creek gurgles down the gorge, while the jagged spires of Flattop Mountain can be seen almost directly in front of you.

emerald lake

flattop mountain

At roughly 1.8 miles and an elevation of 10,110 feet, hikers will reach Emerald Lake, a true jewel in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. 12,713-foot Hallett Peak will be the dominating feature almost directly in front of you. Off towards the right will be the jagged spires of 12,324-foot Flattop Mountain. Across the subalpine lake you'll hear the sound of a waterfall rushing down the gorge between the two mountains, supplied by meltwater from the Tyndall Glacier.