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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
- Distance: 6.0
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 40.30981, -105.654276
Catch a quick glimpse of Otis Peak to the southwest.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 40.309219, -105.661279
The trail winds west away from the lake.
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.
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.
Location: 40.309726, -105.66667
Location: 40.312012, -105.645754
Location: 40.309867, -105.650923
First open view of Hallet Peak through the trees.
View up Chaos Canyon
Location: 40.31038, -105.652688
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
Location: 40.309945, -105.6568
Location: 40.309957, -105.656845
Location: 40.309977, -105.657028