Explore the raw splendor of Colorado’s wilderness as we embark on the wonderful experience of hiking to Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake, located in the heart of the Yoho National Park, entices visitors with its crystal-clear waters and breathtaking views. Consider a trail that leads through towering forests, past tranquil lakes, and up to a hidden gem of emerald hues.

Join us as we discover the beauties of this gorgeous region, with each step revealing a new natural beauty. Lace up your boots, breathe in the fresh mountain air, and prepare for an incredible journey across Colorado’s unspoiled environment.

Hike toDream Lake and Emerald Lake
TrailNymph Lake Trail > Emerald Lake Trail
TrailheadBear Lake Trailhead
Miles3.6 miles out and back
Time2 hrs
Date I Went7/17/23
Elevation10,154 ft
Elevation Gain665 ft
Hike PermitNo
Park PermitYes – I recommend getting an annual National Parks Pass
Park Reservationscategory
LocationRocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Trail Overview

Trail OverviewInformation
Distance and Elevation Gain3.5 miles (5.6 km) roundtrip, 650 feet (198 m) elevation gain
Difficulty LevelModerate, suitable for hikers with some experience and good fitness
Scenery and HighlightsSeries of stunning lakes, panoramic views of surrounding mountains, opportunities to spot wildlife
Trail ConditionsGenerally open from late spring to early fall, check conditions before setting out
Trailhead and ParkingLocated in the Bear Lake area of Rocky Mountain National Park, parking can be challenging during peak hours

Best Time to Visit Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake

The best time to visit Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park depends on personal preferences regarding weather conditions and crowd levels. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons:

  1. Summer (June to September): This is the most popular time to visit Emerald Lake due to the mild weather and clear trails. However, it’s also the busiest season, and parking can be challenging.
  2. Early Fall (September to October): The fall season offers a mix of comfortable temperatures and fewer crowds compared to the peak summer months. It’s a good time to visit if you want to avoid the summer rush.
  3. Winter (December to March): If you’re willing to deal with snow and potential trail closures, winter can be a magical time to visit Emerald Lake. You can snowshoe to the lake, and it’s less crowded than in the summer months. However, be prepared with layers, gear, and avalanche safety knowledge.
  4. May and October: These shoulder seasons can be a good compromise between weather and crowd levels. The weather is generally mild, and there are fewer visitors compared to the peak summer months. However, trail conditions can be variable, and some sections might still have snow.

In summary, the best time to visit Emerald Lake depends on your priorities regarding weather, crowd levels, and the type of experience you’re looking for.

What to Pack Before Hiking

  1. Layers of Clothing: Weather in the Rockies can be unpredictable. Pack layers, including a lightweight jacket, fleece, or sweater, and a waterproof shell.
  2. Sturdy Hiking Boots: Ensure comfortable footwear with good ankle support for navigating rocky terrain.
  3. Hydration System: Carry plenty of water, as high-altitude hikes can lead to dehydration. Consider a hydration reservoir or water bottles.
  4. Snacks and Meals: Pack energy-boosting snacks like trail mix, granola bars, and fruit. For longer hikes, bring a packed lunch.
  5. Sun Protection: Don’t forget sunglasses, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield yourself from the strong mountain sun.
  6. Navigation Tools: Bring a map, compass, or GPS device to navigate the trails, especially if you plan to explore beyond the main routes.
  7. First Aid Kit: Include essentials like bandages, blister treatment, pain relievers, and any personal medications.
  8. Emergency Essentials: Pack a whistle, flashlight, or headlamp, and a multi-tool for unexpected situations.
  9. Camera or Smartphone: Capture the breathtaking scenery along the hike to Emerald Lake. Don’t forget about extra batteries or a portable charger.
  10. Trash Bags: Practice Leave No Trace principles by carrying out all trash, including food wrappers and tissues.

By packing these essentials, you’ll be prepared for a safe and enjoyable adventure to Emerald Lake in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

Highlights of the Hike


The hike to Emerald Lake is a journey through some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most iconic landscapes. Along the trail, hikers will encounter several highlights, including:

  • Nymph Lake: The trail to Emerald Lake passes by the picturesque Nymph Lake, where vibrant lily pads adorn the crystal-clear waters, offering stunning photo opportunities.
  • Dream Lake: Continuing on the trail, hikers will reach Dream Lake, a serene alpine lake surrounded by towering peaks and lush forests. Pause to admire the reflection of Hallett Peak in the tranquil waters.
  • Emerald Lake: The culmination of the hike, Emerald Lake, captivates visitors with its stunning emerald-green waters and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Relax on the shores of the lake and soak in the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Safety Tips

Hiking in the Rocky Mountains requires careful preparation and attention to safety. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, hikers should:

  • stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
  • Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for sun protection.
  • Check the weather forecast before hiking and dress in layers.
  • Watch your step on rocky and uneven terrain.
  • Be aware of altitude sickness symptoms and descend if necessary.
  • Stick to designated trails to avoid getting lost or damaging the environment.
  • Keep a safe distance from wildlife and never approach or feed them.
  • Carry essential emergency supplies and let someone know your hiking plans.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out all trash.

Wildlife Spotting

Wildlife Spotting
Wildlife Spotting

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, offering hikers the opportunity to encounter native species in their natural habitat. Keep an eye out for:

  1. Elk: Keep an eye out for majestic elk grazing in the meadows or wandering through the forested areas along the trail.
  2. Moose: If you’re lucky, you might spot a moose near the water sources along the trail, such as Nymph Lake or along the banks of the streams.
  3. Marmots: Look for these curious creatures sunbathing on rocks or scurrying across the trail, especially in rocky terrain.
  4. Deer: White-tailed deer and mule deer are commonly spotted in the early mornings or evenings, so keep your camera ready for a glimpse.
  5. Birds: From colorful songbirds to majestic birds of prey like hawks and eagles, the area is teeming with avian life. Keep your eyes and ears open for their calls and sightings.
  6. Chipmunks and Squirrels: These small mammals are abundant along the trail and are often seen darting across the path or foraging for food.
  7. Black Bears: While sightings are less common, it’s essential to be bear-aware and carry bear spray, especially in areas with dense vegetation or near water sources where bears may be foraging.
  8. Coyotes: These elusive canines are occasionally spotted in the early mornings or evenings, so stay vigilant and keep your distance if you encounter one.
  9. Pikas: Listen for the distinctive high-pitched chirps of pikas as you hike through rocky terrain, as these small, rabbit-like mammals are often found in boulder fields and rocky slopes.

Camping Options at Emerald Lake

If you want to experience the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park, camping is a fantastic option. Moraine Park Campground and Glacier Basin Campground are popular alternatives in the park, and they are conveniently located near the start of the Dream Lake and Emerald Lake hikes. These campgrounds provide basic amenities as well as the opportunity to enjoy the park’s peaceful atmosphere under the stars. Booking ahead of time is recommended, especially during peak seasons.

Nearby Attractions

Here are 5 Places to stay near Emerald Lake,

Bear Lake

Bear Lake is located in Rocky Mountain National Park and serves as the starting point for the Emerald Lake Trail. This lovely lake has tranquil views and is surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery.

Nymph Lake

Following the trail to Emerald Lake, hikers will encounter Nymph Lake, a charming spot covered in lily pads. This lake is a tranquil setting with chipmunks and squirrels often seen around, adding to the natural beauty.

Dream Lake

Dream Lake is the third lake along the Emerald Lake Trail, known for its crystal-clear waters and breathtaking beauty. Hikers can take a break here and enjoy the peaceful ambiance before continuing their journey.

Alberta Falls

For those looking to explore further, a trail from the Emerald Lake Trailhead leads to Alberta Falls. This waterfall is a rewarding sight with a relatively shorter hike, offering a refreshing stop amidst the natural surroundings.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Beyond the lakes, Rocky Mountain National Park itself is a treasure trove of natural wonders. From scenic drives on the Peak to Peak Highway to exploring other trails and viewpoints, the park offers a diverse range of experiences for outdoor enthusiasts. Overall Emerald Lake is good for all visitors, here is a trusted customer reviews and ratings on the Tripadvisor website.

Emerald Lake Reviews
Emerald Lake Reviews

Final Words

Hiking to Emerald Lake takes you deep into Colorado’s natural beauty. From the peaceful banks of Nymph Lake to the panoramic views of Emerald Lake, each step of the walk provides an opportunity to connect with nature and make lifelong memories. So pack your kit, lace up your boots, and set out to see the beauty of Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Your journey awaits!

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