HAPPY TRAILS: Dream Lake Trail

October 23, 2013 Updated: October 23, 2013 at 6:15 pm
photo - Jean Langel, left, and Monica Ulrich, both of Littleton, take a long-awaited hike at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park Oct. 17.
Jean Langel, left, and Monica Ulrich, both of Littleton, take a long-awaited hike at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park Oct. 17. 

If you have been to Rocky Mountain National Park, you probably hiked this mega-popular trail from the Bear Lake trailhead to a stunning alpine lake. You probably had lots of company and may have had to take the shuttle bus from a far-off parking lot just to get close to the trailhead.

Visit in the "off season" and you'll get a very different experience. This classic winter hike will drop your jaw when you experience the quiet beauty of this landscape in winter. Snowshoes weren't yet needed as of last week, though trails were icy. So the good traction provided by micro spikes would be helpful.

To get there

This is doable as a day hike, but with a three-hour drive each way, you'll be exhausted. You're better off staying in Estes Park, where in winter you can get a room at half the summer rate.

Normally, the park is reachable from U.S. Highway 36 from Loveland or U.S. Highway 34 from Lyons. But both highways remain closed from September's catastrophic flooding. So, for now, take Interstate 70 west to exit 243, the Central City Parkway, then follow Colorado Highway 119 north to Colorado Highway 72 in Nederland. Take 72 north and turn left on Colorado Highway 7 into Estes Park. This is known as the Peak to Peak Scenic Highway.

Another way to reach the Peak to Peak Scenic Highway is Boulder Canyon Road (Colorado Highway 119) west from Boulder to Nederland.

The hike

While the main trail to Nymph Lake is marked and obvious, you can take a more pleasant snowshoeing path by walking around the west side of Bear Lake and, about a quarter of the way around, taking an unmarked path uphill. This will hold deep snow and is a straight shot through the quiet woods to Nymph Lake.

From Nymph Lake, follow the trail, which may or may not be evident, depending on traffic and recent snow, to the right of the lake. Continue up to Dream Lake.

Return the way you came or continue to the right of the lake for a side trip to Emerald Lake or follow the trail left for a more ambitious 5-mile loop back to the Bear Lake trailhead.


Park entrance fee is $20 per vehicle. No dogs allowed on trails. Bear Lake Road may be icy and snow-packed. Call 1-970-586-1206 for conditions.

Rating system

A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and it is at a reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with severe elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length or altitude.


- Rating: 3 boots

- 2.2 miles round trip

- 425-foot elevation gain

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