Hike to Emerald Lake

Colorado Bear Lake Trailhead

  • Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    3.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    650 Feet


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.

Pack List

  • Comfortable hiking boots
  • Wind-proof jacket with insulating layers below
  • Camera gear and tri-pod for low light shooting
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Overall rating: 

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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.

about 2 months ago
about 2 months ago

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

3 months ago
3 months ago

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.

4 months ago
4 months ago

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.

8 months ago
8 months ago

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.

8 months ago
8 months ago

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.

9 months ago
9 months ago

Just did this hike a few days ago! Absolutely beautiful to do in the Winter. Passing through Nymph, Dream and Emerald lakes while they're frozen is unreal. Great advice on getting there early or staying late, the crowds definitely thin out around then. Also some great photo ops throughout the hike!

9 months ago
9 months ago

The furthest lake in the stretch of small lakes and also the highest, Emerald was absolutely with the hike. It was further apart from the other lakes and obviously less traveled. You can make it without snow shoes but I wouldn't recommend it as it gets nearly thigh deep in some areas without. When you get to the lake, you can sit along the shore and gaze off at the deep basin of snow ahead. This lake is also thick enough to walk across and while we were there, skiers were climbing up the far hills and skiing down. I probably wouldn't recommend it, however, as one of the couples we were sitting with said that they had witnessed an avalanche at that location before.

9 months ago
9 months ago

Such a great hike year round, passing through Dream Lake and continuing to head past there and getting to emerald lake is worth it. I will say, if its windy at Dream Lake though, the gusts at Emerald Lake will likely be double that. So be careful in the Winter.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

I did this hike on snowshoes in January and it was so amazing. It was my first time snowshoeing so it took me longer than usual, but the lakes were amazing, all frozen over, it was a winter wonderland. There were some people on snowshoes, lots with yaktrax. So for the winter I definitely recommend some sort of traction on your shoes. And lots of snacks, we stopped often to refuel.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

One of the best bang-for-your-buck hikes in RMNP.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

This is one of my favorite short hikes in RMNP, just because you get the trail contains make vantage points of various beautiful lakes such as Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. Make sure you try to visit it in off season to avoid the crowds, as the trails can get pretty congested and less places to get a clean shot of the lakes.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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