Rocky Mountain National Park Family Vacation – Bear Lake and Emerald Lake Trails

We decided to spend a day checking out “easy” (a relative term) to hike lakes in the Rocky Mountain Nation Park. One of the most popular locations in the Rocky Mountain National Park are the lakes in and around the Bear Lake area. I would highly recommend a stroll around Bear Lake for anyone. With the parking lot just a short walk from the lake, it is a great place to bring those that may not be up for a hike on the many trails in the park. The trail around Bear Lake is well maintained with slight uphill and downhill sections. Bear Lake is one of the most picturesque locations I have ever visited. Plan to take is slow and take in the scenic views.

Bear Lake1 from ZagLeft

Bear Lake2 from ZagLeft

Bear Lake3 from ZagLeft

After enjoying Bear Lake, we were off on a hike to Emerald Lake. The trailhead for Emerald Lake is at Bear Lake so you can do both without moving your car or getting back on the bus (depending on how you got to Bear Lake). The Emerald Lake trail (see Bear Lake Corridor trail map below) is considered an “easy” trail by Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails . For those that are coming from locations near sea level, the hike was not overly challenging but several stops along the 1.8 mile hike were needed with an elevation gain of 610 feet during the hike. What is great about the trail to Emerald Lake is that there are two other lakes along the way.


After the first ½ mile of the hike you will arrive at Nymph Lake. It is a small lake with Lilly Pads and tall grassy areas around the outside of the lake. We decided to have a picnic at Nymph Lake. It was a nice break after spending time at Bear Lake and the first part of the hike.

Nymph Lake from ZagLeftThe next part of the hike was about a 0.6 mile hike to Dream Lake. Along the way to Dream Lake we had the “pleasure” (depending on the individuals perspective) of walking along a cliff for a short distance and then enjoyed sitting along a rushing stream.

Emerald Trail Cliff from ZagLeft

Emerald Lake Trail Waterfall from ZagLeft

When we arrived at Dream Lake, the scenery was breathtaking. Words can’t describe so enjoy the pictures.

Dream Lake from ZagLeft

Dream Lake 1 from ZagLeft

After Dream Lake we continued up the trail to Emerald Lake. After the hike to Dream Lake some of us were a bit tired as a result of hiking uphill in thin air (near 10,000 feet). We stopped a few times at waterfalls and to take in the beautiful views of the nearby mountains. When we finally got to Emerald Lake, we felt a sense of accomplishment…and awe. Again, words and pictures cannot convey the beauty and experience of Emerald Lake. One thing we forced ourselves to do on this trip was to not just reach a point and then move on but to linger and fully take in what was around us.

Emerald Lake 2 from ZagLeft

Emerald Lake 3 from ZagLeft

Emerald Lake Waterfall from ZagLeft

Emerald Lake Snow from ZagLeft

We took our shoes off and put our feet in the water and my son Patrick decided to jump in. It was a great experience for him (and us). The water was very cold but with the warm dry air, his clothes quickly dried. We stayed at Emerald Lake for an hour. There were others groups there enjoying themselves with one group who actually brought up a table for their picnic!

If you make it out to Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado you need to take a day and visit Bear Lake and take a hike up to Emerald Lake. You will cherish your experience for a very long time.

Other posts you might like…

Family Vacation In Estes Park – The Beginning

Family Vacation In Rocky Mountain National Park – Alluvial Fan and Calypso Cascades

Top Summer Travel Destinations For Families


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