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.
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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.

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 nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations accepted ($20 administrative fee for permits during peak season). nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/backcntry_guide.htm

CONTACT Rocky Mountain National Park, (970) 586-1206; nps.gov/romo

-Mapped by Ben Fullerton

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 6.0

Waypoints

EML001

Location: 40.312004, -105.645824

The trailhead is on the east side of the Bear Lake parking lot (public restrooms are available here). Cross a wooden bridge, then bear left at the first trail junction.

EML002

Location: 40.311595, -105.646205

Bear right at the Y-junction and continue toward Nymph Lake. The trail on the left leads toward Glacier Gorge and Alberta Falls.

EML003

Location: 40.309867, -105.650963

The trail opens up as it skirts the edge of Nymph Lake and offers the first glimpse of views to come.

EML004

Location: 40.31037, -105.652731

As the trail bends to the right, bear left to views overlooking Chaos Canyon, which runs parallel to Tyndall Gorge on the south side of Hallet Peak. Look east to see Nymph Lake below.

EML005

Location: 40.30981, -105.654276

Catch a quick glimpse of Otis Peak to the southwest.

EML006

Location: 40.309869, -105.655775

A breathtaking view of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain has been eluding you until now. Take a deep breathe and step out of the trees.

EML007

Location: 40.309789, -105.65609

Stay right at the Y-junction; the trail to Lake Haiyaha enters on the left. Dream Lake is just ahead.

EML008

Location: 40.309961, -105.656883

The trail traces the north side of Dream Lake (the most photographed lake in the park that's inaccessible by car). In the summer, hike in early to watch the sunrise. During winter months, hikers can usually walk along the frozen edges of the lake.

EML009

Location: 40.309219, -105.661279

The trail winds west away from the lake.

EML010

Location: 40.309718, -105.666751

The trail opens up at the final clearing. There are plenty of areas to sit, rest, and have lunch. In the winter, you can continue across the lake to explore and play in the snowfields below the Tyndall Glacier.

EML011

Location: 40.309787, -105.669723

Relax along the banks of Emerald Lake. The slopes above Emerald Lake double as backcountry ski runs in winter and spring. Follow the same route back to the parking lot.

Emerald Lake

Location: 40.309726, -105.66667

Trail Sign

Location: 40.312012, -105.645754

Hallet Peak

Location: 40.309867, -105.650923

First open view of Hallet Peak through the trees.

View up Chaos Canyon

Location: 40.31038, -105.652688

Nymph Lake

Location: 40.310378, -105.652653

Chaos Canyon and Otis Peak

Location: 40.30981, -105.654225

Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain

Location: 40.309877, -105.655735

Dream Lake

Location: 40.309945, -105.6568

Dream Lake

Location: 40.309957, -105.656845

Hallet Peak

Location: 40.309977, -105.657028