Scenic Hike to Emerald Lake Lookout – Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake is one of the most iconic destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you haven’t taken the trip past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake to visit this inspiring spot, I highly recommend it. It’s one of our favorite 2-4 mile hikes in the park.

However, if you are looking for a greater challenge, you can see Emerald Lake from a whole new perspective by hiking from Bear Lake up to the Emerald Lake Lookout via the Flattop Mountain trail. The starting elevation at Bear Lake is 9,475 ft. and the trail continues to gain elevation from this point.

Hike up to Emerald Lake Look out via Flattop Mountain Trail
Hike up to Emerald Lake Look out via Flattop Mountain Trail

We took this trip back in July of 2015 with our friends who wanted to hike up to the summit of Flattop Mountain. We had our daughter with us who was about 8-months-old at the time, so we agreed to hike with them up to the lookout and then hike back down and take a nice stroll around Bear Lake.

Looking down at Emerald Lake
Looking down at Emerald Lake

The trail leading to Flattop Mountain has spectacular views. From this vantage point, you can also look down at Bierstadt Lake, which is another one of our favorite hiking destinations.

You will pass the Dream Lake overlook at 1.7 miles into the hike. Keep going until you spot the dark green lake and see signage for the Emerald Lake viewpoint.

Looking down at Bierstadt Lake
Looking down at Bierstadt Lake.

Our total mileage was about 6.8 miles. (approximately 3 miles up to lookout + 3 miles down to Bear Lake + walk around Bear Lake)

Photo by Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo by Bear Lake

I can’t believe our little baby is 4.5 this summer! I’m really glad that we keep our family’s hiking journal, so I can look back at hikes we’ve taken in the past with fond memories. I wrote more about our hiking journal here.

More Scenic Hikes Around Estes Park

Kruger Rock—A Dog Friendly, Early Season Trail just outside Estes Park, Colorado

9 Hikes with Amazing Views Near Estes Park, Colorado

Crossing the Divide—Bear Lake to Grand Lake Traverse

4th of July Weekend in Estes Park, Colorado

I can’t believe that next week we will be celebrating 4th of July! If you are heading to Estes Park, Colorado, I looked back through our ‘archives’ to see what we’ve done on this holiday weekend over the past several years.

From firework displays to waterfall hikes, we’ve always had a blast. A lot of people complain about the crowds this time of year, but the key is just getting up early. We aim to get into the park before 7:00am. I also have a few suggestions for trails that are typically less crowded.

4th of July in Estes Park Colorado

FIREWORKS HIKE

We took an evening hike starting at the Lumpy Ridge trail head up to a spot that looks over Lake Estes to watch Estes Park’s annual fireworks show at 9:30pm. After the spectacular display, we hiked back down the trail with a large group of people who had the same idea. It was magical to see the trail lit up by headlamps. My preschooler thought it was the coolest thing because she got to stay up WAY past her bedtime. It was one of the most memorable 4th of July’s we’ve had (ever).

Estes Park Fireworks Show

Hike in the Wild basin

The Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park on highway 7. The Wild Basin area is more remote than other areas of the park. There is not shuttle service to this area. Even though it is more remote, you will still need to arrive early to find a parking spot, but we’ve been lucky to find spots there even on 4th of July weekend several times.

Once you turn off the highway, drive down narrow dirt roads to get to the Wild Basin trail head. You can walk to Copeland Falls (.3 miles/way) and Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles/way) which are some of our favorite family-friendly waterfall hikes.

Less Busy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Pool is another hike we’ve enjoyed over the 4th of July weekend. This trail is located in the Moraine Valley area of RMNP. I love that you can shorten the hike by stopping at Arch Rocks or extend it by going on to Fern Falls. I wrote more details in this post.

Alluvial Fan

The Alluvial Fan is a “waterfall” (created by the lawn lake flood in 1982) located right off Old Fall River Road near Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a fun spot to explore. I recommend packing a picnic because there are several picnic spots nearby.

Alluvial Fan

Lake Estes

A walking trail goes around Lake Estes and leads to downtown Estes Park. There is a playground, picnic spots, fishing, and boat rental. You can learn more about the fees, hours, and rentals on their website.

Trail Ridge Road & Grand Lake, Colorado

As I write this post (June 26, 2019) Trail Ridge road is closed because of a late-season snow storm. The scenic highway that connects the East and West sides of Rocky Mountain National Park is typically open this time of year and will hopefully re-open in time for the holiday. Visitors can call 970 586-1222 to get updated information.

You can spend a full day on Trail Ridge Road if you stop at the many outlooks to take pictures and spot wildlife. The Alpine Visitors Center is awesome for lunch, bathroom breaks, shopping, and breathtaking views!

We enjoy going all the way over to Grand Lake, Colorado to walk along the shore of the largest natural lake in Colorado, play on the playground, and eat ice cream while strolling around the scenic mountain town. I wrote more about Grand Lake here.

Trail Ridge Road Open for Season? or is Trail Ridge Road Closed?

Additional POSTS to HELP Plan Your 4th of July Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Weather and Wine – Why I love the Rocky Mountains in July

A Trail Less Traveled

Get the Most Out of Your Rocky Mountain Vacation by Avoiding Crowds, Bugs and Car Sick Kiddos

Kruger Rock—A Dog Friendly, Early Season Trail just outside Estes Park, Colorado

We love hiking with our kids, but it’s also a gift to go on a solo hike. On his birthday (May 30th), Eric took a more challenging hike without the girls – and where better to get a moment away than in a place called Hermit Park?

We are always on the look-out for new (to us) hikes in and around Rocky Mountain National Park, especially in the springtime when snow still covers many of the higher-elevation destinations. Rock Cut Brewery recently started a hiking club, and posted about their group adventure to Kruger Rock a month or so back, and it looked like just the right fit for a quick spring challenge.

The Kruger Rock Trail is located in Hermit Park, just outside of Estes Park on Highway 36. I’ve driven by Hermit Park hundreds of times, but had never stopped to check it out. Its maintained by Larimer County, and there are dozens of campsites, a nice pavilion, and a few other trails to explore. You can read more on their website, here.

Entrance for day usage (hiking) was $9, handled at an easy-to-use self-pay system just off the highway. The trailhead is a couple of miles back near the large pavilion—I found the trailhead locater in the AllTrails app to be helpful in finding it, as the official sign was down when I visited.

Kruger Rock Trail 2 miles each way

The trail is roughly 2 miles each way, steadily gaining just under 1000 feet of elevation. The first section of the trail isn’t spectacular, but is certainly pleasant, as you wind through the pine trees up towards the ridge line.

Kruger Rock Trail Colorado

Less than a mile in, you reach a junction with the Limber Pine trail.

Hiking near Estes Park dog friendly location
kruger rock trail

From here, things start to get more scenic, both looking back over the valley you are ascending, and soon, with views of the Estes Valley beginning to emerge.

views along kruger rock trail
views kruger rock trail of estes valley and rocky mountain national park

If you look closely, you may even spot our cabin 😊 (excuse the grainy iPhone-zoom photo).

solitude cabins

From this point forward, the views are truly wonderful, and the adventure culminates in a fun scramble to the summit. I’m not an expert, but I would put the brief climb at class 3, although its just a few moves and has zero exposure to be concerned about. Might be a little tricky with a dog, but even without the final scramble, the views are fantastic.

class 3 hike up to summit of kruger park trail in hermit park
great views at summit of kruger rock trail in hermit park near estes park colorado

I was back at the trailhead in a total time of just under an hour and a half, including a 5-10 minute stop at the summit. It was an awesome hike, with very few other people out that day (granted it was a Thursday, and I got a relatively early start). Nearly everyone else I encountered had their dog as a hiking partner, and as mentioned above, it seems like a great place to bring them, outside of perhaps the very end of the trail.  Given how close Kruger Rock is to Estes, and how early in the season the snow melts out, we will definitely be recommending this one to our friends, and visiting again soon!

Additional Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park include Lily Mountain and the Homer Rouse Trail.

Add This to Your Hiking Bucket List! Blue Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness

One of my favorite places to hike in Colorado is in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I was flipping through our family hiking journal and came across what is best described as a love note about a hike we took to Blue Lake a few years ago. Despite the cold and rainy weather, I left enamored with the beauty we enjoyed along the trail. I’m surprised I haven’t written about this hike until now. 

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

The hike to Blue Lake begins in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, a popular hiking destination in Colorado. It is located approximately 1 hr 20 minutes from Denver, 50 minutes from Boulder, and 50 minutes from Estes Park. If you buy a pass to get into Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s good to know that there is a separate fee to get in to this National Wilderness Area. There is a lot of great hiking here for both humans and their pets. (dogs are allowed to hike on leash.)

The best way to get to Blue Lake is to begin at the Mitchell Lake trail head, but because of this destination’s popularity, we had to park a little further away near Brainard Lake.

Mitchell Lake is 10,500 ft in elevation.

Our hike was 6.2 miles round trip and gained 1,250 feet in elevation. Brainard Lake Recreation Area starts at a high elevation so snow typically sticks around longer in the season. Ideal hiking is late July through August.

Mountain stream with wildflowers blooming in August

Once past Mitchell Lake, the trail climbed up through rocky terrain with expansive views of the surrounding mountains.

Enjoy expansive views

There were several pools and lakes along the trail.

Flowers adorn the mountain side

Hiking through the rain and mist.

Blue Lake sits at 11,300 ft in elevation.

We took this hike back in August 2016. It felt like an accomplishment for all of us because our toddler endured the rainy, cold weather. My husband carried our daughter the longer distance and greater elevation gain on his back.  I was carrying a little one too because I was pregnant with our second daughter who is now 2!

Time flies, but it’s great to look back at all of the memories we have made along the way.

Additional Information About Blue Lake and Brainard Lake Recreation Area:

Blue Lake via Mitchell Lake Trail

Brainard Lake Recreation Area Summer Season Map