After living in Colorado for six months, I’ve had the chance to head to RMNP a handful of times. Here are a couple of my favorite hikes off of the Bear Lake Trailhead, happy exploring!
Nymph Lake / Dream Lake / Emerald Lake
The Dream Lake hike is one of my favorites to take visitors on as it’s just over three miles out and back. Not only is it beautiful, it’s short enough and fairly easy so that out-of-towners won’t die from the altitude. This trail takes you past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, and ends at Emerald Lake. The trail does have some uphill, but nothing too crazy. In addition to the gorgeous lakes, you cross creeks on wooden bridges and get some amazing views of the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. This trail is great for mountain photo ops (see below). I will warn you that it is fairly heavily trafficked especially in the summer months. If you plan to go on a weekend I would recommend getting started very early in the day, or trying to hike on a week day. The parking lot fills up quickly and there’s nothing worse than not being able to go at your desired pace because there are a ton of people in front of you. If the parking lot does fill by the time you want to start your hike, the park offers park and ride services in the summer months. Just make sure you know when the busses stop running so you don’t get stranded 🙂
Another thing to keep in mind: this trail can get REAL windy so bring a headband/hat, mittens, and other warm clothes. Layers are key.
Odessa Lake/Fern Lake
This is perhaps one of my favorite hikes in Colorado. It ends up being about nine miles or so, so plan to spend the majority of your day on this hike. This hike also starts at the bear lake trailhead, but goes the opposite way of the Dream Lake/Emerald Lake trail and finishes at the Fern Lake trailhead. Keep in mind that the first few miles of the hike are a lot of uphill switchbacks. After a few miles though, it is all downhill! This hike is by far one of the most diverse I’ve done in terms of landscape. It starts with switchbacks, brings you down the side of a mountain, past two lakes (Odessa and Fern), two large waterfalls (Marguerite and Fern) and finishes next to a river where you’re more than likely to see some wildlife. I was lucky enough to see an elk wading in the river, which was so cool! Estes Park is full of elk, but depending on the time of year they can be hard to find.
-The weather on this hike changes dramatically. On the highest point of the trail I had on all my winter gear and was pretty cold. By the time I reached the river towards the end of the hike I had my lightest layers on and was sweating. So bring lots of layers.
-Start early, finish early. There’s nothing scarier than being in the mountains when it’s dark out.
-Make sure you follow the signs on this hike, I almost got lost a couple times.