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Rocky Mountain National Park: Emerald Lake

Tour two mountain lakes en route to Emerald Lake, a picturesque tarn with stunning views of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain, on this popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trip Tools

Picture-perfect mountain lakes, rocky peaks, and quaking aspen are scattered throughout this popular, 3.7-mile out-and-back in Rocky Mountain National Park. Accessible in any season, this trail begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead, one of the busiest areas in the park. The trail travels across moderately flat terrain, with a 660 foot elevation gain.

From the Bear Lake parking lot, cross a wooden bridge, then turn left at the first trail junction. At the next Y-junction, stay right and follow the sign for Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. The trail is paved for the first half-mile to Nymph Lake, the smallest of the three lakes. Catch a glimpse of Chaos Canyon and Otis Peak before walking through dense pines to Dream Lake, a finger-shaped lake bordered by craggy peaks.

From here, the route leads back into the forest for a rolling stretch of trail that drops onto the shores of Emerald Lake, a picturesque tarn at the foot of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain. Stay for lunch, then reverse your route to return to Bear Lake Trailhead.

INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations accepted ($20 administrative fee for permits during peak season).

CONTACT Rocky Mountain National Park, (970) 586-1206;

-Mapped by Ben Fullerton

To Trailhead

From the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, stay on US 36 for 1.6 miles and take a left onto Bear Lake Road. After 4.8 miles, turn right into the parking across the road from the Glacier Basin Campground. Buses take hikers to the Bear Lake Trailhead.

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