Today I wanted to share a short post about a short hike. Nymph Lake is located in the Bear Lake area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Known for the pond lilies that float on its surface, Nymph Lake is located only a half mile from the trailhead.
Nymph Lake is one of our favorite short hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. You can find more short hike suggestions here. Continue the trail beyond Nymph Lake to amazing destinations including Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, and more.
This summer we reached a turning point. Gone are the days of baby packs, kid carriers, and short strolls with preschoolers. We will look back on our early years of hiking with fond memories. But let’s be real, hiking with very young children is challenging!
This summer our seven-year-old and five-year-old daughters exceeded our expectations by hiking several of our favorite three to six mile hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park on their own.
A hike to Mills Lake marked the first big trek of the summer. Mills Lake is in the Bear Lake Corridor of Rocky Mountain National Park. The hike begins at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation). The trail passes by the iconic Alberta Falls. The total distance is 5.6 miles roundtrip.
Hiking with best friends was the secret to our successful hike to Emerald Lake. Our group hiked 3.6 miles with an elevation gain of 650 ft. The hike to Emerald Lake is one of the best hikes in RMNP because you pass by Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on your way up. Like Mills Lake, this hike also starts at the Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t get to enjoy the views at Emerald Lake for long before a sudden hail and rainstorm had us heading down the mountain. By the time we reached the parking lot, the sky cleared, and we saw the most spectacular double rainbow.
Gem Lake is in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Lumpy Ridge area. The hike is 3.6 miles (1.8 miles each way), gains 1,000 ft of elevation, and features unique rock formations like ‘The Boot’. Rock steps lead to the small mountain lake. These steps are moderately challenging for me. For the girls and their shorter legs, the climb required an extraordinary effort.
Ouzel Falls is located in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park where abundant wildflowers bloom beside rushing waterfalls. This area is often less crowded and is lower in elevation compared to the Bear Lake area. The hike to Ouzel Falls begins at 8,500 ft of elevation and gains 950 ft. The total distance is 5.4 miles (2.7 miles/way). Before arriving at Ouzel Falls, the trail passes Copeland Falls and the Calypso Cascades which are both beautiful destinations on their own.
The trailhead for this summit hike is located off of Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Beaver Meadows entrance. The 10,013 ft. summit features sweeping views. The hike is 6 miles total distance (3 miles/way).
Unlike the other hikes in this post, Blue Lake is located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area rather than Rocky Mountain National Park. The recreation area is located approximately 1 hour 20 minutes from Denver, 50 minutes from Boulder, and 50 minutes from Estes Park. The hike is 6.2 miles round trip and gains 1,250 feet in elevation. The trail passes several mountain lakes including Mitchell Lake. We spotted several moose along the trail.
This morning I received a text from my husband with a link to an article from an Estes Park newspaper that there is a wildfire near Estes Park today (November 16, 2021). The fire is currently 133 acres. They are calling it the Kruger Rock Fire. Strong winds have not helped the situation. The most up-to-date information can be found on the Larimer County website, here.
Today’s wildfire is located a few miles south of our cabin. It’s hard to tell the specific areas where the fire has made an impact. It looks like it is near a hiking destination that we’ve enjoyed in the past called Kruger Rock which is in Hermit Park. I wrote more about the area here.
Rather than anxiously checking and rechecking news updates, I thought it would be more productive to write a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Back in August, my husband and I went on a hike to Black Lake. We chose Black Lake out of many options we were considering for a ‘date hike’ mostly because it felt like a sure bet. I knew that we would pass by Mills Lake on the way which is one of my favorite destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We got into Rocky Mountain National Park before 6:00 am so that we would have a good chance of getting a parking spot at Bear Lake. I’m not a fan of getting out of bed early in the morning, but I am a big fan of watching the sunrise over the mountains. It was also amazing to have one of the most popular destinations in the park to ourselves. I took the following video of Alberta Falls which is located .6 miles from the Bear Lake parking area.
We took the hike on August 1st, which meant we had to purchase a timed-entry permit for the Bear Lake corridor. The permits are required between May 28 – October 11, so if you are planning a late fall or winter visit the permits probably aren’t something you will need to worry about. However, I recommend looking at the national park’s website for the latest information because this is a pretty new system.
Mills Lake is located a little less than three miles into the hike.
We ran into a group of female elk on the trail. I thought they’d be scared and run away when they saw us… nope. They held their ground and we let them. We backed up and let them have their space and time on the trail. It was slightly intimidating, but it is also one of my favorite memories from the hike.
There was a section of the trail that had a lot of knocked down trees. I did a little research and found that, ‘In November of 2011 a microburst, with winds estimated at 70 to 90 mph, hit the region and decimated hundreds of trees in this area alone. The blowdown impacted a section of trail that extends for roughly a half-mile.’ according to Rocky Mountain Trails.com. I thought that was very interesting because I didn’t realize microbursts occur in mountain areas. It’s also remarkable that the event occurred a decade ago, but you can still see noticeable damage.
This trail featured numerous streams and waterfalls along with spectacular mountain views.
Not far from Black Lake we had to climb up the side of a waterfall. Looking back we enjoyed the view of the lush valley below.
Black Lake Trail is rated as a 5 star hike on AllTrails.com. Fellow hikers made comments about the privacy and noted ‘hardly any other hikers’ on the trail after Mills Lake. Hikers also stated it is a ‘good workout’ for moderate hikers. Tips include pre-downloading maps on your phone and wearing mosquito repellent.
Black Lake is also one of the hikes featured on the new Rocky Mountain Channel which is a subscription service that provides high-quality video content about Rocky Mountain National Park that can be streamed from anywhere.
We stopped for a snack at Black Lake where we admired the dark reflection quality which is perhaps how the lake earned its name.
On the way back, the sky turned bright blue and the mountains glowed in the sun. Our total hiking distance was 9.6 miles round trip. I’m so glad that my husband and I had an opportunity to do something we love in one of our favorite places.
The town of Estes Park, the fire crews, and the surrounding wildlife areas are in our thoughts and prayers tonight!
The hike to Dream Lake begins at the Bear Lake trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park. The total hike is 1.1 miles each way starting at 9,450 ft in elevation and gaining 450ft. You will cross by Nymph Lake halfway into the hike. In late October, we could see lily pads at Nymph Lake as well as a layer of ice beginning to frost the mountain lake. The pairing made a unique and beautiful combination.
We continued up towards Dream Lake.
dream lake rocky mountain national park
The hike to Dream Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the park. Even though there were quite a few people on the trail, we felt lucky that we could experience it off-peak. October is late in the season for this hike.
We were thankful to the fellow hikers who took a family photo for us with Hallett Peak in the background.
As we headed back down the trail, I overheard a group of young, fit-looking hikers marvel at how much better our girls were hiking in the high elevation compared to them. I smiled to myself because it was true. Our 4-year-old and 6-year-old made the hike look easy with their abundant energy.
In one of our favorite hiking guides by Erik Stensland, this hike is rated easy unless ‘you are not acclimatized’ – in which case it can be challenging, and it is a good idea to take it slow.
The truth is our girls were motivated by snow, and specifically throwing snowballs (otherwise known as ice pellets) at their parents.
You can see in their smiles that this hike was a lot of fun, but the Mom/teacher in me was excited to sneak in a little education as well. For example, because this hike is so popular, you can see areas along the trail that have been impacted by erosion. We looked at exposed tree roots and talked about how the dirt is needed to keep the trees from falling over. We also talked about snow melt and asked why the waterfall which we had passed in the spring was now a trickle of water in comparison. How do the changing seasons impact the landscape and the animals?
If you have little science and nature lovers in your life, I think a gift from the Rocky Mountain Conservancy would be a meaningful present this holiday season. Purchases support ‘the research and educational missions of Rocky Mountain National Park.’