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Hiking to the Beautiful Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, hiking to Emerald Lake is considered a must-do!

This trail steadily climbs to not one, but THREE gorgeous lakes in just 1.8 miles.

This post will tell you all about the trail and give you some tips for hiking to the beautiful Emerald Lake!

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Emerald Lake Hike

Trail Stats

  • Distance: 3.6 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 600′
  • Hiking Time: 2+ hours

In my opinion, this trail is on the easy side of moderate as far as difficulty goes. It’s a steady but tolerable climb.

There are plenty of spots to take a rest break, take in the scenery, and take some photos (why this trail took more than 2 hours for me, ha!).

It felt more difficult at the time because I was sore from hiking to Sky Pond the day before, and the elevation had me huffing and puffing. But looking back on it, it wasn’t really that difficult.

trees with mountains in background
View of the Rocky Mountains from the Emerald Lake Trail.

Getting to the Trailhead

The Emerald Lake trail is located at the Bear Lake Trailhead.

To get to the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot, enter via the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on Highway 36. In 0.2 miles from the entrance station, turn left onto Bear Lake Road. Follow Bear Lake Road for 9.4 miles until you dead end into the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot.

lily pad covered lake in mountains
Nymph Lake.

Nymph Lake

The trail to Emerald Lake starts off paved, then quickly turns into a dirt trail just before you reach Nymph Lake, about 0.5 miles into the trail.

Nymph Lake is the first of three lakes you will encounter, and it is typically covered in lily pads.

This lake may not seem like the most impressive lake, but keep on hiking! I promise it’s worth it!

lily pad covered lake in mountains
Nymph Lake

Related: Hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park


As you continue your hike, you start to get a glimpse of the beauty that lies ahead. Below is one of my FAVORITE pictures from my trip to RMNP.

creek in rocky mountains with trees
View from the trail to Emerald Lake.

Dream Lake

The second lake on this trail is Dream Lake, one of the most photographed places in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This will likely be the most crowded area on the trail. But it’s easy to ignore the people around you when you are facing such a breathtaking view.

lake and rocky mountains
Dream Lake.

Tip: This trail is very popular and can become quite crowded, especially at Dream Lake. Start early in the day so you can enjoy the peacefulness of this lake with fewer crowds!

lake in mountains
Dream Lake is a place to stop and take in the beautiful scenery on the trail.

The trail gets steeper as you continue your trek to Emerald Lake and even has some stairs.

Between Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, there’s a little stream with several small waterfalls to the left of the trail. Of course, I had to stop here and practice some waterfall photography 🙂

stream through grass
The Tyndall Gorge provides a stream running along the trail to Emerald Lake.

Emerald Lake

About 0.7 miles after Dream Lake, you finally reach Emerald Lake!

Nestled 10,000 feet high in the mountains, Emerald Lake boasts beautiful, clear waters and phenomenal views of Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak.

lake rocky mountains
The beautiful, clear waters of Emerald Lake. And yes, there are still some snow patches, even in June when this picture was taken!
lake in rocky mountains
Emerald Lake

Tips for Hiking to Emerald Lake

  • This hike pairs nicely with viewing sunrise at Bear Lake. Bear Lake is BEAUTIFUL at sunrise and the trail to Emerald Lake starts at the same trailhead!
  • If you want a parking spot, get to the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot EARLY! Like before the sun comes up early. I cannot stress this enough. The lot fills up quickly!
  • You can technically get by with hiking this trail in tennis shoes, but I always recommend a good pair of hiking boots (current fave here). Sometimes tennis shoes just don’t give you the grip you need in certain situations.
  • The trail is a steady climb, which means coming back is all downhill. If you have knee trouble, you may want to bring trekking poles. Although you will probably be fine, it never hurts to have some handy when you need them! I love my Trekology Trekking Poles. They fold up nicely and fit perfectly on the sides of my backpack.
rocks in stream
One of my favorite pics I snapped along this trail.

RMNP Resources

Need help planning a trip to RMNP? You can read my post on my two days in the park and use these resources below:

Hope you enjoyed this post! What’s your favorite hike in RMNP? Let me know in the comments below!

melissa of dogwoods & driftwood travel blog

Hiking to Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

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