Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake Hike

Bear Lake

My two-alarm system failed me (yet again), so I got to Loveland 20 minutes late for meeting Mark for breakfast at the Coffee Tree. Coffee and breakfast consumed, I grabbed my things, jumped in Mark’s Boxster, and we took to the canyons.

I had been to this area of Rocky Mountain National Park before, so I knew how busy it gets. We aimed to be on the trail no later than 8a, but thanks to my system failure, we arrived at 9:15. The queue to get on the shuttle bus moved quickly and after a few stops, we were dropped off at the (full) Bear Lake parking area.

Once on the trail, we immediately we started uphill. I was a little disappointed by the swarms of people and that the “trail” was paved, however once we passed Nymph Lake, the pavement degraded into a dirt path.

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Overlooking Nymph Lake

We trudged up the numerous stairs, passing lots of families with grumpy kids. Mark and I were engrossed in conversation and before we knew it, we had reached the second lake, Dream Lake.

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Dream Lake looking east

It was beautiful – set at the bottom of a steep hill, the lake reflected all the looming trees and was a lime green color when the light hit it right. This was a popular spot for fishermen. Hoping to leave the crowds behind, we pushed onto our destination.

Waterfall

We climbed many more stairs as we followed a creek towards it’s source.  The boulders and resulting waterfalls started getting larger and soon we came to the end of the trail at Emerald Lake. We had found the rest of the crowds seated along the rocky banks, enjoying the view and either the sun or shade. Chipmunks and birds desperately tried to dig through backpacks, looking for snacks. There was a slight breeze coming off Flattop Mountain and from where we sat, we had a good view of the Tyndall Glacier (or what’s left of it) above us.

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Emerald Lake underneath Flattop Mountain

The lake was becoming more crowded as the day went on, so after a few moments of rest and a quick snack, we made our way back to the trailhead. We were surprised and somewhat disappointed at how crowded the trails actually were. The fact that they were bussing people in from the overflow lot suggested it was a very popular weekend destination. We decided to view the nearby Bear Lake (which is the featured image for this post) and while resting in the shade, we talked with a park volunteer. According to her, attendance was up 12% from last year, despite 2015 being the park’s 100th anniversary.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

We probably sat too long because we decided not to hike another 2 miles to Bierstadt Lake. The bus arrived and took us back to the car. Because we were already in the park, we drove up Trail Ridge Road to the alpine visitor’s center in the heart of the park.

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It was a beautiful day and the clouds were starting to roll in. Mark was kind enough to drive so I could focus on not focusing on the lack of guardrails along the road. Once above tree-line, I noticed how green the landscape is this time of year. We made it to the visitor’s center only to find a line of cars in the parking lot spilling into the road. Tired and hungry, we vetoed the center and headed back down the hill.

Deer friend

Deer friend

We exited the park and got caught in a small amount of traffic who was stopped to take photos of several elk grazing on the edge of the road. There was some festival going on in Estes Park and not wanting to deal with more crowds and traffic, we decided to head back to Loveland and find food.

By the time we reached 3 Margaritas, it had been 8 hours since we had eaten breakfast. We didn’t even mind the loud infant seated next to us, we just needed food ASAP. Afterwards, Mark dropped me back off at my car and we parted ways. Another great outing with excellent company. Despite the congestion, I still enjoyed getting out of the house and being in the woods.

The hike took us about 2 hours. The map below has the incorrect altitudes – the hike was 3.5 miles round-trip and we started at an elevation of 9,475 feet, climbed 635 feet, reaching a max height of 10,110 feet. I would go back as long as it wasn’t on a weekend.

Lake Helene

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Chris was in town visiting from San Diego for the weekend. Hoping for better luck at Rocky Mountain National Park this time, we filled our Camelbaks, loaded up the Battle Wagon™ and cruised up to Estes Park to hike to Lake Helene.

We arrived at the park-and-ride lot around 8:15a and ran to the crowded shuttle bus that took us up the hill to Bear Lake. Once properly sunscreened, we took to the trail. It seemed like we had chosen a less-popular route; the crowds quickly diminished as we ascended into the pines.

The trail was a steady grade upwards, but not steep enough to require frequent water stops. I brought my REI trekking poles (thanks, dividend!) to try out and found them to be pretty helpful on the hills. It was a beautiful, clear summer day and we took our time, arriving at the cutoff trail to Lake Helene in short order. After taking a rest, a few bites of meat bar, and snapping some photos, we made the descent back to Bear Lake.

When we got back to one of the earlier splits in the trail, we took inventory and decided we felt good enough to walk the 3 miles back to the parking lot. We don’t need a shuttle! The trail was mostly downhill and passed by Lake Bierstadt, where we stopped to finish our snacks and rest. The clouds were starting to roll in and it was getting warmer, but the breeze was refreshing and the view was spectacular.

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We continued on down the trail, which progressively became steeper. Rains earlier in the season had exposed many small rocks in the trail, which, combined with the current dryness and grade, frequently challenged our footing. After a mile of this, we both agreed we should have taken the shuttle back from Lake Bierstadt. We trudged on and made it back to the car around 12:30p, totaling 9.9 miles of hiking for the day. Not too bad!

IMG_5041On our way back to Denver, we stopped at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder for a delicious lunch at Oak and to visit one of two Mont Bell stores in the U.S. Once closer to town, we stopped again for a tasting flight of sour beers at Crooked Stave and to stock up on odd beers and Boxcar coffee at the other stalls housed in The Source. A pleasant end to a relaxing day in the mountains.