During my recent trip to Estes Park with my pregnant wife, we were able to get in a couple of relatively easy hikes, but both had a decent amount of elevation gain. Kristy did very well, having hardly ever visited the mountains in her entire life, and being pregnant on top of that. The hike we did on our third day was my favorite. We started at Bear Lake and hiked up over 600 feet to Emerald Lake, which was still partially frozen. This hike was pretty easy compared to the hike with 1,200 feet of elevation gain on our first day.
Starting off from the parking lot at around 9,600ft we were already seeing drifts of snow along parts of the trail and in the trees. I didn’t come equipped for tromping through snow, in fact I was waring Chaco Sandals! This didn’t deter us though, and we marched on.
This particular trail was partially paved in parts, as it is a very popular trail amongst tourists. The hike provides breathtaking alpine views without having to hike for hours on end. I could definitely see why it would be such a popular hike. Just over three miles round trip, the hike brings you to three stunning alpine lakes.
The first lake was relatively free of snow, except for a few drifts in the trees, but as we gained elevation we started crossing through more snow until eventually a majority of the trail was covered in it. I found humour in the amount of “good lucks” I received when people noticed I was wearing Chacos. My guess is post of them didn’t make it all the way to Emerald Lake, but we did!
The second lake (Dream Lake) we found pretty much the entire trail covered in snow, but it was well traveled, so it wasn’t difficult to find out way. The trails also were not icy, as one individual told as as he was descending. All it took to finish the hike was careful footing and a slower pace. The alpine scenery was well worth the extra effort. And even though I would have rather had water proof hiking shoes on, I found hiking through the snow in my Chacos fairly easy.
Once we arrived at the third and final lake (Emerald Lake) we found ourself surrounded by steep cliff faces and a partially frozen alpine lake. Above us we could see ski tracks from where late season backcountry skiers had recently descended Hallett Peak and Otis Peak, likely from a hike up Flattop Mountain.
We spent a few minutes taking in the view and pondering what it would have been like to ski the lines we could see in the snow. Having never backcountry skied myself I see the attraction to it, but at the same time it seems like a lot of work for what would end up being a very short run. After refueling on Bearded Brothers bars and other dried fruits, and nuts, we made our descent.
The descent was slightly more difficult and resulted in a lot of sliding around. My pregnant wife actually maintained her balance better than I did. I fell on my butt only once. But, that was one more time than I should have. After arriving back to the base of the hike we took a short jaunt over to Bear Lake. It was one of the largest alpine lakes I have ever seen.
This hike is definitely worth your time. But, based on the volume of people we encountered in the off season I would probably suggest doing this hike around the same time we did, or in LATE summer after a majority of the tourists have vacated. I can immagine this hike being quite congested in the busy summer months. The parking lot at the base was HUGE, and on top of that there was shuttle parking further down the road.
I personally prefer the more remote locations, but you are in RMNP, so you are bound to face a crow anywhere you go. Even when I climbed Longs Peak a couple years ago we encountered crowds.