The Dream Lake trail was my absolute favorite hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It branches off from the Bear Lake area and takes you up to a series three more alpine lakes: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. We stopped at Dream Lake thanks to non-ideal hiking conditions, but online photos make me think it’s the prettiest of the three anyway.
The Bear Lake Trail
The trail to Dream Lake leaves from the Bear Lake area. We spent some time wandering around this much easier trail before beginning our hike. In mid-May, there was still plenty of snow and ice on the lake and the trail, but it was passable and there were lots of hikers and families with kids out exploring. This is one of the easier trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, and its proximity to a large parking area makes it perfect for non-experienced hikers.
We only had to wait for a couple of minutes to get a parking spot in the Bear Lake lot, but I’m told that during the busy season you have to show up really early or take the park shuttle if you plan to park there.
The hike to Nymph Lake
Once we had our fill of Bear Lake, we started up the trail to see the smaller lakes at higher elevations. There was a lot of snow that slowed us down – it was starting to melt and very slushy and slippery – and we considered turning back a couple of times, but we kept going.
To be honest, Nymph Lake was a bit underwhelming. I wouldn’t make the hike just to see it. Dream Lake isn’t too much further, and it’s worth the extra distance to see a prettier lake. Plus, my boyfriend stepped onto thin ice and got his hiking boots wet. He was a trooper though and wrung his socks out and we kept going further up the mountain.
The Dream Lake Trail
The trail from Nymph Lake to Dream Lake gets steeper, but offers some spectacular views. We stopped on this large bare boulder to take a break and enjoy the splendor of the mountain scenery (and attempt to dry my boyfriend’s socks a bit more). Standing up there, I felt like John Muir or something.
When we finally reached Dream Lake, I was blown away. Even partially covered in ice, it was spectacular. It’s cliché, but the water really was like glass, reflecting the peaks behind it.
People were lounging all around the shore, on rocks and fallen trees, and anything that wasn’t buried in snow. A couple nearby had packed a picnic lunch and were enjoying it nearby. Talk about a meal with a view.
As much as we didn’t want to leave, we eventually turned around and made our way back, pausing several times to enjoy views that we had missed on the way up. Working our way back down to Bear Lake was a bit harder as we were now sliding downhill. At one point the snow/slush was so slippery that I just crouched down, sitting back on my heels and scooted myself down with my hands. My boyfriend was amused and I thought it was lots of fun.
The Dream Lake Trail is located on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park, just northwest of Denver, Colorado. All Trails has it listed as 2.1 miles long, with a 498 foot gain in elevation. Park admission is required, and charged per vehicle at the entrances. I’d recommend staying in Estes Park when exploring this area. Park at or take a shuttle to the Bear Lake trailhead to pick up the trail – you’ll begin by following the signs to Nymph Lake. All Trails always has good information about trails, and is a great resource for planning hikes.
You’ll want to wear good hiking shoes, and consider bringing snowshoes during the winter and spring. Visit during the summer for optimal (but most crowded) hiking conditions. Wear layers too – the weather in the mountains is unpredictable. We were hiking on several feet of snow pack, yet my boyfriend was wearing shorts.
Check out these posts for other Rocky Mountain National Park hikes:
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