Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake  [Trip Report]

by | Jun 5, 2020

Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake are probably some of the most traveled hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is part of my 40 years of hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park Series. 

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) has finally reopened following a three-month COVID-19 national parks shutdown and I wanted to share with my readers some of my favorite hikes I have done frequently over the last four decades. 

My favorite hike includes several lakes that never seem to lose their adventurous spirit. I first hiked to these lakes on August 15, 1986. Since then I have continued to hike this group of lakes numerous times.

The hike starts from the Bear Lake trailhead (9,450ft). Getting a parking spot at Bear Lake is difficult, usually you will have to park across from Glacier Basin campground and take a Park & Ride shuttle to the lake. On my most recent hike I took the shuttle which, due to COVID social distancing, was only allowing 15 people onboard.

At Bear Lake, people can either go to the right and walk around Bear Lake, go on to Flattop Mountain or they can go left to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, and hike to Glacier Gorge Junction. I went right first to Bear Lake, because I like to see that lake, then walked back to where the trail splits and then went left.

With only one trail, you hike the lakes in succession, each lake a little over half a mile from the previous lake. Walking through tree-filled terrain, the Nymph Lake trail gains elevation until you reach the lake, which will be on your left. Although small, Nymph Lake usually offers great lake reflection photography opportunities and a bench to rest on. 

Shortly after leaving Nymph Lake, next is Dream Lake. There will be a rock outcropping on your left that overlooks Nymph Lake and the glacial valley below. It is a very photographic spot. As you continue on the trail you will now see Longs Peak off to your left and where I believe you can get the best photographs of the mountain. From this vantage point you are viewing the western side of Longs Peak, Storm Peak, Pagoda Mountain, and Chiefs Head. If you are planning on hiking Longs Peak, this would be the area right after you pass through the rock feature known as the Keyhole. 

The trail continues past a small waterfall area then climbs to an open area as you approach Dream Lake. In my opinion, Dream Lake is the most beautiful lake and the best spot for photos is at the eastern end. Looking up into the mountainous cirque, you will see Hallett Peak on your left and Flattop Mountain on your right. The snow couloirs on the right are part of Flattop Mountain and the left one is called Dragons Tooth, the right one is called Dragons Tail. 

Dream Lake is a great spot to have a small snack and hydrate before going on to Emerald Lake. If Lake Haiyaha is your destination the junction for that trail is here. After taking some photos, follow the trail around the northern side of the lake towards Emerald. Dream Lake is long and you will hike past the western end of the lake before starting towards Emerald Lake.

Even though it was the end of May, there were still snow patches present covering the trail after Dream Lake. There had been a few small ones before Dream Lake but now it was mostly snow hiking. Traction devices and walking poles are wonderful to have when walking on packed snow. Of course I had forgotten my traction devices, but I was happy to have my poles. I still slipped a few times but nothing serious. As you approach Emerald Lake you will descend down into the cirque, find a nice rock and enjoy the view of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain in front of you. The couloirs on Flattop are easily noticeable and perhaps if you are hiking in the springtime you will see some skiers or climbers on them. Some friends and I climbed the Dragons Tail Couloir in June of 2000 as training for our Mt Rainier trip. We had a blast!

This is the end of the trail and I advise people without climbing gear and experience to turn around here. Many years ago my friend Cody and I hiked beyond Emerald Lake with climbing gear to Tyndall Glacier. We climbed part way up but I slipped and had to self arrest. But that wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was the rock falling off of the face of Hallett Peak all day. It sounded like a shooting range, we would hear the swoosh then the explosion of rock on the ground. We were glad we wore helmets.

The hike back was easy and if I had more time available I would have hiked to Lake Haiyaha, perhaps next time.

Additional editing by Gordon Eaton III


  • Emerald Lake Elevation: 10,100 feet
  • Round Trip Distance: 3.70 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 623 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Start at Bear Lake (9,450ft)
  • Time: 1-3 Hours
  • Date of this Trip: May 30, 2020

All Trails Map Link

Bear Lake in the spring is beautiful

Trail sign for Bear Lake and the other lakes

On the trail to Nymph Lake

Enjoying the reflections on the still waters of Nymph Lake

Looking down at Nymph Lake.

Looking at the western side of Longs Peak..

Enjoying the view on the path to Dream Lake

Tyndall Creek

Mule Deer near Tyndall Creek

Melting snow before Dream Lake

Dream Lake lives up to its name.

Dream Lake is very long. This is the western end of the lake.

Emerald Lake, still partly frozen over. 10,100 ft

Old tree at Emerald Lake

Looking up at Hallett Peak, 12,713ft.

Couloirs on Flattop Mountain (12,324ft). Dragons Tail and Dragons Tooth.