Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes - Hiking

Made possible by



A guide to hiking to hiking Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Written by

Jessie Hoyng


3.6 miles

The trail to Emerald Lake is 1.8 miles, making the out-and-back hike total 3.6 miles. There are also options to extend the hike. For example, just before you reach Dream Lake, the trail forks with Dream Lake immediately to the right, and a 1.2 mile trail leads to another lake, Lake Haiyaha. This trail is much steeper and more strenuous, but offers fantastic views of the Rocky Mountains and the other lakes below. The trail also connects to a network of trails between the Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge trailheads. If you really want to extend your adventure, you can head back via the Loch, and if you get an early enough and really want to get some miles in, you can even cut over to the Loch and head up to Sky Pond. There are lots of options to extend the adventure, as long as you plan ahead and know the geography of the area!

Destination Distance From Downtown

3.1 miles


2 of 5 diamonds

This hike is relatively short; the trail ends at Emerald Lake after 1.8 miles, and there are plenty of natural places to stop and soak in the scenery. There are a few portions of the hike that are slightly steep and more strenuous, but for the most part, the hike is quite mellow.

Time To Complete

2 hours

Two hours is probably plenty of time for most folks to make it out to Emerald Lake and back to the trailhead, but you may want to add more time to soak in the views, relax by one of the lakes, or add an extension to your hike.


All Seasons

Summer and fall are ideal times to hike this trail. During the winter, as you might imagine, the trail is covered in snow and sometimes ice. It's beautiful, but you must be sure you are adequately prepared with proper footwear (warm boots and snowshoes, or possibly light crampons/YakTraks), and know how to navigate without being able to see the trail. Please don't venture into an unfamiliar area in the winter without proper navigational skills! The spring can be a lovely time to visit as well, but be sure to check weather conditions, as it can snow in the Rockies quite late in the season. And check before hiking in the fall as well. Summer is the busiest time for Rocky Mountain National Park, and Bear Lake is one of the most popular places in the park, so either plan to get a very early start or plan to park in one of the satellite lots and take the free RMNP shuttle to the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Dog Friendly


Unfortunately dogs are not permitted on national park hiking trails.

Fees Permits


You don't need a permit to hike here, but you will need to pay for a pass to get into the park, unless you already have a National Park pass. A day pass is $20 for one vehicle, or you can get a 7-day pass for $30. You could also visit the park on a day when entrance fess are waived, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, National Park Week, the National Parks Service birthday weekend (end of August), National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.



The hike from Bear Lake back to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes is like the comfort food of Rocky National Park hiking. Not only is it super accessible (the trail starts at the Bear Lake trailhead), but it is also pretty mellow and relaxed and has amazing views of the lakes surrounded by the gorgeous Rocky Mountains throughout the hike.

What Makes It Great

This hike is a fantastic introduction to the Rocky Mountains, but is also a great option for hiking veterans, simply because of the spectacular views and features. Since the hike is fairly short with a mild elevation gain, it's great for those coming in from sea level, or families with younger children who don't want to get stuck on a long-distance loop or take the kids out too far.

The lakes are, as you might imagine, the highlight of the hike. However, there are several creeks and waterfalls along the trail as well, and incredible panoramas of the surrounding mountains and jagged peaks. If you're lucky, you may even spot some wildlife. Chipmunks are a pretty common sight along the trail, but you may also see marmots or other critters.

The only downside to this trail is that it's fairly crowded, particularly in the summer months. However, the crowds tend to thin out significantly after passing Nymph Lake. And it's crowded for a good reason. Just remember to be friendly and courteous to others sharing the trail with you.

Who is Going to Love It

This hike is ideal for anyone who loves alpine lakes and mountain views. However, it's particularly great for folks coming in to the mountains from sea level, to help ease them into altitude hiking, families with younger children, people generally newer to hiking, and people who want a fairly quick adventure or day trip.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The trailhead is adjacent to a large parking lot. However, during the busy season (summer), the parking lot fills up pretty quickly. If you arrive early or late in the day, you may be able to snag a spot, but in general, be prepared to park at one of the satellite lots along Bear Lake Road, and take the free shuttle to the trailhead. The park staff are great about updating signs along the road to let visitors know whether there is room in the parking lot.

Similar Local Hiking Spots

See all

More Rocky Mountain National Park Activities

View Rocky Mountain National Park

More Bear Lake Trailhead Activities

Local Rocky Mountain National Park Stories


Bear Lake Trailhead

Bear Lake Road
Estes Park, CO, 80517
40.336164, -105.601386

Get Directions