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Emerald Lake via Bear Lake Trailhead

Larimer County, Colorado

based on 16 reviews



3.15 miles

Elevation Gain

650 ft

Route Type



Added by Whitney James

Emerald Lake is easy to access from the Bear Lake Trailhead. If you get there early in the morning, parking is free. This is a great spot for sunrise views of surrounding peaks.

Anyone who has been to Rocky Mountain National Park, or any national park for that matter, knows they get CROWDED. One of the best ways to beat the crowds are to arrive before the sun comes up (or stay after it goes down). That's how we opted to do Emerald Lake in RMNP.

After spending the night near Chasm Lake below Longs Peak, we entered the park via Estes and parked at the entirely empty lot for Bear Creek. This is a very popular snowshoe route in winter and short hike in every other season, and arguably one of the most scenic areas of the entire park.

The hike is only 3.5 miles roundtrip, with 650 feet elevation gain. You'll top out at 10,110, and with this altitude comes high winds at almost any time of year. The trail passes Bear and Dream Lakes, offers stunning views of Longs Peak to the South (if it's a clear day), and can be linked together with several other trails, like the one leading off to Haiyaha Lake. Tyndall Creek runs beautifully next to the trail to Emerald, and is worth some photos in and of itself. Once you reach Emerald, 12,713-foot Hallett Peak commands your attention. If you're as lucky as we were, you'll be the only ones there.

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Awesome location and really cool views. Combine this with other lake hikes for an incredible day hike.

My wife and I parked at the Bear Lake trailhead an hour and a half before sunrise on a Friday morning, and the lot was already about 20% full. We were the first up to Dream Lake, however, and set up camera equipment and stayed there til an hour after sunrise. We continued on to Emerald Lake afterwards and spent a couple hours up there enjoying the views and documenting our trip. Worth the hike, even with the crowds!

This trail and the lakes included on it are what people most often think of when they think of RMNP. Make sure to get to the parking lot at Bear Lake at dawn or risk not finding a space. Trail starts off easy and then becomes more moderate until you reach the end.

I don't know what it is about this hike that keeps me coming back, but it is my all time favorite. It's definitely crowded, so getting up there for sunrise is worth it to have some solitude and time to set up your hammocks before the crowds get there.

A great morning hike. Get out and enjoy the morning air while avoiding a lot of the crowds that take this popular trek in the afternoon

This is a perfect hike, passing Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. Dream Lake was my favorite but Emerald Lake has a grander view of the rocks and peak. You can scramble up some boulders to the left of the lake and get an amazing view of the hike you just accomplished. It's a great place to relax and eat some lunch. My son and I hung out by the water, skipped rocks and enjoyed the crisp air and beautiful views. The hike is fairly easy, my two year old son was able to do most of it on his own.

I did this hike in late January when the snow was deep and the lakes completely frozen (looked like meadows not lakes), it was excellent! We wore microspikes on our shoes and enjoyed sliding around a little on the downhill bits. Many people were there in snowshoes or even skis. In the winter there are several trail options people have taken, all lead to Emerald Lake. We arrived middday so the morning rush people had left and we got great parking and plenty of solitude on the trail.

This was my favorite hike in Rocky Mountain National park and in my opinion, one of the best hikes in Colorado. I completed the hike in August and the weather was perfect. Although, there can be a lot of people hiking the trail starting earlier in the day gives you a better chance to beat the crowds. The lake honestly looked like it was out of a fairytale. My best advice is to arrive, take a few pictures, lay in the sun, smell the pines all around you, and enjoy being there in that very moment.

This is a really scenic area. Still definitely a popular spot, but the further away you get from bear lake, the smaller the crowds will be.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


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Nymph Lake via Bear Lake Trailhead

Winter Hike Flattop Mountain

Catch a Sunrise at Dream Lake

Ptarmigan Lake via Bear Lake Trailhead