Colorado, National Parks, US Roadtrips

Hiking to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall is a dream.  With abundant sunshine, moderate temps and bright yellow aspens, I couldn’t resist booking trips there back to back years.  If you manage to hit the fall colors just right, it appears as if a paintbrush of orange, reds and yellows had covered the mountainsides.  Although Rocky Mountain National Park covers 415 square miles of beautiful landscapes, today I am going to cover the hike from Bear Lake Trail head hike to Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes.  Providing magnificent views of Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, and Glacier Gorge, this hike cannot be missed.

Getting to Bear Lake Trail head in Rock Mountain National Park

On both trips to Colorado, we stayed in nearby Boulder, a lively college town that is home to University of Colorado.  It is about an hour drive from Boulder to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance.  From there we followed Bear Lake Road toward the Bear Lake trail head.  Due to the size of the crowds, there are multiple areas to park and ride.  The shuttle was very convenient and drops off and picks up at a number of trail heads in the area.  We road the shuttle to the Bear Lake.

Estes Park, Colorado

In total, the hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes is 3.6 miles out and back with a 780 foot elevation gain.  The hike is pretty popular, well marked, and scenic the entire distance.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake is the first stop just a short distance from the trail head.  There is a well maintained and easy trail that loops around the lake and provides many photo opportunities.  Be sure to take this easy loop before setting off on the rest of the hike.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Nymph Lake

From Bear Lake, the trail climbs 230 feet over about a half mile to arrive at Nymph Lake.  Nymph is charming, small lake filled with pond lilies and provides views of Hallet and Longs Peaks from its north shore.

Nymph Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Dream Lake

From Nymph, we climbed another 200 ft across 0.6 miles to arrive at Dream Lake.  Along the way, there are gorgeous views we had to stop and take in.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Once we arrived, we were treated with stunning views of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain bordering the lake.  I will let the pictures do the talking here.

Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is another 0.7 miles and roughly 200 feet of elevation gain beyond Dream Lake.  Once again, we were rewarded with excellent views of creeks running through wildflowers in the shadow of mountain peaks along the length of this hike.

Although Dream Lake was stunning, the scale of the peaks rising beyond Emerald Lake took my breath away.  Although very windy and cold on my first visit with snow visible on the mountain peaks, the second trip was much warmer and more serene.  Sitting at 10,100 feet, Emerald Lake is worth the effort to see.  We brought a lunch to sit and enjoy while basking in the sun and these views.

Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Alberta Falls

Upon returning to the Bear Lake trail head, we decided to take the 0.8 mile trail to Alberta Falls.  This trail meandered through some brilliant yellow aspen canopies.  Upon arriving at Albert Falls, we climbed the rocks for an excellent lookout back over the mountain range sprinkled with fall color.

View from Alberta Falls, Colorado

After a great day of hiking, on the way out of the park, we stumbled upon a large gathering of elk.

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

We could not have asked for better weather or a better hike to enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park.  Although we have only scratched the surface of what this National Park has to offer, this hike alone was well worth the visit!

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RMNP Hiking, Colorado


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  • What a gorgeous part of the world! Your photographs are stunning! 🙂 #mondayescapes

  • I can’t get over the photos – it looks just incredible here! What a beautiful place to hike through #MondayEscapes

  • Flip flops or Wellies blog

    Wow it looks stunning. I’ve travelled in South America and it reminds me of the scenery there. So much to see and most definitely on the wish list #MondayEscapes

  • Girl, this looks amazing! I feel like I have an ever expanding US bucket list, and this just got added! I’m loving the blue skies and beautiful views in your photos. Also, the fall colors on your walk to Alberta Falls look SPECTACULAR! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Wow, this looks simply stunning! Those views just look simply amazing. Will definitely have to put this on may bucket list!

  • I absolutely love this national park. It’s been a couple years since I’ve been and looking at your photos make me want to revisit!

  • Wowza!

    I have been really excited about exploring the rockies (once we buy a car) but these photos make me EVEN MORE keen to get out and visit them! Was this in October, or does the fall start a little earlier in the Rockies?

    p.s. did you see any bears? I am still a little nervous about meeting my first bear!

    • This was the very first week of October. Every year it varies a bit, so we had some luck! No bear sightings 🙂

  • Florence Dawn Castillon Siblos

    Wow! The place is gorgeous. Your photos just made me want to visit there. I will definitely add this on my bucket list.

  • TwoDayTravels

    What a gorgeous hike, especially with the autumn colors! Especially appreciate the tip about the parking shuttle, good to know!

  • Céline CLudik

    Love hearing about new park like this ! I’m a truly nature lover so I would definitively love to visit Rocky Mountain NP ! I would like to go on one of those hikes where you can get up close to lakes and falls. Alberta Falls look really amazing !

  • Meaghan Carey

    Looks like a wonderful day hiking! Great way to work up an appetite before settling into that picturesque spot for lunch. The fall colours were beautiful, great time of year to explore a NP!

  • Great article! You pictures are wonderful. I can imagine what all of the colors looked like in person. Are you allowed to swim in the waters when it’s warmer weather?

  • Lisa

    omg those pictures are just so so so breathtaking!!! Visiting the Rocky Mountains has long been on my list – i hope I’ll be able go there soon. Your pictures defenitely made me fall in love a little more. #farawayfiles

  • Michelle Snell

    I love this hike! My brother lives in Denver, so I am able to visit several times a year. One year we went up and Bear Lake was completely frozen over. We were ‘ice skating’ in our boots. LOL! Great post and beautiful pictures!

  • This post is making me so jealous! I really want to visit Colorado, mostly to go to Rocky Mountain National Park. Your photos are stunning! There’s nothing like a beautiful hike in the fresh air to lift your spirits. #farawayfiles

  • Looks very nice!

  • I haven’t been to Rock Mountain NP since I was kid, so I have yet to do any hiking there. But WOW your photos of this hike are stunning! And those fall colors are gorgeous. I really need to get back to Colorado for a proper trip, rather than just passing through. #FarawayFiles

  • Clare Thomson

    You have some really beautiful natural landscapes in the United States! Another stunner from you for #FarawayFiles. I love the reflections on the surface of the lakes. Hiking around here sounds amazing.

  • My goodness I love your photos! I just love the landscape – this is the reason I want to go to the Rocky Mountain NP – such a gorgeous place! I really hope to visit one day. I’m not a huge hiker but I would become one just to explore this beautiful place!

  • Breathtaking scenery! Just wow! I keep scrolling and seeing more beautiful landscapes.

  • What a beautiful hike! I love that fall color. Would love to hike in the RMNP someday. 🙂 #MondayEscapes

  • What a simply stunning hike to great to hear that you still have lots of scope for return visits and seeing yet undiscovered ground. Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

  • Living in Denmark where there are NO mountains, I crave epic scenery like this. This is an absolutely stunning place and you have captured it beautifully. Thank you for sharing with #FarawayFiles. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

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  • This is a fantastic hike. It is the what I would chose to do in the park since I love lakes surrounded by mountains. I still have not visited Colorado but I know I have to go one day (at least to Denver and the Rockies). #FarawayFiles