At least 1.5 million people hike the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park each year. The majority of these people visit in summer, but winter can get crowded, too, especialy at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
Despite the crowds, we enjoy strapping on snowshoes or cross country skis and tromping along the Emerald Lakes trail, especially when friends and family are in town. In just 3.5 mellow miles round-trip, you can explore Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes and a few waterfalls while enjoying stunning views of Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain and Tyndall Glacier. That’s some impressive terrain that is easy to reach. Of course, if you want a bigger excursion, backcountry skiers and alpine climbers start their adventures here, too. Follow along with our coordinates at ViewRanger each month!
Bear Lake Trailhead
No matter the season, get an early start to avoid the crowds. From the Bear Lake Trailhead at 9,475 feet, find the trail on the east side of the parking lot. Cross a wooden bridge, then follow signs and bear left (south) at the first trail junction. Heading right will take you on a .6 mile loop around Bear Lake, which is an excellent choice if you’d like to extend your day on the way back
Stay on Track
After a quarter-mile, bear right at the Y-junction and continue the steady climb toward Nymph Lake. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of Longs Peak (14,259 feet) through the trees. The trail on the left leads toward Glacier Gorge and Alberta Falls, an outstanding side-trip if you have some energy to burn.
After a half-mile, the trail skirts the edge of little Nymph Lake, a quiet, frozen body of water surrounded by towering peaks. Revel in views of Longs Peak to the left and Hallett Peak as you climb steeply around the lake.
Enjoy the View
As the trail bends to the right, soak in breathtaking views of Chaos Canyon, Glacier Gorge and Tyndall Gorge, a deep chasm that runs from the south side of Hallett Peak. Look back east (the direction you came) to spy Nymph Lake below.
Approximately 1.1 miles from the trailhead, the route splits and the trail to Lake Haiyaha comes in on the left. Consider adding a jaunt to Lake Haiyaha if you have time on your return, but for now, stay right at the junction to reach Dream Lake. The trail follows the northern edge of the water, but in winter you can usually walk out along the frozen edges of the lake itself.
From here, the trail snakes west .8 miles away from the lake and ascends the forested valley—getting steep at times—toward Emerald Lake. Views, creeks, waterfalls and unique geologic features, like large slabs of smoothed bedrock, abound on this picturesque route.
A Hidden Gem
You’ve reached your destination. Alpine Emerald Lake sits at approximately 10,100 feet. Here, the forest fades and rocky peaks surround the frozen shores. Enjoy lunch or cruise across the lake and play in the snowfields below Tyndall Glacier. Keep an eye out on the slopes above, they are popular with backcountry skiers. Follow the same route back to the car or extend your day with one of many side-hike options.