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.
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.
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.
Our total mileage was about 6.8 miles. (approximately 3 miles up to lookout + 3 miles down to Bear Lake + walk around 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.
My husband and I had a friendly debate on our drive into Rocky Mountain National Park about the best route to get to Bierstadt Lake. He voted to begin the hike at Bear Lake trailhead which is a downhill slope to the lake. I convinced him that starting at the Bierstadt Lake trailhead would give us better views on our way up and we would end the hike going downhill. Luckily, there was a parking space available in the small Bierstadt Lake parking lot and I won!
The mountains were hazy from wildfires in California and Montana when we started our hike. The haze slowly lifted revealing expansive mountain views.
We followed switchbacks, steadily gaining elevation before entering a beautiful pine forest.
We skirted the lake to get to a clearing with more amazing mountain views. The length of this hike can range from 2.4 miles to 3 + miles roundtrip depending on how much you want to walk around Bierstadt Lake. If you have time, I think it’s worth the extra steps to get a variety of perspectives.
We attempted to have a picnic, but we were interrupted by overly ‘friendly’ ducks.
The ambitious ducks followed us all the way from the lake back into the woods. They weren’t happy that we didn’t share our food. The feeling was mutual – our toddler was not a fan of the aggressive ducks.
The ducks were a minor inconvenience and I’m sure will be a fun family memory. However, I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone to avoid feeding wildlife. It’s so tempting to feed the cute chipmunks or ducks, but it changes their natural ‘wild’ behavior, is a nuisance to fellow park goers, and can wreak havoc on their poor little digestive systems.
Overall, we loved this hike because of the peaceful lake and breathtaking mountain views.
On a busy summer weekend at Rocky Mountain National Park we were disappointed when we had to park in the park & ride and cram on a shuttle to get to our hiking destination. The ride turned out to be great because our knowledgeable shuttle driver pointed out areas of interest as we passed by. One of his highlighted destinations was Bierstadt Lake. Our driver explained the lake was named after renowned 19th century landscape artist, Albert Bierstadt. Here is a link to Bierstadt’s work.
At the end of July we hiked to Bierstadt Lake with my daughter Cecy in her Ergobaby. There are several ways to get to the lake. We decided to start at Bear Lake trailhead which is two miles each way. The first .6 miles starts out along the Flattop Mountain route before splitting off.
From the junction we followed the trail through forest away from the mountains. Once we arrived at the lake we took a nice rest to let Cecy have some time out of her carrier (it was a pretty warm day), eat a snack and take in the views. I think the best view is when you walk half way around the lake and turn back to see Flattop Mountain in the distance.We hiked back to our starting point at Bear Lake – a mostly uphill return journey. As an alternative, you could continue for 1.3 miles to end up at Bierstadt Trailhead and take the shuttle back to Bear Lake parking lot. I would think this route would be easier, but I’ll have to try it out to confirm.
I hope to take advantage of the free shuttle system on future hikes to avoid backtracking. Here is a link for more shuttle information and routes.