Rocky Mountain Park Summer Hike
Bear to Emerald Lakes & Alberta Falls
From the Beaver Meadows eastern entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (off US hwy 36) go west a quarter mile, then south onto Bear Lake Rd. Follow it to the end and you will find a trailhead for a path that leads you along four beautiful lakes. We hiked the path in early July of 2008 and again mid-June of 2009, adding a short detour to Alberta Falls the second time. Both times we started around noon and saw many fellow hikers. It is best to park in the Bear Lake shuttle lot during the summer because the lot at the trailhead fills fast.
Distance: Bear Lake to Emerald Lake - 3.6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 600 ft.
Time: 2.5 to 3 hrs (I take about 3.5 hrs. with photos and a lunch break)
Not far from the parking lot is Bear Lake (top of page) at 9,475 ft. elevation with an easy .6 mile loop around the perimeter. This past June it was strange to walk along the wood fence to the lake as I recalled our hike the previous January when we were snowshoeing about 2 ft. above the top fence rails.
Many people stop to take a breather along the first section of the path because it is a gradual, but almost continual climb for a half mile to Nymph Lake, which is 225 ft. higher than the trailhead by Bear Lake.
The path leading from Nymph Lake to Dream Lake climbs another 250 ft. for half a mile and is easy to traverse since steps have been built into the hillside. By this point my legs and lungs have warmed up, so I hardly stop to rest like I do for the first leg of the hike.
At the top of this path there is a great overlook toward Nymph Lake below.
The trail has a gradual ascent here and you can enjoy a view of Long's Peak (below), the only fourteener in the park.
The route to the summit of Long's Peak is a popular one. However, I heard from a woman who climbed it when she was about 50 that she found a few rocky sections near the top to be extremely scarey. Then she described a helicopter rescue she witnessed, so I'm not eager to go there no matter how spectacular the views are.
During our July hike a storm was threatening with dark clouds and the start of sprinkles, yet Greg and I veered off the path to climb some rocks and sit next to this waterfall. Afterwards, we pulled out our rain ponchos, covered the camera equipment and continued on in a steady rain and dropping temperatures.
On the upper left is a shot of a small waterfall pouring into a pond.
On the upper right is a photo I took in early July of 2008 as we approached the shore of Dream Lake. It looks much more like summer than the photo taken below in mid-June the following year.
I was surprised at how much snow remained on the path by going slightly earlier in the year. It was slippery along the stream, but at least the bridge was dry and the cool air felt good.
Below are shots taken of Dream Lake in July (top) and June (below) during different years. The weather can sometimes change so quickly and dramatically that all you have to do is wait an hour or so for totally new lighting. The tripod came in handy here.
There are often people fishing for trout along the shores of Dream Lake.
Unfortunately, I do not have summer photos of Emerald Lake because the first time we went, it was raining so hard I didn't dare take my camera out (there is a small rock overhang by the shore, but people had already collected under it). On our second trip out there we had someone waiting for us, so we turned around at Dream Lake. If you want to see the steep snow covered mountain slopes which meet the shores of Emerald Lake, check out my
To add something new to our hike, the second time around we veered toward Alberta Falls since it was just over a mile from the Bear Lake trailhead. Heading back from the falls, we just had to hike .8 miles to catch the shuttle bus from the nearby Glacier Gorge parking lot. The trail slopes down then climbs gently toward the falls.
A creek crosses the path several times, so there are a number of bridges and small waterfalls to enjoy. We usually had people in view along the trail, but there were moments when we could enjoy the tranquil solitude amid the aspen and evergreens.
I was thrilled when I finally spotted some wildlife. There was a rabbit feeding a few yards off the path. Later, we saw a nonchalant elk munching behind some aspen.
I was surprised to see a steep canyon just before we reached the falls. It had been an easy hike because the path was fairly smooth and the elevation gain from the trailhead was only 220 ft. I stood on the edge of the cliff to see Glacier Creek roaring below (right).
Many people were standing on the rocks along Alberta Falls to get their pictures taken and sometimes the wind blew heavy spray, so I had to wait a little between shots. Since there was full mid-afternoon sun, I used the polarizer for all water shots. The waterfall is powerful and the surrounding rocks are beautiful.
I didn't see any wildflowers during our June hike to Dream Lake, but I found a number of them hiding among the trees at lower elevations on the trail to Alberta Falls.