hike to dream lake

Hike to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

This short and easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you to some pristine and beautiful alpine lakes at high altitudes. Dream Lake and Emerald Lake are two hidden gems nestled amidst the towering peaks and alpine meadows, and a must-do hike for everyone. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a novice explorer, these trails offer something for everyone. Discover the tranquility of Dream Lake, with its crystal-clear waters reflecting the surrounding mountain peaks, or marvel at the emerald-green hues of Emerald Lake, tucked away in a secluded valley.

HIKE TO: Dream Lake and Emerald Lake
TRAIL: Nymph Lake Trail > Emerald Lake Trail
TRAILHEAD: Bear Lake Trailhead
MILES: 3.6 miles out and back
TIME: 2 hrs
DATE I WENT: 7/17/23 
ELEVATION: 10,154 ft
PARK PERMIT: yes - I recommend getting an annual National Parks Pass
PARK RESERVATIONS: required from May - Oct
LOCATION: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

How hard is Dream Lake hike

The hike to Dream Lake is short and easy, making it suitable for hikers of all skill levels. The trail is approximately 1.1 miles one way, with an elevation gain of about 450 feet. While there are some sections that are slightly steep, the well-maintained trail and switchbacks make the ascent manageable. The hike typically takes around 1 to 2 hours to complete, depending on your pace and the time spent taking in the scenery. 

dream lake rocky mountains

How far is Dream Lake from Emerald Lake

Dream Lake and Emerald Lake are located in close proximity to each other, making it possible to visit both lakes in one hike. From Dream Lake, it’s just another 0.6 miles to reach Emerald Lake. Continue to follow the trail along Dream Lake to reach Emerald Lake. The trail between the two lakes offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and passes through picturesque landscapes, including alpine meadows and dense forests. The total distance of the hike to both lakes and back is approximately 3.6 miles.

emerald lake rocky mountain national park

Do you need a reservation for Dream Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park requires timed entry reservations from May 26 – Oct 22, 2023 from 5 am until 6 pm – make sure you select the option with Bear Lake Corridor Road.

*Pro Tip*
Skip the reservation and get an early start to enter the park before 5 am, and do a sunrise hike - the alpenglow on the surrounding peaks is stunning from any of the lakes in this trail (Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, or Emerald Lake)!

Best time to visit Dream Lake and Emerald Lake

The best time to visit Dream Lake and Emerald Lake is during the summer and early fall months when the weather is mild and the trails are typically clear of snow. The trail to the lakes is usually accessible from late May or early June until October, but exact dates can vary depending on the snowfall each year. To avoid crowds, I’d recommended hiking on weekdays or early in the morning.

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What to pack for the hike

When embarking on the hike to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, it’s essential to come prepared with the right gear and supplies. Here are some items you should consider packing:

  1. Proper hiking shoes – Choose sturdy footwear with good traction to navigate the rocky terrain and good hiking socks make all the difference!
  2. Layers of clothing- The weather in the mountains can change rapidly, so dress in layers to accommodate temperature fluctuations. A sun hoodie helps protect your skin from the harsh sun, especially at high elevations! (use code “followtiffsjourney” for 10% off the Himali site)
  3. Sun protection – Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to shield yourself from the sun’s rays.
  4. Ample water and snacks – Stay hydrated by carrying an adequate amount of water, and pack energy-boosting snacks to keep you fueled throughout the hike.
  5. Camera or smartphone – Capture the stunning landscapes and wildlife encounters along the way.
  6. Basic first aid kit– It’s always a good idea to have essentials like band-aids, pain relievers, and blister prevention items on hand.
  7. Remember to pack light and only bring what you truly need to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience 🙂
nymph lake, rocky mountain national park sunrise

Highlights and scenic spots along the trail

The hike to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake is a feast for the eyes, with several highlights and scenic spots along the way. Here are some noteworthy points of interest:

1. Nymph Lake – This picturesque lake (above) is the first stop along the trail, only 10 mins from the parking lot. It’s known for its tranquil waters and beautiful lily pads that bloom during the summer months.

3. Dream Lake – As you reach Dream Lake, you’ll be greeted by its crystal-clear waters reflecting the majestic mountain peaks. This serene setting is perfect for a picnic or simply enjoying the tranquility of nature. You can hike alongside it to get closer to the water.

4. Emerald Lake – The final destination of the hike, Emerald Lake, is a hidden gem nestled in a secluded valley. Its emerald-green waters are a sight to behold, and the surrounding peaks including Hallett Peak provide a dramatic backdrop.

Lake Haiyaha connects from the Dream Lake Trail and is only an extra 1.5 miles further, but 100% worth checking out!! Read more about Lake Haiyaha on my blog here.
lake haiyaha

Dream Lake Trail Description Summary

The hike to Dream Lake starts at Bear Lake trailhead at 9,489 ft and quickly passes Nymph Lake. You’ll then reach a trail junction that splits off between Lake Haiyaha and Dream Lake. Follow the signs for Dream Lake which is right around the corner. Dream Lake sits at 9,954 ft, just one mile from the trailhead. Another 0.6 miles further is Emerald Lake which sits at 10,154 ft.

hike to dream lake

Safety tips for hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

While the hike to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake is relatively safe, it’s important to be prepared and take precautions when exploring the wilderness. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Check the weather – Before heading out, check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes. Thunderstorms are common in the afternoon during the summer months, so plan your hike accordingly.
  • Stay on the trail – Stick to the designated trail to avoid getting lost or damaging fragile ecosystems.
  • Beware of wildlife – Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, moose, and bears. Keep a safe distance and never approach or feed wild animals.
  • Carry bear spray – If you’re hiking in bear country, it’s advisable to carry bear spray as a precautionary measure. While this trail is generally heavily populated and bears shouldn’t be a big issue, you never know – better safe than sorry. Also, make sure you know how to use the bear spray effectively. It would be good to check with rangers about recent bear activity too.
  • Stay hydrated and pace yourself – Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially at higher elevations. Take breaks as needed and listen to your body.

Wildlife sightings and photography opportunities

Rocky Mountain National Park is teeming with wildlife, offering ample opportunities for wildlife sightings and photography. Keep your eyes peeled for elk grazing in the meadows, bighorn sheep scaling the mountainsides, and marmots scurrying among the rocks. Bird enthusiasts will also delight in spotting various species, including majestic eagles and colorful hummingbirds. Remember to maintain a safe distance and use zoom lenses for close-up shots to protect both yourself and the animals.

rocky mountain national park, dream lake hike

Camping and accommodation options nearby

For those looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park, camping is a popular option. The park offers several campgrounds, including Moraine Park Campground and Glacier Basin Campground, which are conveniently located near the trailhead for the Dream Lake and Emerald Lake hike. These campgrounds provide basic amenities and a chance to experience the park’s serene atmosphere under the stars. Advanced reservations are highly recommended, especially during peak seasons.

Places to Stay Near Rocky Mountain National Park

If camping isn’t your preferred option, Estes Park, a charming mountain town located just outside the park, offers a range of accommodation options, including hotels, lodges, and vacation rentals. Staying in Estes Park allows for easy access to the park’s entrance and provides a comfortable base for exploring the area.

  • Stanley Hotel – this hotel was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining
  • Coyote Mountain Lodge – nice and clean rooms in Estes Park, CO. Pet-friendly, includes breakfast, parking, wifi, AC, and hot tub.
  • Grand Lake Lodge – located along Grand Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, this lodge is surrounded by a lot of historic sites and landscapes. It’s pet-friendly, has free wifi and parking, clean, and close to horseback riding, hiking, and biking trails.
  • Swiftcurrent Lodge and Cottages by the River – private rustic cottages with secluded outdoor spaces located near the entrance of RMNP. Barbeque grill included.

Things to do near Estes Park, CO

Things to do in Denver, CO

hike to emerald lake

Dream Lake and Emerald Lake in a nutshell

Embarking on a hike to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is an unforgettable experience. From the awe-inspiring mountain vistas to the peaceful serenity of the alpine lakes, this adventure offers a glimpse into the stunning beauty of nature. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, the accessible trails and breathtaking scenery make it a must-do for anyone visiting the park. So lace up your hiking boots, pack your camera, and get ready to create memories that will last a lifetime in this outdoor paradise.

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