Emerald Lake: Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

You know those hikes where every time you come around a corner to a new view, all you can say is “WOW!”? That’s how hiking to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park was for us!

Things you need to know about hiking to Emerald Lake before you go

Where is the trail located?

Emerald Lake hiking trail is inside Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Estes Park, Colorado.

At the time of this article being written, timed entry passes for the park are required from 6 am-5 pm. Be sure and check the RMNP website here for current information about the park before your visit.

Where to park

There is a parking lot right at the trailhead called the Bear Lake parking lot. However, this lot is known to fill up quickly and it can be hard to find an empty parking spot.

We got lucky and were able to snag a parking spot, but if you can’t find one, don’t worry. There is a large parking lot on the way in that offers free parking and shuttles.

Emerald Lake

Beware though, the shuttles stop running at 7:30 pm so if you’re not done hiking by then, you will have to hike back to your car or get a ride down with someone else. We picked up a few hikers on our way down and gave them a ride to their car as they didn’t know this and were stranded!

There’s actually more than one lake on the hike

If you hike to Emerald Lake, you will actually be hiking past 3 lakes. Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. Bear Lake is also near the trailhead and is easy to access on the same hike.

Is it a difficult hike?

Emerald Lake is rated as a moderate hike but we didn’t find it too challenging at all. We saw people of all ages hiking this trail.

It is an out-and-back trail, meaning that you will hike back out following the same trail you took in.

The trail is just over 3 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 708 feet. If this is too long of a trail for you, it can be cut shorter by just hiking to Nymph and/or Dream Lake. Both are gorgeous!

Other things you should know

Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. They are only allowed in the parking lots and the areas you can drive in.

Fishing is allowed as long as you have the proper permit.

First up, Nymph Lake

Ok, now that we’ve got the “need-to-know” details out of the way, we can talk about the actual trail and how amazing each part is!

Nymph Lake is the first lake you will come to on this hike. It is roughly 0.5 miles from the trailhead and is an easy stretch.

When we visited, it was covered in lily pads and was soooo pretty! There are little benches that you can sit on to take a rest and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

We didn’t stick around too long as it was later in the day and we wanted to be sure we had enough daylight to finish the hike.

Next up, Dream Lake

Dream Lake was absolutely stunning! The mountains and pine trees reflected in the water for the most picturesque setting! It looked like something in a dream. See what I did there? πŸ˜‰

Dream Lake is about 1 mile from the trailhead. If you’re looking for a super short hike, I’d recommend at least making it this far on the trail.

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We watched a young couple get engaged right on the edge of the lake and it was super sweet!

If you are not continuing on to Emerald Lake, I would recommend that you at least hike to the far side of Dream Lake before you turn around. The views change from every angle and it’s worth taking the time to see them all.

Last, but not least, Emerald Lake

Finally, the end destination of this amazing hike is Emerald Lake! When the lake came in view I’m pretty sure I exclaimed “Wow!” a little too loudly…oops!

Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

You’re sure to be wowed as well. We both agreed that it was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen in person!

There was a neat tree that had fallen over (obviously a while back) that simply added to the aesthetic.


Want to hear a funny story? Okay! πŸ˜‰

We asked a fellow hiker if he would take a picture for us at Emerald Lake and he kindly agreed. We decided to sit on the log for the picture and we were trying to be somewhat quick and considerate of his time waiting for us.

Sitting on the log in front of Emerald Lake

I climbed on the log first and then had to turn around and face the other direction. Tucker was right beside me and as I was turning I made the comment “Boy, I sure hope we don’t fall!” (It was several feet off the ground and there were lots of rocks beneath us.)

No sooner had I said those words than I started slipping off the log! πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™€οΈ I grabbed Tucker’s leg and just about took him down too haha!

Emerald Lake hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Thankfully I was able to catch myself on a branch and we remained safely on the log. I had a good laugh about it!

The wildlife we encountered on our hike

During our hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, we have seen lots of wildlife.

On this particular hike we saw more elk and chipmunks than anything else. Both were completely fearless!

Fearless bull elk in velvet

I had never been that close to an elk in the wild before and it was really a neat experience. This bull elk quietly ate not seeming to care that we were mere yards away!

Hike Overview

We made the round trip hike in a little over 2 hours. If you don’t want to have to rush, I would recommend leaving yourself 2.5-3 hours to be able to enjoy it better.

Looking out across Rocky Mountain National Park

We HIGHLY recommend this hike! Especially if you only have one day or a short amount of time to spend at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Headed to RMNP? Check out this post from hiking Loch Lake & Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Be sure and check out this post here for a full tour of the 5th wheel RV that we are currently traveling in!

Much Love, Janae xoxo
Photo of author
Janae, alongside her husband, Tucker, has turned the world into her playground. Having lived and traveled in an RV for over four years, she has trekked through 22 US national parks, ventured across 28 states, and explored the natural beauty of 12 countries. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been when she witnessed Iceland's shimmering Northern Lights, explored the rugged terrains of Southern Utah, and traveled across Ireland for almost two months. A lover of adventure and couple travel, Janae's writings have been featured in notable travel websites and magazines, and she has collected an online community of over 30,000 passionate fellow travelers.

22 thoughts on “Emerald Lake: Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park”

  1. I love hiking the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I have not done this hike yet but am inspired by all your beautiful photos! Check out Cinnamon’s Bakery in nearby Estes Park when you are there, great carb load either before or after your hike!

  2. I love the photos. What camera/phone do you use?

    We have a few trails out in NY but would love to hike in different areas. Will definitely come down here when I have more time. What season would you say is the best time to visit this park? I prefer fall and spring hikes but wouldn’t want to sacrifice the scenery or terrain.

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