January 17, 2020 2 min read

Trail Reviews: Emerald Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park

Distance: 3.1 miles

Elevation: 708ft

Despite my decision to embark on this adventure on a day with poor weather conditions, snow and low visibility, the snow only added to the magical atmosphere of the hike from the Bear lake trailhead to Emerald lake. Emerald lake may be the final destination, but there are two other lakes to be admired along the way: Nymph lake and Dream lake. At the beginning of the trailhead, you can choose to go right and explore nearby Bear lake, or venture left and begin your trek to Emerald lake.

The trail leading to Nymph lake is easily done with micro spikes or no traction devices at all. As you wind up and through the trees keep your eyes open for woodpeckers and small signs of wildlife; throughout all my time spent in the forests, the only other sign of life I encountered other than another human being was a single woodpecker hidden among the trees along this trail. Soon you will come upon Nymph lake, the smallest of the three lakes, but no less breathtaking. Lucky for hikers, all three lakes along the trail are considered safe to walk across in the early month of January, but for how long I am not sure.

Shortly after you venture across Nymph lake and continue on to Dream lake, the trail becomes slightly less compact. At this point, snowshoes would be helpful, but are not completely necessary. The trail continues to wind up through the trees and around the mountains. At some points the trail hugs the very edge of the mountain with a fairly steep drop off of snow into the trees on the opposing side; be strategic with where you step at these points along the trail. After roughly 1 mile you will find yourself at Dream lake. This lake is far larger than Nymph lake and the ice is more exposed below a thin (if at all present) layer of snow. At this point you need to be wearing some type of traction device to avoid slipping and falling on the ice. I was wearing Yaktrax and had a one or two very minor slips on the ice.


guide to emerald lake


Walking across Dream lake is quite intimidating compared to Nymph because its far more expansive. It is quite the experience to see the very layer of ice that lies below the snow, separating you from the icy water further below. Almost immediately after crossing Dream lake, it became apparent the remainder of the trail to Emerald lake would require snowshoes. The snow is far less compact than the trail leading up to it. After attempting to traverse through the powdery snow, I decided to turn back. The only tracks to be seen were that of snowshoes and I didn’t want to ruin my experience thus far with my stubbornness.

If you should be snowshoeing, then trek on to Emerald lake and tell us how it looks!

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