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Dream Lake and Emerald Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park

See four idyllic alpine lakes in one moderate hike.

Hiking Moderate

4.3 km
205 m
205 m
1-2 hrs
Low Point
2.9 km
High Point
3.1 km
Dream Lake and Emerald Lake Map

For seeing alpine lakes, this may be the single best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. In just a few miles of hiking, you’ll see four different lakes, each with its own unique character and scenery. The lakes get progressively higher in elevation, the shores rockier, and the peaks closer overhead as you go.


The hike begins at Bear Lake, which is a very popular spot. Get there early to secure parking. To get a good view of Bear Lake and its backdrop of Hallett Peak, take a short detour on the loop path. To continue to the other lakes, follow the Emerald Lake Trail. It goes steadily upward through a forest of pine and aspen, on a wide path that is paved in places. Soon comes Nymph Lake, graced by an abundance of pond lilies that bloom in the summer.

From there, the trail steepens but remains very well defined, going up a rocky slope with broad views that include Longs Peak. It flattens out near Dream Lake, crossing a few small meadows before reaching the shore. Across Dream Lake is a majestic view of pinnacles and snowfields on Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain.

After tracing the shady shore of Dream Lake, the trail turns upward once more, on many constructed stone steps. The surroundings are like a natural garden of shapely pine trees, spaced just so. The best view yet awaits at Emerald Lake, where trees are mostly replaced by bare rock around the shore, and views are unobstructed to the hulking peaks above.

This trail is popular year-round but becomes a snowshoeing adventure in the winter. Even well into June, you may walk on snow at the higher elevations. Special equipment may or may not be necessary, depending on snow conditions. You might inquire with the ranger station for updates before going.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/romoemeraldlake.htm http://www.rockymountainhikingtrails.com/emerald-lake.htm



Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

all year round


  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area