How to Explore Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (and Where to Go After)

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Are you looking for a fairly easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) that will still take your breath away? Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes are some of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the park, and the hike to reach them is manageable for many visitors.

This stunning trail to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park offers breathtaking views of some of the most beautiful lakes in the state, with add-ons like Bear Lake and Lake Haiyaha to extend your hike for those looking for more adventure.

We’ll share everything from trail specifics to insider hints. This guide has all the information you need to make sure your trip is an unforgettable adventure to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hike Stats: Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lake in RMNP

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake
  • Distance: 3.4 miles roundtrip
  • Starting Elevation: 9475 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 771 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Best Time to Visit: June through September

If you’re looking for a stunning hike that won’t take all day, the hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes is a perfect choice. The round-trip hike from Bear Lake Trailhead is just around 3 1/2 miles with an elevation gain of 771 feet, and it can be completed in 2 to 3 hours.

This moderate difficulty trail takes you through the gorgeous scenery to the small and peaceful Nymph Lake, followed by a steady climb to magnificent Dream Lake. A short walk further takes you to your final destination: breathtaking Emerald Lake.

A paper trail map with topography or a handheld GPS communication device can be extremely beneficial to have when hiking here, even if it is an easier hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Getting to the Trailhead

If you’re planning to hike the Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, then you’ll want to plan your arrival at the Bear Lake Trailhead. The Estes Park side is much closer to Bear Lake Road than Grand Lake.

The parking area is all the way at the far end of Bear Lake Road. Early morning is best since this trail, and others nearby, are extremely popular – but for good reason!

The Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot fills up early with cars on a summer morning.
The Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot fills early. We saw it fill by 8:00 am on a Saturday in early August.

The parking lot at Bear Lake can fill up quickly, sometimes before 8:00 am on holidays or during the summer. You will need a timed entry reservation for the Bear Lake Corridor to enter between 5:00 am and 6:00 pm, and these sell out extremely fast, sometimes in less than 5 minutes!

If it’s already full and you can’t find a parking space, don’t worry; you can utilize the park’s Park and Ride service, located 4.5 miles back up Bear Lake Road and take the free shuttle to the trailhead. 

After you park your car, head towards the ranger station. Behind the rangers’ building is where you’ll begin this hike.

The Bear Lake Trailhead sign points in the direction of many lakes, including Nymph Dream and Emerald Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
This trail sign points you in the right direction as you begin the hike behind the ranger station.

Nymph Lake

Nymph Lake is a stunning smaller alpine lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and the first one you’ll come to on this hike!

Beginning at the Bear Lake Trailhead, follow the trail signage, past a trail headed to the right for Bear Lake and to the left for Alberta Falls. The very first part of the trail is paved but quickly switches over to a rocky, dirt trail with a few very brief steep sections – nothing too difficult.

A small alpine lake, Nymph Lake, is covered in lily pads and mountain peaks tower in the background.
The bright sun puts the lilies on Nymph Lake in the shadows.

Once you reach Nymph Lake, only 0.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views. Lily pads cover the lake and towering mountains hover in the background.

As the smallest of the three lakes on this popular hike, stop and take a quick break to enjoy the incredible views before continuing on to Dream Lake. In our opinion, the section between Nymph and Dream was the most difficult as far as the trail incline.

Don’t worry, though. The trail is well-marked and extremely easy to follow. Because it’s such a popular route, the path is well-worn and you most likely won’t be the only one on the trail.

Dream Lake

Immediately on the trail past Nymph Lake begins the rocky climb towards Dream Lake, the next beautiful destination on your hike. From Nymph Lake, it’s a 0.6-mile walk to get to Dream Lake.

Along this short section, you’ll find yourself winding through rocky terrain and climbing up some steeper uphill sections, but again – the view is worth all of your efforts.

A wooden sign post points you up a rocky set of steps toward Dream Lake.
Start your trek up to Dream Lake on these rocky steps. Take breaks if you need to!

You’ll pass by small mountain streams and Tyndall Creek. The summer wildflowers are beautiful when blooming!

When you reach a fork in the trail, you’re nearly there! Take the trail to the right (the trail to the left is the hike to Lake Haiyaha) and in just about 100 yards, you’ll reach views of Dream Lake. 

Once at Dream Lake, you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly picturesque lake surrounded by mountains and pine trees. It’s easy to see why this lake is so popular among both hikers and photographers alike. The calm lake surface provides great conditions for mountain reflection photos!

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as you enjoy Dream Lake. We were able to watch an elk having breakfast on the hillside at the far end of the lake while we had our own breakfast snack on an early morning hike.

That’s two lakes down, one to go!

We enjoyed photographing the alpine lakes in RMNP, including this one at Dream Lake.

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is the final destination on this easier hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. After enjoying the views at Dream Lake, Emerald Lake is only 0.6 miles further along the trail.

You’ll continue to gain elevation along the way, so go at your own pace. This was our first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the elevation change was certainly noticeable compared to what we’re used to. We live around 725 feet above sea level, so there was a recognizable difference getting to 10,000+ feet!

This hike also absolutely helped us to prepare for our hike to Sky Pond on Day 2 of our Rocky Mountain adventure.

Along the way, you’ll be treated to some spectacular views of Hallett Peak ahead to the left and Flattop Mountain ahead to the right – don’t forget to take some pictures. You’ll want to remember these views!

The mountains reflect in the calm waters of Emerald Lake.
Emerald Lake creates beautiful reflections of the mountains behind.

Once at Emerald Lake, there are plenty of rocky ledges and boulders to sit and appreciate the beauty of the Rockies, a spot perfect for a picnic or just taking in nature’s wonders.

Although this hike is popular among visitors due to its extreme popularity, it’s worth every step. After you’ve finished enjoying the stunning views at Emerald Lake (can you ever really get enough of these views, though?), you can choose to return the same way you came, or you can add on one of these other points of interest for extra bang for your buck!

Add These Spots to Extend Your Hike:

If you’re looking to extend your hike around Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes, there are plenty of spots nearby to explore! Venture on to Lake Haiyaha with picturesque views of Chaos Creek.

If you’re feeling adventurous, continue on towards Glacier Gorge – this is a far more strenuous hike than the one that takes you to Emerald Lake, but it’s well worth the effort.

If you’re just looking for just a little more distance, or a relaxing walk to cool down your legs, then enjoy the loop around Bear Lake.

Travel around the Bear Lake Loop for these views!

Add-on #1: Bear Lake Loop

If you’re already in Rocky Mountain National Park hiking Nymph, Emerald, and Dream Lakes, don’t miss out on the opportunity to add Bear Lake to your hike. 

Similar to the trail around Sprague Lake, the loop around Bear Lake is really flat, and it’s only about 0.6 miles. With this fourth lake, the hike is around 4 miles in length. 

There are multiple benches spread out along the loop where you can sit down and take a break to enjoy the scenery.

Add-on #2: Lake Haiyaha

Lake Haiyaha is another incredible add-on to your Emerald Lake adventure. To reach Lake Haiyaha from Emerald Lake, head back to that fork in the trail we mentioned earlier, just past Dream Lake.

From there, you’ll embark on a 1.2-mile stretch of easy to moderately strenuous trail that will take you past sweeping views and Chaos Creek, finally up to the rocky shores of Lake Haiyaha – where you can admire its beautiful clear blue waters surrounded by majestic mountain peaks.

Make sure to bring your camera as this is one view that you won’t want to forget! For those looking for more of a challenge, there’s also the option to complete a loop around the lake – making it an even more rewarding experience!

milky turquoise waters in Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Haiyaha was filled with milky “glacial flour” when we visited.

Hiking Stats Combining ALL 5 LAKES
(Bear, Nymph, Dream, Emerald & Haiyaha)

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake
  • Distance: 6.2 miles roundtrip
  • Starting Elevation: 9475 feet
  • Elevation Gain: Around 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Best Time to Visit: June through September

The entire hike to all five of these beautiful lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful things you can do while visiting! This 6.2-mile hike takes you past all of the stunning mountain views, valleys, and forests we’ve covered already! Hallett Peak always seems to be looming in the background!

As you make your way through each lake, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views at every turn. The total elevation gain is around 1000 feet and it usually takes around 4-5 hours to complete this adventure, accounting for time to enjoy all of the scenery.

This is an experience that even new hikers who have only a base level of fitness can conquer. With its extreme popularity, just make sure to plan ahead by getting an early start or just planning to hop on the Park and Ride shuttle so that you don’t miss out or encounter unnecessary aggravation.

Insider Tips: Hiking Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes

If you’re looking for insider hints to make the most of your hike along Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes, here are a few tips!

You will need a timed entry permit to enter the Bear Lake Corridor in addition to your park pass during the summer and fall months. Book this ahead of time, unless you plan to arrive to the Bear Lake Road entrance prior to 5:00 am!

Parking can still be limited at any of the trailheads on Bear Lake Road, even if some of the parking lots are bigger than others. If you’re getting a midday start, we’d say any time between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm, consider taking the Park and Ride shuttle instead.

If you want to see all 5 lakes but aren’t sure about hiking the entire 6.2 miles, save Bear Lake for the end. If you’re tired when you return to Bear Lake, you can still see it without having to take the entire 0.6-mile loop around. You could cut the hike down to 5.5 miles.

We wouldn’t recommend beginning this hike in the mid-afternoon during summer. Thunderstorms are common. It’s extremely dangerous to be out in those lightning and thunder conditions. If you hear thunder, turn back. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather conditions.

Finally, don’t forget to bring plenty of water and snacks because if you decide to complete the entire 6.2-mile journey, you’ll want to enjoy a snack at one or two of these lakes.

We found this hike to be a great route to use when introducing oneself to higher altitudes. If you’re not used to this mountain air, the steeper sections on the trail can make you much more winded than you’re used to, even lightheaded. Stop and take breaks whenever you need them.

Nearby Trails

The hiking trail to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes offers some of the best views you can access in Rocky Mountain National Park. For those looking for a lengthier or more challenging adventure, this can be a great warm-up hike.

If you’re looking for something shorter yet still rewarding, hike to Alberta Falls from Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge, or continue past Alberta Falls further to Mills Lake via Glacier Gorge. No matter which trail you choose, be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and layers – these Rocky Mountain trails are worth every step!

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls is one of the best easy waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it’s no wonder why. Located just a short distance from both Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge Trailheads, this picturesque waterfall is a must-see for those looking for short, easy hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Milky cascades of Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
An early morning visit to Alberta Falls

The hike up to Alberta Falls is fairly easy with less than 300 feet of elevation gain, ascending about 1 mile along the Glacier Gorge trail. Along the way, you’ll pass through stunning aspen groves and catch glimpses of Longs Peak before finally arriving at the foot of Alberta Falls.

This waterfall is a popular destination, and it does get busy during the day. Just prepare accordingly for a crowd if you’re visiting during a peak time of the day, or plan your visit at off times.

Mills Lake

Mills Lake is another stunning and peaceful alpine lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s located 2.8 miles from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, making the hike around 6 miles if you want to explore all along the shores of the lake.

The trail up to Mills Lake is a steady gentle climb at the beginning, but you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views as you ascend. Along the way, look out for wildflowers and wildlife that call this area home.

Mills Lake surrounded by mountain peaks
Our picnic spot along Mills Lake on an early afternoon in late July

Once you arrive at the lake, marvel at its crystal-clear waters and admire the majestic peaks around it.

Fishing and wildlife viewing are also popular at Mills Lake.

Sky Pond via The Loch

Sky Pond is maybe the most stunning alpine lake hike located in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s nestled between Taylor Peak and Powell Peak, making it one of the most spectacularly situated lakes in the park.

The hike to Sky Pond is certainly difficult but incredibly rewarding – you’ll be surrounded by beautiful meadows and lush forests as you make your way up to this gorgeous destination. As you get closer, you’ll pass by The Loch. Prepare yourself to scramble up a rock wall next to a waterfall, Timberline Falls.

When you finally arrive at Sky Pond, you’ll be treated to views of pristine lakes and majestic peaks that rise up around it.

A hiker admires the views at Sky Pond
Admiring the views at Sky Pond

The hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park is truly a fantastic way to experience the park. The crystal-clear waters, majestic mountain views as you travel through the Tyndall Gorge, and serene atmosphere make it a must-see destination. 

While you most likely won’t be alone on this hike, it is popular for a reason: those amazing views! If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, this is one we’d definitely recommend you don’t miss.