Do you want to take a hike where you get to see four gorgeous alpine lakes in less than two miles? Emerald Lake CO is one of the most popular trails in Colorado and in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors flock to this hike to see the stunning blue or frozen alpine lakes under the imposing mountains ahead.
I have gone on over 60 hikes this year and this was definitely one of my absolute favorites! I love going on a short hike with great payoffs. There’s nothing better than getting to see beautiful lake after beautiful lake in this majestic setting. It’s truly no wonder why people love it.
Read below to find out all the details about the Emerald Lake trail including when to go, what you’ll see, what to pack for your journey!
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Table of Contents
Emerald Lake Details
Quick Hike Facts
Elevation: 1,758 Feet
Type: Out and Back
Length: 9.4 miles
Emerald Lake Trail Description
You will only need to walk a few hundred feet from the trailhead to see this incredible water hole. From here, you can see plenty of the tallest crests behind the tree line beyond. In the summer, the mountains reflect off the lake’s surface and create a wonderful picture. In the winter, you can walk over the frozen lake and surround yourself with the trees and peaks behind.
Head to the left of Bear Lake to take the Emerald Lake trail. Continue .5 miles and 200 feet up through the forest, before the trees clear and you arrive at Nymph Lake. You can catch a glimpse of Longs Peak behind the tree line, while Hallett Peak stands above. Lily pads line the shore in the summertime and in the winter you can walk directly across the lake.
From Nymph Lake, you will continue up the mountain and over some rocky stretches for another half a mile and 200 feet. You will walk over the rocks and around the tree line where Dream Lake will magically appear. This is one of the most beautiful spots on the entire hike. Two austere mountain peaks sit above the lake and during the summer the water is so clear, you can see everything beneath the surface. Again, in the winter, you can walk over the frozen surface.
Finally, continue the last half mile through the Tyndall Gorge and climb an additional 200 feet to get to the final lake on this trail: Emerald Lake. Once you get to Emerald Lake, you will get a clear view of Hallett Peak directly behind and the jagged spires of Flattop Mountain sit to your right. In the distance, you may be able to hear the waterfall run off from Tyndall Glacier. In the winter, you may even be able to see skiers making their way up the mountain or throwing themselves down it! It’s a wonderful place to sit and take it all in before heading back down.
How to Get There
The closest airport to Rocky Mountain National Park is the Denver Airport. Luckily, this airport receives some of the most flights in the country, so you should be able to find a flight for a good price. You can either rent a car and drive the 80 miles into Estes Park or you can opt to take the $55 shuttle that makes frequent trips from Denver Airport to Estes Park. There are additional shuttles that leave from downtown Denver and Denver Union Station to get to the park.
If you’re driving, it’s fairly easy to figure out how to get to Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver. You will take I-25 North 34 miles, then turn left onto CO 66. Continue on that road for 14 miles until you get to US-36 West. You will take that road 22 miles until you arrive in Estes Park. Otherwise, you can take the scenic Peak to Peak Highway that runs from Idaho Springs to Estes Park and provides incredible views the entire time.
Enter Rocky Mountain National Park at the Beaver Meadows entrance. Once you get past the entrance station, you will want to take a left onto Bear Lake Road. Continue on this road 9 miles until you get to the end where you can access the trail at the Bear Lake Trailhead. Because this hike is one of the most popular in the park, you should either go early in the morning to get parking or take the free shuttle during peak season to get there.
Best Time to Hike Emerald Lake
The best time to go to Rocky Mountain National Park is the summertime when trails are free of snow and you can enjoy the entirety of the park. However, this is also the most crowded time of year, so you will have to contend with larger numbers of people and more wildlife.
If you visit the park during the rest of the year, you will want to check trail and road conditions. The Rocky Mountains are beautiful at all times of year and it’s a magical place to visit. Weather can be very fickle in the mountains, so always be aware and look out for incoming clouds.
In summer, snow has melted off of the Emerald Lake Trail and you will get to see the beautiful stunning alpine lakes. Wildflowers are in bloom and sunshine abounds over the mountains. This is the time of year when people attempt to hike Long’s Peak, which you may be able to spot from the Emerald Lake Trail with binoculars.
However, because of the wonderful conditions, this trail can get very crowded. You’ll have a higher chance of getting parking spots and having the trail to yourself if you go earlier in the day. Otherwise, be prepared to take the free shuttle to the Bear Lake Trailhead area. Always watch out for wildlife, stay alert, and keep your distance.
Early Fall is one of the most spectacular times to go on the Emerald Lake trail. At this time of year, the Aspens start to change colors and gorgeous hues fill the mountainside. You can still expect to see crowds, so plan to arrive early or take the shuttle in the early Fall. In the later fall, snow begins to fall at the mountain tops and there may be some road closures when trying to get to Emerald Lake. Pack layers and be prepared for snow and ice.
In the early spring, you will see a lot of snow and all four of the lakes on this trail will be frozen over. You may experience warmer temperatures while hiking, but there are still snowpacks on the ground. Make sure you are prepared with the proper equipment like microspikes and hiking poles. In the later spring, snow starts to melt and you may have to hike through slush and mud to get to Emerald Lake. Wildflowers will begin to appear in early June, but continue through July and August.
Snow covers most of the park, roads are closed, and the Emerald Lake trail will be snow packed. You may want to attempt to snowshoe this trail during the winter, which is a great way to see the park. It is much quieter, but no less magical. Always look at the weather before you go on this trail.
What to Bring
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful places, but weather there can be completely unpredictable. Mountain storms come on fast and can be intensely strong. For most of the year, the mountain temperatures can be extremely cold and heavy winds can blow. When preparing for a trip into the mountains, make sure to pack plenty of layers, bring lots of water, and the proper gear so that you can have an amazing time.
- Comfortable Hiking Boots
- Small Pack
- 2 Liters of Water (or more)
- First Aid Kit
- Layers (including rain jacket and winter jacket)
- Hat to block sun
- Microspikes (late Spring-early Fall)
- Hiking Poles
- Optional: Snowshoes in winter
If you’re short on time and you want to see some of the best scenery in the Rockies, then you should hike the Emerald Lake trail. There’s few other trails where you can see as many incredible alpine lakes in a short period of time. This trail is quite popular, but for good reason. You need to add the Emerald Lakes CO trail to your bucket list!
Let me know if you found this hiking guide helpful in the comments!
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