Emerald Lake and Dream Lake

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At Emerald Lake on my first solo hike.

Hiking Details:

  • Mileage: 3.6 miles roundtrip
  • Altitude:10,080 feet
  • Elevation gain: 605 feet
  • To get there: In RMNP take the Bear Lake road to Bear Lake. Leave from there and follow trail signs past Dream Lake to Emerald Lake.

Today I am alone, hiking silently along with tons of thoughts swirling around in my brain. I have never gone hiking alone before and I will admit that it was a little tough to get the courage to do so. Hiking has always been a social activity for me, a way to talk and get to know the people I am with. So, somehow, go alone seems to change everything. But once I’m on the trail, I am feeling refreshed, proud of my bit of independence.

Dream Lake.

The first 1.1 miles of this trail are familiar to me, as I have been to Dream Lake (which is 0.7 miles below Emerald Lake) multiple times. Many of the trees are bare, and the last clinging Aspen leaves rattle on their branches. This trail, and reaching Dream Lake, reminds me that a place can be different each time you go back to it.

I first saw Dream Lake in the winter. It was quiet in the area and snow was blowing off the top of Hallett Peak, which rises dramatically behind the lake. Everything was crunchy and frozen and we walked from east to west on the lake’s ice. That day, the scene was painted blue. I visited Dream Lake again this summer only to find shouting kids, green trees, and sunshine all around. Now, at the end of fall, the lake is pretty quiet again, the water is blue and rolling over itself in wind-induced waves. The trees are gray and barren, already with some snow at their bases.

I take a moment at Dream Lake before continuing up to Emerald. This is a place

Hallett Peak behind Emerald Lake.

I’ve never been and a trail I’ve never travelled. It’s even quieter here and when I reach the lake I am all alone there. Emerald Lake is small and, as it goes, full of Emerald-colored water. The wind is blowing relentlessly, but I still climb to the top of a rock to sit in the sunshine. I am even closer to Hallett now, right at its base. On the north side of the lake there are crags on the side of Flattop that I haven’t seen before. This new angle shows me a new side of a mountain I have looked at every day for the last five months.

After a conversation with some other hikers, and a fifteen minute stay at chilly Emerald Lake, I head back down the trail. With 16 inches of snow in the forecast this week, this might be the last hike of the season before skiing and snowshoeing begins.

Hiking details from “Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park” by Kent and Donna Dannen.

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