Emerald Lake Trail at Rocky Mountain National Park

October 10, 2012 in Colorado Hiking Trails by amylaree

Emerald Lake Trail with Nymph Lake, Dream Lake & Lake Haiyaha

Emerald Lake Trailhead

Follow the arrows to the lakes

It’s been over two months since we were in Colorado, but we’re still catching up on our posts from the week long hiking extravaganza. Our second day at Rocky Mountain National Park was our 5th day in a row of hiking and after two very long treks the days before (Gray’s Peak and Sky Pond), our weary legs were ready for a less intense outing. The Emerald Lake trail at Rocky Mountain National Park was exactly what we were looking for.

  1. Scenery:  5.0
  2. Difficulty:  3.5
  3. Length:  5.5 miles
  4. Dog Friendly Factor: 0
  5. Convenience:  1.5
  6. Bonus Funtimes: 5.0
Trail Map:


Dream Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake on the path to Emerald Lake

Scenery (5.0 out of 5.0): If you’re in the mood to enjoy some scenic mountain lakes, this is the trail for you. Starting off near Bear Lake, the trail is very well trodden (and very popular). The climb up to Nymph Lake is quite moderate – only gaining 230′ in elevation over the half mile. Nymph Lake is really more of a pond. Covered in lily pads, it really does have a lovely quality that’s distinctive from the other area lakes. It seems like it’d be more in place in a Monet painting than the Rocky Mountains.

Continuing on from Nymph Lake, you climb another couple of hundred feet in the span of .5 miles to Dream Lake. This lake seems far more expansive than Nymph Lake and regains the character of so many of the lakes in the area surrounded by massive boulders and cutting its way along the mountainside. The climb from Dream Lake to Emerald Lake wound up being one of my favorite stretches of the trail, due to the simple beauty of mountain streams and wildflowers.

Emerald Lake gets its name from the green reflection of the rocks and minerals that make up the base of the lake. Unfortunately, the day we were there it was cloudy – dulling the color of the lake – so we didn’t get the benefit of the sparkling green waters, but it was still a beautiful scene. The steep vertical cliffs of the surrounding mountains and huge boulders that surround the lakeside are striking against the clear waters of Emerald Lake.

Lake Haiyaha Tree

Lake Haiyaha Tree

From Emerald Lake we returned down to Dream Lake and continued on to Lake Haiyaha. The climb up to Lake Haiyaha traces a mountainside that provides spectacular views of the surrounding Rocky Mountain vista. A fellow hiker told us the name “Haiyaha” was given by the Indians who once lived in the area and it means “boulders.” Once up to Haiyaha, it didn’t take more than a second to understand why they gave this lake its moniker. Huge boulder fields surround the lake and boulders can be seen popping up at many points across the lake. It was unlike any place I’d seen before.

Also at Lake Haiyaha, there’s an amazing, gnarled tree that grows out of what seems like a soil of boulders. I have no idea how old the tree is, but it’s gnarled form is truly remarkable. From Lake Haiyaha, we returned the way we came. The descending portion of the trail provides many great views of Longs Peak and spots throughout Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond.

Emerald Lake at RMNP

Emerald Lake at RMNP

Difficulty (3.5 out of 5.0): If you only make the trek up to Emerald Lake, this is a very moderate trail (especially after the ones we’d done the days prior). However, when we tacked on the hike up to Lake Haiyaha, that’s when our already tired legs got a little more worn down. From Dream Lake, the trail cuts and switches back a few times during the climb up to Lake Haiyaha.

Once up to Haiyaha, the other degree of difficulty comes with the inevitable boulder hopping that you must do to get from one spot to another. Really, we found this a pretty fun activity, but there were some elderly people who clearly found the rocky terrain unsettling and difficult to maneuver. That said, overall this trail is pretty easy-to-moderate in difficulty – just be sure to watch your footing at Haiyaha.

Length: 5.5 miles

Emerald Lake

Last hike of the trip – Dream Lake as the backdrop

Dog Friendly Factor (0 out of 5.0): Dogs are not allowed on trails at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Convenience (1.0 out of 5.0):  If you’re in Colorado or visiting, it’s an easy drive to RMNP from the Estes Park area, but since we live in Tennessee this is not a convenient trail. However, the park has a great shuttle system you should take advantage, especially as construction continues in the Bear Lake area where this trail is located.

Bonus Funtimes (5.0 out of 5.0): Like all great national parks, there’s no shortage of bonus funtimes at RMNP. In addition to hiking and camping this was an incredibly popular area for all types of fishing. If the number of hipwaders we saw on folks of all ages on the trail was any indication, this is an especially popular area for fly fishermen. Backpackers also rave about RMNP – especially after you get a few miles from the main trailheads, solitude is much easier to find without so many fellow hikers.

Slideshow of Emerald Lake Trail