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|Trail Name||Dream Lake|
|Nearest City||Estes Park|
|Elevation Gain||440 Feet|
|Low Point||9,420 Feet|
|High Point||9,920 Feet|
|Trip Reports||Dream Lake|
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With Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain forming a backdrop, Dream Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. At a relatively easy 1.1 mile hike, it is one of the park's more readily accessible backcountry lakes. Trail passes by Nymph Lake, and offers magnificent views of Hallett Peak, Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge along the way.
How to get there
From Estes Park, continue west on Hwy 36 to the Beaver Meadows entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. Just beyond the entrance, turn left and head south on Bear Lake Rd. for about 9 miles, until it dead-ends at the Bear Lake parking lot. The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot, between the shuttle bus stop and the ranger office. Restrooms available, no water. The Bear Lake parking lot will fill up on rare occasions. If so, you can drive back on Bear Lake Rd. to the Park & Ride shuttle bus parking area across from Glacier Basin Campground, where you can park your car and ride the shuttle bus back to the Bear Lake trailhead. See the Rocky Mountain National Park Shuttle Bus Information Page for shuttle bus stops and schedules.
The trail from the Bear Lake parking lot immediately crosses the creek flowing from Bear Lake. At the T immediately in front of you, turn left. The trail to the right takes you to Bear Lake, and to the trails going on to Bierstadt Lake, Odessa Lake, Flattop and Hallett Peak. The trail forks again, and you'll bear to the right up the hill. The fork to the left going downhill will take you to Glacier Gorge Junction (9/10 mile), Alberta Falls, and points beyond. The trail ascends along the hillside through pine forest. As you ascend, look to your left for views of Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge. But don't spend too much time taking pictures - the best views are yet to come.
At about 1/2 mile, you will arrive at Nymph Lake. At first glance you may want to hike right by without stopping - but don't. Despite its diminutive size, Nymph has a beauty all its own. During the summer, the lake is filled with pond lilies. The trail skirts along the east side of the lake, offering some of the best views of Hallett Peak, often reflecting in the still water of Nymph Lake; Flattop Mountain to Hallett's right. As you reach the north side of the lake, the trail turns left, toward the west. At this point, look past the lake for for views of Longs Peak. The banner image used on the Main Page of this site of a lake with peaks in the distance was taken from the north side of Nymph Lake, looking south towards Longs Peak. This image is also available in the gallery of images.
Leaving Nymph Lake, the trail begins to climb through the forest again, passing large rock outcroppings on your left (which are fun to scramble on). The trail makes a sharp turn to the left, and continues its ascent, topping out at a rocky overlooking providing great views back down to Nymph Lake. From this point for several hundred yeards, there are again some magnificent views of Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge. You'll soon begin to hear Tyndall Creek cascading down from Dream Lake. The trail continues through a few more switchbacks, across a couple of footbridges, and you will have arrived at Dream Lake.
Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain form the backdrop for Dream Lake, providing better views of Hallett than those from Bear Lake or Dream Lake. A rocky peninsula extends into the water from the north shore, offering a popular place to rest and enjoy the beauty before continuing on. The creek flows out of Dream Lake to the left of the peninsula. Some of the best photography can be found in this area, the rocks protruding from the water providing foreground interest, with Hallett Peak filling the background.
From here, you have several options: Continue along the north shore of Dream Lake to Emerald Lake, another 3/4 mile and about 200 feet elevation gain; Go on to Lake Haiyaha, (one mile); or return the way you came past Nymph Lake. Any one of these options won't disappoint.
Dream Lake In Winter
Even during the winter the Dream Lake Trail is very popular, with more than its fair share of hikers. Nevertheless this trail is, if anything, more beautiful in winter than it is in summer, surrounded by the snowcapped Hallett, Flattop and Longs Peaks.
Depending upon conditions, snowshoes are not always necessary, however they are highly recommended, as any excursions off of the packed trail will find you post-holing in deep, powdery snow. I usually strap my snowshoes onto my pack and carry them for the first part of the hike, putting them on beyond Nymph Lake.
The first part of the trail from the trailhead to Nymph Lake is typically well packed, but sometimes icy - a great place for Yaktrax or other traction devices, if you prefer not to wear your snowshoes. Nymph Lake is usually frozen except for early and late season. I prefer to walk across the frozen Nymph Lake, and continue up the same trail used in summer. However there is an alternate winter trail that diverges at Nymph Lake, following the east and south edges of the lake clockwise, rather than the counterclockwise summer route that continues around the north and west sides of the lake. It then climbs up the steep canyon toward Dream Lake.
Continuing up the summer trail, the snow is often deeper (or at least less packed) beyond Nymph Lake, so putting on your snowshoes before you start the climb away from the lake is a good idea. Soon you'll arrive at the ridge that overlooks Nymph Lake, with stunning views beyond of Hallet Peak, Longs Peak and the other mountain peaks that surround Glacier Gorge. Continue on, and you'll reach the point where, in summer, the stream continues straight up to Dream Lake, and the trail turns to the right and makes a switchback before continuing up to the lake. In winter, you can avoid the switchback by hiking the short distance up the streambed.
The beauty of the frozen lake and surrounding terrain, and of the towering peaks covered in their mantle of snow, makes this winter hike a rewarding destination for those willing to brave the elements.
Keep in mind that the weather in this area of the park is often considerably colder, and much windier, than what you experience in Estes Park and the Visitor Center. Even on the nicest of winter days, be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions, strong winds and blowing snow along this trail.
Fees, Permits, etc.
After the Hike
- 40.312, -105.646, Bear Lake Trailhead
- 40.31035, -105.6513, Nymph Lake
- 40.30957, -105.657, Dream Lake
- 40.30985, -105.6668, Emerald Lake
- 40.30416, -105.661, Lake Haiyaha
- Suggested hike list on National Park Service Rocky Mountain National Park web site