Never before have I crossed a frozen lake in 60-degree weather… until I hiked in the Rockies. The hike to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is an exciting hike, with micro spikes and frozen lake crossings, that takes you deep into the Rockies and passes by two other lakes on the way. The alpine lake is hidden deep within the mountains and tucked between snow-capped peaks, and the hike there offers rewarding views of Hallett Peak and the expansive Rocky Mountains range.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular park that’s only an hour and a half northwest of Denver. Because of the amazing views and the abundance of hiking trails in the park, Rocky Mountain can get crowded on weekends, especially if the weather is nice. I arrived on a Saturday morning in early May and waited over 30 minutes to get past the entrance station.
It was my first time visiting the park and I decided to hike to Emerald Lake. The trailhead starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead at the end of Bear Lake Road, which I learned gets full by mid-morning and it can be difficult to snag a parking spot. The hike itself is 3.6 miles roundtrip with about 650 feet of elevation gain, but the starting elevation is 9,475 ft and it climbs to over 10,110 ft!
The trail begins on a steady climb as we hiked through snow-covered path surrounded by beautiful pine forest. In early-May, the entire trail was covered in thick snow so we used micro spikes the entire hike.
We soon reached the first lake, Nymph Lake, that was nestled between pine trees in a relatively flat area. To be honest, Nymph Lake was alright because the lake was smaller and it was in a low-lying area.
The trail quickly ascended up and around steep hills and we reached probably one of the best viewpoints on the entire hike. It was an overlook that protruded out and offered a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains range. We saw Nymph Lake below us and cascading snow-covered mountains extending into the distance. The first photo was taken from this viewpoint.
After about another half mile, we reached Dream Lake, which in my opinion was the most impressive of the three lakes. Dream Lake stretched between pine trees with the dramatic alpine peaks directly behind it.
The trail cuts directly across the frozen lake, but because it was a sunny 60-degree weather, there were sections of deep, wet slush. I was a bit anxious because it was obvious the ice was melting, but we followed the footsteps and went across anyway.
The segment between Dream Lake and Emerald Lake is the steepest section as we climbed to over 10,000 ft. The elevation made breathing more difficult and I definitely struggled a bit here.
Luckily, this section isn’t very long, and we soon reached Emerald Lake! The lake is tucked between the steep, sloping mountains and sits in the shadows of the towering alpine peaks. Hallett Peak is situated directly in front of us as it extends beyond the tree lines and layers snow covers the mountainsides. Even though we couldn’t’ see the lake because it was frozen and covered in snow, it was incredible to see it surrounded by such defined peaks on all sides.
The hike back down was much, much easier than the trip up. It took us about an hour and twenty minutes to hike up, and less than one hour to descend.
I thought the hike to Emerald Lake in the snow was such a fun experience with incredible views throughout. I especially loved that we were deep in the Rocky Mountains with such a high vantage point that it was beautiful everywhere we turned. And although I was anxious crossing a frozen lake on such a warm day, it was exciting and it’s an experience I’ll remember.