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
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 🙂
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.
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.
Need help planning a trip to RMNP? You can read my post on my two days in the park and use these resources below:
- Fodor’s The Complete Guide to National Parks of the West
- Moon’s Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide
Want to see and read more about Rocky Mountain National Park? Check out these posts below:
- 18 Photos That Will Inspire You to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park
- Two Days in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hope you enjoyed this post! What’s your favorite hike in RMNP? Let me know in the comments below!