Emerald Lake & Dream Lake, Colorado

Location: Bear Lake area of Rocky Mt National Park 
Map: USGS 1:24,000-scale McHenrys Peak or Trails Illustrated 1:59,000-scale  Rocky Mt National Park (#200)
Bear Lake Trailhead: NAD83 z13 445112e 4462591n  Elevation: 9460'
Trail: Easy 1.5 mile walk over moderate terrain to Emerald Lake. Allow 1-2 hours for round-trip.
Access: From Interstate 25, take Highway 34 through Loveland and Estes Park to the Beaver Meadows entrance. Just beyond the entrance gate, turn south on Bear Lake Rd and drive 9 miles to the terminal parking lot, or in summer, take a shuttle from the shuttle lot 5 miles up Bear Lake Rd. 
Fees (2007): $20 7-day park pass; $35 annual park pass; $80 annual Federal public lands pass
Dogs: not allowed
Webcam: 8 miles northeast in Estes Park
Weather: Current conditions       Local Forecast

We started out at the Bear lake parking lot, Andra and I, on a warm and clear Sunday morning in March, surrounded by about a hundred other people also out enjoying this first taste of spring. I had the snowshoes bungeed to my daypack in case we needed them further up the trail, but to start with, the snowy path was hard-packed and solid. Boots alone were sufficient to hike quickly along, and we passed several groups laboring bow-legged in snowshoes up the steep slope. It had snowed the day before, and we spent the whiteout hours either curled up on the bed watching a movie at the inn, or in the steaming hot tub on the room’s patio. Now that snow was melting quickly in the bright white spring sun, and glops of slush careened down through the spruce branches, splatting on the trail in front, behind, or sometimes on my head. The trail led uphill to Nymph Lake, which I mistook for Dream Lake, as there was an apparent divergence of trails, one going northish, and the other south. After consulting the map, I decided we must take the right fork if we wanted to get to Emerald Lake, and so we did. The trail led steeply downhill, and I should have realized this was not quite right long before we arrived back at Bear Lake, thus completing an unplanned and unmapped loop through the woods. We started again up the same trail we had just walked, and this time at Nymph Lake, we walked left. This route immediately seemed more likely as it led us uphill rather than downhill. Lots of people were lounging around Nymph Lake, including a couple of large tour groups being led by rangers. The snow became softer, but still quite manageable in boots, and only once or twice did a foot slip beneath the snow. The wind picked up as we came up through the heavy woods into the more sporadic timberline tree cover. Open spots along the trail provided fantastic vistas of Glacier Gorge and Longs Peak, draped in white. Dream Lake was covered in snow, but a swipe of a boot brushed away the white to reveal the dark gray ice beneath. We passed two people making out in the rocks just off-trail. We followed footsteps in the snow right across the center of the long lake towards the base of Hallet Peak. A short and steep climb through the trees brought us to Emerald Lake. The cirque wall between Hallet Peak and Flattop Mt loomed before us as we approached Emerald Lake, and a sudden blast of wind off its frozen surface greeted us we emerged from the trees along the shore. Emerald Lake was also covered in snow, and the wind blew icy crystals over us, causing us to turn away until the wind subsided. Two hikers were laboring up the steep cirque wall in snowshoes, following a zig-zagged route up the steep bowl slope, apparently angling for the divide. Several others sat on the lake edge on exposed logs, enjoying the ominous beauty of the Rockies in spring. The hike down went swiftly, and was most enjoyable after we left the freezing wind of Emerald Lake. We stopped for a while at the east end of Dream Lake, sipping water and enjoying the sunshine. A steady stream of hikers, most in snowshoes, passed up the trail as we walked down. I threw a snowball at Andra, and she pulled a snow-laden branch back and let it go behind her such that it dumped all over me. We arrived back at the car and drove back to the inn to soak in the hot tub. 

Andra on the Dream Lake Trail
Andra on the Dream Lake Trail
Hallet Peak
Crags above Emerald Lake
Hikers on a frozen Dream Lake
Longs Peak from the Dream Lake Trail
Nymph Lake

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Page created 3-15-07