Dream Lake Trail is the best winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Granted, we’ve only done two winter hikes in RMNP, so our opinion may or may not have any value. But that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that this hike is unbelievable from start to finish and the views are jaw-dropping. Sure, there are plenty of higher elevation hikes in the park, but in mid-January, those 14,000+ peaks might as well require a Sherpa. We’ll save those for the warmer months. When we planned our trip to the park, this was the one hike we knew we must do, and it exceeded all expectations.
The Bear Lake trailhead is easily reached via Bear Lake Road. We’d recommend getting there as early as possible. We started the hike around 7AM and the parking lot was mostly empty. When we got back to our car a few hours later, it was an absolute zoo and many people were throwing in the towel since they couldn’t find a parking spot.
The round-trip hike is only 3.6 miles and the highest elevation on the trail is 10,090 ft. The total elevation gain is 616 ft. so it’s not terribly steep.
The first thing you see before even getting on the trail is Bear Lake. It’s a nice view but it’s a lightweight compared to the other three lakes on the trail.
Everyone told us we wouldn’t need snowshoes on the trail and that our microspikes would do the job. For the first half mile before reaching Nymph Lake, the advice held true since the trail was so well packed. After this point, we wished we had snowshoes. It wasn’t a big deal since the snow never got much deeper than our ankles, but there were a few places where the unpacked snow definitely slowed us down. If we were to hike this trail again this time of year we would bring snowshoes.
The view from Nymph Lake was marginally better than that from Bear Lake, but much more tranquil since we had distanced ourselves from the parking area. Once we passed Nymph Lake, the trail started getting really scenic….
After another 0.6 miles we arrived at the main event on the trail: Dream Lake It’s the picture on all the postcards, and the fact that there were a handful of very legitimate-looking photographers scattered across the lake was confirmation that we chose the right hike. The wind started to pick up once we got to Dream Lake so we didn’t dilly dally here longer than a few minutes to take a few photos and admire the spectacular view.
Emerald Lake is the last stop on the hike. While Dream Lake seems to get the most attention, Emerald is certainly no slouch. The photo opportunities here aren’t quite as good as those at Dream Lake given that the peaks in the background are directly overhead rather than in the distance; however, the feeling of standing at the feet of two massive peaks is no less awe inspiring. Like Dream, it was extremely windy, so we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked.
One of the benefits of a hike that’s scenic on the way up is that it’s scenic on the way down. We took some time to hang out and take in the scenery on the descent…
This isn’t a particularly difficult hike, but it rewards hikers with some of the most iconic views in the park nonetheless. If you’re looking for a winter day-hike in RMNP, this is your best bet.