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!

Nymph Lake at sunset

Things you need to know before you go

Where is the trail located?

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

Driftwood larger than Tucker

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

Waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Waterfall beside the trail

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.

Getting ready to start our hike from Bear Lake Parking lot

Beware though, the shuttles stop running at 7:30pm 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!

Trail alongside Nymph Lake

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.

Emerald Lake

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.

Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

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

Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

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!

Hiking near Dream Lake

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.

Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Standing in front of Nymph Lake

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.

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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

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

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

Kissing in front of Dream Lake

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.

Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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    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

    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.

    Taking in the beauty of Emerald Lake

    Story time!

    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!

    Wildlife we encountered on our hike

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

    A fearless chipmunk

    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!

    Elk eating yards away from us on the trail

    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.

    If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out on our Instagram or you can email me.

    Guidance signs along the trail

    We hope you’ve enjoyed our pictures and that we have inspired you to hike to Emerald Lake as well!

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

      Standing in front of Nymph Lake

      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

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        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.

          • Thank you! I shoot all my pictures with my iPhone 11 Pro Max.

            This park is definitely recommended to visit in the summer. In the other months it is often snowed in and most parts of the park are impossible to get to. The summer temps we have found to be perfect, not too hot and not too cold. There is still some snow in small patches but nothing major right now

          • It’s a really great National Park, you are going to love it! 😊 Be sure to check back Thursday, I’m posting about our favorite hike there!


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