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.’
May 3 – 9, 2020 is National Travel and Tourism week. Given our current travel restrictions in the United States, the U.S. Travel Association decided on the theme of ‘the Spirit of Travel cannot be broken.’
Since I heard the theme, I’ve been contemplating what the ‘spirit of travel’ means to me. I ran across this quote from novelist Anita Desai.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
That’s it. I feel that a part of me is missing right now. The part of me that likes to travel, explore, find adventure, and plan trips. In a world where I can’t go to the grocery store without a face mask on, it seems silly to miss travel as much as I do. But, I do!
Must-See Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s comforting to think the places you love become a part of who you are. In honor of travel week, I put together a list of must-see attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park.
This list includes the places I feel best represent the diverse landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park. I chose spots that are accessible to most travelers (you don’t have to walk 10 miles to see them). Together, they showcase the dynamic spirit of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Bear Lake is a popular destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake sits at 9,475 ft in elevation. Behind the lake, you can see an open view of Hallett Peak. Our kids love walking the half mile loop around Bear Lake. Starting from the Bear Lake trail head, hikers can access destinations like Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Hallett Peak.
You can hike to Alberta Falls from Bear Lake, but the shortest route starts from the Glacier Gorge trail head. The hike to the waterfall is less than a mile. After enjoying the magnificent waterfall, you can continue on to Mills Lake, The Loch, or even Sky Pond.
Moraine Park is one of our favorite places in RMNP to spot herds of elk. The Big Thompson River winds through the valley. Compared to other areas of the park, Moraine Valley is lower in elevation, so we typically choose hikes in this area when we are acclimating to high altitude. I recommend a hike to The Pool which leaves from the Fern Lake trail head or a hike to Cub Lake which starts at the Cub Lake trail head.
Gem Lake Trail
The Gem Lake trail begins at the Lumpy Ridge trail head. This area has unique rock formations that attract skilled rock climbers. This trail offers views of the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountains that are stunning. Another hike we enjoy in the Lumpy Ridge area is the Black Canyon trail.
The Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park feels a bit more rugged. You will find towering trees, vibrant wildflowers, and waterfalls. From the Wild Basin trail head, you can hike to Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. Along the way, there are several places to pull off to take in the sweeping views of the tundra. On this road trip, you will reach over 12,000 ft in elevation! The Alpine Visitor Center is a great place to stop for a restroom break, snack, souvenir shopping, and to learn more about the unique landscape.
Adams Falls is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Grand Lake, Colorado. The hike to Adams Falls is only .3 miles each way. There is a viewing deck for visitors to see the falls from. From this spot, you can continue on to beautiful destinations like the East Meadow.
Longs Peak Viewpoint
Take a drive down Highway 7, and you will come to a vantage point of Longs Peak that is worth stopping to appreciate. At 14,259 feet in elevation, Longs Peak is the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the places I am missing most. It is a part of me. Ocean views, mountain town, bustling city, desert landscape… what destination are you missing most? I hope you share in the comments.
My husband Eric and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to go on a more challenging hike during our last trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. His amazing sister not only offered to watch the girls for the morning, but also sat through hours of us deliberating about which hike we would choose. There are so many hikes that have been on our wish-list, it was difficult to decide. We finally agreed to attempt Sky Pond because we had hiked to Timberline Falls in the past, but for weather-related reasons, had never made it beyond the falls.
We woke up early to get to the park by 6:00am. We found a parking spot at Bear Lake and began our hike towards Alberta Falls which is one of the most popular destinations in RMNP.
We continued on the trail past the falls towards The Loch.
We arrived at The Loch, a peaceful lake surrounded by pine trees and filled with beautiful trout. We followed along the right bank. This is a popular destination, so it was nice to be there early and have it largely to ourselves.
Beyond The Loch you pass over a mountain stream. This is a relatively flat section of the trail.
Soon the hike becomes more challenging as you quickly gain elevation heading towards Timerline Falls. In this section we spotted female elk and a marmot.
We arrived at Timberline Falls, a breathtaking waterfall with sweeping views.
The first time I saw the sign pointing to Sky Pond, I thought it must be a mistake. I didn’t expect to hike up a running waterfall.
We got some good advice from Erik Stensland’s hiking guide to climb ‘up the gash in the rock’ and ‘don’t worry about getting wet; just go slowly.’ This proved to be a helpful tip, and even though our feet got fairly wet, it made for a manageable scramble.
After we made it up the waterfall, the path continued on to the Lake of Glass.
I found it a little difficult to see the trail between this lake and Sky Pond, but the scenery around us was nothing short of spectacular.
When we finally made it to Sky Pond, I was very excited to rest and eat a snack before heading back. However, it was hard to fully soak in the beauty as I was feeling anxious, knowing that the way back down the waterfall would be more challenging than the way up.
It wasn’t graceful – I mostly slid on my backside so that I could see the foot holds ahead of me. Once safely down, the adrenaline (and relief!) left us feeling invigorated, so we decided to extend our adventure.
Instead of heading back the way we came, at the Loch/Mills Lake trail junction, we followed a loop trail to Lake Haiyaha, which is a beautiful green color and is studded with boulders. This section of trail was quiet and peaceful, but it was longer and more challenging than I expected, adding to the total elevation gain of the hike. (We climbed a total of approx. 2,200 ft.)
After enjoying Lake Haiyaha, we continued down the mountain. The route gave us a glimpse of Dream Lake before rejoining the busier trail down to Nymph Lake, which was covered in beautiful pond lilies. From there it was a short walk back to the Bear Lake trailhead.
Eric wore a Garmin watch that tracked our hike from the Bear Lake trailhead to Sky Pond and back down via the alternative route by Lake Haiyaha. The total distance of our hike was just over 10.5 miles long.
This is now one of my all time favorite hikes. Not only did we get to see some of the most beautiful lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, we also got to climb through a waterfall, an experience I’ll never forget!
Dream Lake is a popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. We hiked the trail at the end of May. It’s always helpful to check the park’s trail conditions before selecting a hike, especially this time of year. (Here is the link)
You start at the Bear Lake trailhead which is a hot spot in the park! If you can’t find a parking spot in the lot, don’t give up – the national park has a park and ride shuttle that is free to use once you’ve paid the entrance fee. Routes change with the season. (more info)
Once we unpacked the kids from car, we were greeted by friendly and knowledgeable park staff and volunteers. Don’t forget to say thank you to them for keeping the park such a clean and amazing place – especially the people who have to clean the bathrooms. Bear Lake has several non-flushing toilets available.
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 half way into the hike which is a lovely spot.