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Hiking the Emerald Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

By: Katie Botwin

Rocky Mountain National Park is a year-round destination for outdoor adventure. Boasting over 350 miles of trails throughout the park, there is a place for every type of recreation—from backcountry skiers to first time hikers and snowshoers. The Emerald Lake Trail is a particular favorite for its awe-inspiring wind swept peaks and shimmering, ice cold lakes. I've wandered this winding path more times than I can count, with sweet smelling summertime grass swaying in a gentle breeze and with feet of snow covering our trails as we skin toward our future lines on the mountains towering above. Although often crowded, the Emerald Lake Trail provides an excellent place for visitors to share in the wondrous beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Emerald Lake Trail meanders through beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park. At 415 square miles, the park is populated with trails that weave through rugged mountains and is brimming with an incredible diversity of flora and fauna.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin
At about 3.8 miles round trip, the Emerald Lake Trail begins near Bear Lake. An area of pristine alpine lakes and sweeping vistas, the trailhead is normally busy and sometimes taking a shuttle to the trailhead is necessary.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin
The Emerald Lake Trail is breathtaking in all seasons. During the winter, the trail is filled with snowshoers and backcountry skiers.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin
Although the hike to Emerald Lake is relatively short, it’s always important to hike prepared. At such high elevations, you may encounter short tempered weather, and the correct path is often difficult to follow in the snow. Studying the route as well as packing snacks, layers, and goggles can often be the difference between a fun or miserable time on the trail.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin

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Nymph Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park


At just past a half mile, hikers come across the quaint Nymph Lake. Tips of jagged peaks begin to come into view, and in the summer Nymph Lake is bursting with color from lily pads which cover its surface.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin

Nymph Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park


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Views heading toward Dream Lake


Photo Credit: Katie Botwin
Emerald Lake Trail- Rocky Mountain National Park - Katie Botwin - OutThere Colorado
In summer, as the trail nears Dream Lake, the views become indescribable. Sweet smelling pines tower above as the path flows over babbling creeks and through meadows of swaying grasses.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin

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Dream Lake opens up to the jagged, windswept peaks that tower above the distant Emerald Lake, still blocked by rolling hills and layers of pine and aspen.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin

Making our way toward Emerald Lake


Photo Credit: Katie Botwin
Birds greet us as we make our way over Emerald Lake. The peaks call to us as backcountry skiers and snowboarders.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin
Two hikers make their way toward the aggressive looking peaks above to get a better look at the snow and watch the skiers. When traveling in and around steep terrain, it’s always best to be aware of avalanche danger, and it’s recommended to get AIARE certified when traveling in the backcountry.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin

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Summer on the Emerald Lake Trail


The way back is filled with equally stunning views. The gentle breeze of fresh air and contoured peaks in the distance remind us how lucky we are to live in such a marvelous state.
Photo Credit: Katie Botwin

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