Since we spent the whole summer in Estes Park last year, we were able to repeat some of our favorite hikes, including this one, more than once. I just went back and reviewed my post from last summer when we did this hike for the first time on June 4th. There was much less snow last year, despite it being almost a month earlier. You can see that post here if you’d like to compare. 🙂
In the post last year, I commented that it would be an interesting change of light to hike the trio of lakes in the afternoon, rather than the morning, and this year, we did just that. Due to the weather being much colder and wetter, we have not hiked as much this summer so far. Thus we were incented to take advantage of a nice afternoon this past Monday, so after our shift at the campground, we headed to the Bear Lake trailhead. There is a huge selection of hikes to choose from once at Bear Lake, from a leisurely ~1-mile stroll around Bear Lake to mountain summits that require hiking many miles and thousands of feet in elevation gain. Since it was late in the day, we were able to secure a parking space at the trailhead and begin our hike right away. That is not to say that it wasn’t crowded, it just wasn’t as crowded as it would be early in the morning.
This hike starts out with a gradual ascent and rewards the hiker with the beautiful Nymph Lake just a half mile from the trailhead. This lake is always the most crowded, due to its proximity to Bear Lake, but with patience, a clear shot can be obtained.
About this point, we met a ranger (in a short-sleeved shirt) coming down from Dream Lake. He reported that it was snowy up there, as well as, there were occasional snow showers. No matter, we were prepared!
Above Nymph Lake, the trail ascends through amazing rock formations, and one particular outcropping provides an incredible viewpoint of Nymph, below, and the majestic valley that contains Sky Pond.
Just over a mile into the hike, you reach the truly dreamy Dream Lake. 😉 This is a long lake, and it is absolutely worth your time to observe it from several vantage points since the trail follows the length of the North shore of the lake toward the climb to Emerald Lake.
The trail begins to ascend more steeply beyond Dream Lake, and several areas have waterfalls, significant snow banks, and small ponds to admire as you hike.
The last portion of the 1.8-mile hike to Emerald Lake is relatively steep, but you are rewarded with a true gem of a lake at the top of the trail!
I mentioned that the trail was crowded for a late afternoon, but as we ascended, the crowds thinned some, as everyone was not willing or able to negotiate the very snowy portions of the trail. We enjoyed a nice rest atop the rock formations surrounding Emerald, and of course, a few more photos!
We eventually dragged ourselves away from Emerald Lake. It is truly a magical place, and especially so when it is ice covered. The hike is a little more difficult due to the snow-packed areas on the trail, but it is so worth it, IMHO!
The hike down from Emerald to Dream holds many beautiful scenes that were perfectly lit on this early evening.
And then you reach the western end of Dream Lake, which is perfectly positioned for photos with the setting sun.
And I have been remiss in not including a photo of the snow built up on the trail. This particular photo is of an area just below Dream Lake. It consists of two meadow-like areas, straddling a stream with a simple log bridge.
The hike down to Nymph Lake, and beyond to the trailhead, was peaceful and uneventful. We emerged from the tree cover at Bear Lake to this stunning view in the parking lot! ❤
Thanks for joining us on this revisit to our favorite triad of lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Please join us again soon!