With more than 20 gorgeous alpine lakes, Rocky Mountain National Park was abundantly blessed by Mother Nature. Beyond Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, you’ll find Gem Lake, Sprague Lake and Bear Lake, as well as the remote Solitude Lake. Nymph, Dream and Emerald are among the most popular hiking destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park, so here’s how to get there.
Straight out of your Rocky Mountain daydreams, Dream Lake is a fantastic day hike and picnic spot. Start at the Bear Lake trailhead, then continue 1.1 miles past Nymph Lake and on to Dream Lake. The trail is paved for the first half-mile. After Nymph Lake, the trail turns to dirt and climbs gently to Dream Lake. Along the way, you can see the Keyboard of the Winds in Glacier Gorge, Longs Peak and Hallet Peak. If you’d like to make this a longer hike, stop at Dream Lake for a picnic, then backtrack a bit to where the trail splits. Take the split to the left to Lake Haiyaha, which sits in the less-visited east side of the park. It’s particularly picturesque with stunning boulders stacked up along its shoreline.
This popular hike starts at the Bear lake Trailhead. You may consider taking the free park shuttle during the high season so as not to have to wait for a parking spot. Soon after starting the hike, you’ll see a spur trail to the right (the Bear Lake Loop); turn left to head to Nymph Lake. Beyond Bear Lake, you’ll climb steadily, catching glimpses of Longs Peak as you go. Reach the south end of the lake and find a picnic spot, where you can enjoy the serenity of the scene and the pretty lily pads ringing the edge of the lake. Continue for a short distance and you’ll geta nice view of Hallett Peak.
Keep going past Dream Lake and Nymph Lake to get to Emerald Lake. From here, you’ll be captivated by some of the best views of Hallet Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. At just 1.8 miles one way, with a total of four Colorado lakes, plus a small waterfall, this is a lot of bang for your mountain buck.
Other Favorite Alpine Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
This is an easy hike to get to from downtown Estes Park. Catch the Gem Lake Trail near the Twin Owls overlook off Devil’s Gulch Road and near The Stanley Hotel. The trail is actually called the Lumpy Ridge trailhead for the many rocky oddities you’ll find along the way.
Start down the Lumpy Ridge Trail and turn right at the T intersection. At 1.5 miles, stop and marvel at “Paul Bunyan’s Boot,” a gigantic boulder that resembles the legendary lumberjack’s boot, with a hole worn in it. From here, the trail climbs up to Gem Lake, at 1.7 miles and 8,500-foot elevation. The lake features a small beach and, as expected, uniquely shaped rock formations lining its shores. If you have the energy, it is worth continuing downhill 2.2 miles to Balanced Rock. Climb around, snap a few photos of this natural rock sculpture, then head back the way you came.
Looking for a challenge? Take this strenuous 10-mile roundtrip trek to Black Lake, featuring several waterfalls along the trail, including famous Alberta Falls, and a spectacular lake setting at the end. It’s a favorite for wildlife watching – look for elk, deer and marmots – wildflowers, streams and aspens. This trail also brings you into the Glacier Gorge trail system, which leads to Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and Ribbon Lake.
This pretty 6-mile hike takes you up more than 2,400 feet to serene Bluebird Lake, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Wild Basin in the southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Cub Lake is known for its halo of lily pads and summertime wildflowers. You’ll pass through the wetlands of Moraine Park, glacial formations and meadows. Look for western tanagers and warblers, as well as elk, deer and moose.
The hike to Mills Lake is a steady 5.6-mile trek uphill into the Glacier Gorge trail system. Everywhere you look, there are mountain ridgelines, jagged peaks and colorful wildflowers. Pass impressive Alberta Falls at the 0.8-mile mark. At the lake, fish for rainbow trout, brook trout and Greenback cutthroats. Look across the lake to the east ridge of Glacier Gorge, nicknamed the Keyboard of the Winds.
On the Fern Lake Trail, you’ll pass through the enormous boulders of Arch Rocks, walk over The Pool and see three cascading waterfalls. Look for The Gable, Knobtop Mountain, Notchtop Mountain and the Little Matterhorn near the end of the trail.
Hike through pines, aspen groves and wildflower meadows to Finch Lake, a quiet, remote lake for those who prefer less-touristed trails. It’s one of the least-crowded hikes in the Wild Basin region.
Start at the Bear Lake Trailhead for the Lake Helene hike. Hike through aspen groves and pine forest to the sub-alpine lake, with views of Flattop Mountain, Ptarmigan Point and Notchtop Mountain.
Yet another hike from the Bear Lake parking lot, the hike to Odessa Lake brings you past the Bear Lake turnoff and the Bierstadt Lake spur trail. Once you’ve passed the turnoff to Bierstadt and the Mill Creek Basin, turn left to continue to Odessa Lake. The higher you go, the more dramatic the views become, encompassing Longs Peak, the Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Peak and Chiefs Head Peak. Pass the turnoff for Flattop Mountain Trail and the unmarked side trail that leads to Lake Helene. This is a worthy detour, if you have time. Then, continue on down the western slopes of Joe Mills Mountain, from which you can see Little Matterhorn and The Gable, and down below, Odessa Lake, your final destination.