Colorado, Hiking, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, Rocky Mountain National Park, United States

Colorado Hiked: Alpine Lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park

August 20, 2022

Time for one last tune-up hike before my adventure to Longs Peak! A cool, moody day called for a grand tour of some of the many alpine lakes in the Bear Lake area of Rocky Mountain National Park. My friends Tom and Sarah had done this loop a few weeks prior, and I was salivating over their gorgeous photos, so I just had to try it myself! Since Tom would be joining me on Longs Peak, he also need one last big hike and agreed to join me again on the loop that would venture to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Haiyaha Lake, The Loch, and Lake of Glass.

We arrived a bit after 7am and parked in the large shuttle lot (I had secured a 6-8am timed entry reservation the night before). The Bear Lake Corridor is insanely popular and parking in the summer months is futile after the wee morning hours, but the shuttle makes access easy. Tom and I hit the trail from the Bear Lake Trailhead at 7:40am.

National Park Service map of the Bear Lake area and allllll the lakes you can hike to!

After a short, half-mile climb we reached our first lake of the day, Nymph Lake. I had only been up here in winter, so it was great to see all the lily pads covering the water. It was still a bit sunny with some blue skies at this point, a contrast to what would be coming later in the day. Nymph Lake is named as such for reasons you might not think – Nymphaea polysepala is the name of the lily that covers the surface!

Nymph Lake. I had only previously seen this lake in the winter.
Lily pads on Nymph Lake

Next up would be Dream Lake, which is about 0.6 miles from Nymph Lake, continuing uphill (nope, not a flat hike!). This is a popular hiking destination, so solitude was not found, but we weren’t really minding the crowds.

View to Longs Peak as we climbed towards Dream Lake
Small cascades on the way up to Dream Lake
There I go, standing in all the streams for a photo

Dream Lake is a rather long lake, with gorgeously clear water on this day. No wind meant tons of reflections! We kept walking along the trail, which skirts the northern shore of Dream Lake and heads to Emerald Lake (about 0.7 mile from the start of Dream Lake).

Dream Lake
Small boardwalk portion through the wetlands around Dream Lake
Dream Lake is a bit elongated

Emerald Lake is tucked at the end of a dead-end trail in Tyndall Gorge. We stopped for some photos and I ate a quick snack. I loved Emerald Lake, and it is easy to see why it is so popular. Even better with the still water for reflection photos! I definitely would’ve spent more time hanging out if we were not on a twelve mile long hike, but alas, the day was early and it was best to keep on moving.

Emerald Lake is a stunner!
Waterfall on the fall end of Emerald Lake

It is an out and back to Emerald Lake, so we retraced our steps to Dream Lake, taking a little side spur to check out one of the cascading waterfalls and marvel at raspberries.

Exploring on the way back from Emerald Lake
Another great waterfall!

Upon arriving back at Dream Lake we turned onto the 1.1 mile trail that leads to Haiyaha Lake.

View of Bear and Nymph Lakes as we headed towards Haiyaha Lake

Haiyaha is an Arapahoe word meaning, depending on translation, “lake of many rocks” or “big rocks.” Rocks sure made their impact in June 2022! Usually the lake and Chaos Creek are your normal alpine lake color. However, on June 28, 2022, a debris slide occured on the south slope of Hallet Peak into Chaos Canyon. Surprisingly the whole event was caught on video, and luckily, climbers in the canyon escaped without injury (this was a popular area for climbing – it remains closed to entry as of December 2022).

U.S. Geological Society Graphic, 2022, showing the composition of the debris slide

As a result, Haiyaha Lake and Chaos Creek are now a brilliant milky sea-green and turquoise color thanks to the fine silt, or glacial flour, that is suspended in the water. It is unknown how long the lake will remain this color (as of writing in December 2022, the lake and its ice was still sea-green). I can’t speak for everyone, but I am LOVING the new color!!!

Looking into Chaos Canyon
The crossing of Chaos Creek
Glacial flour making everything so dreamy and surreal!

Shortly before Haiyaha Lake we came to a trail junction. Going straight leads to the Loch, and turning right leads to the lake. We turned towards the lake and enjoyed the scramble over the boulders to get to the shore of Haiyaha.

Haiyaha Lake in its latest fashion after the June 2022 slide
I won’t like, I would not be sad if Haiyaha stayed this color forever!

You woud’ve thought I would’ve taken a lot more photos this day, but I think I was too busy taking everything in with my actual eyes! After a short stay at Haiyaha, we mountain goat-ed it back to the trail, and headed towards the Loch, which is about three miles from the trail junction. I really liked this connector between trails, with its small brooks, rocks, and mossy rocks.

Small lake on the trail connecting Haiyaha Lake to Loch Vale also in Haiyaha’s colors

After about two miles we joined the well-troddened trail to the Loch, which continues on to Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond.

More cascades heading to the Loch
Summertime view of The Loch, which I had only been at during winter previously. I thought it was weird seeing it as a lake, honestly!

The trail continues along the shore of the Loch and then climbs towards Timberline Falls.

The trail junction with the split to Andrews Tarn and Andrews Glacier. Some day I want to head in that direction!
Tom warned me the final push up to Timberline Falls would involve a lot of stairs. He was not wrong!
Looking backwards down Loch Vale

To reach Lake of Glass and/or Sky Pond, one must scramble up the side of Timberline Falls. I love scrambling, so I was eager for this, but the crowds were a bit annoying as bottlenecks formed. (Tom and I got called “antsy” by a woman when we were trying to head back down the trail as a huge conga line had formed and I said “And this is how people die on Mount Everest.” Oh Heidi.. I’m always causing trouble!)

The scramble up the side of Timberline Falls to gain Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. Expect bottlenecks in the busier seasons

After the scramble up the waterfall, the first lake you come to is Lake of Glass. A lot of people mistake this for Sky Pond, which is tucked over a small shrub-covered ridge at the base of Taylor Peak.

Lake of Glass above Timberline Falls

Though the skies were looking a bit drizzly, we decided this would be our lunch stop for the day. I had just brought a variety of my usual hiking snacks, whehn Tom whipped a pair of sandwiches out of his backpack along with pickles! I have the best hiking buddies! A few rain drops fell as we took in the scenery, but luckily it appeared that any heavy rain would hold off. We did decide to stop at Lake of Glass and not continue onto Sky Pond, knowing we’d be back someday to go all the day back.

Not a bad place to relax, despite the cloudy skies and handful of raindrops
Lake of Glass looking like an infinity pool
Tom packed sandwiches!
Moody clouds playing off the mountain tops

After a decent break, it was time to retrace our steps back to the Loch, and then continue down to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (perk of the shuttle is we could start and end at different trailheads with relative ease). After finally getting our antsy selves down Timberline Falls, we took to enjoying the descent when tragedy struck! I don’t know how it happened, but I stepped down with my left ankle, which I had severely sprained in February, and the ankle rolled with a sickening pop. Tom managed to catch me as I yelled lots of swear words, and finally got me sat down on a rock. I started crying, as I figured this doomed our Longs Peak attempt in a few weeks, and Tom took to fretting about how to get me back to the parking lot, which was still four miles away. I removed my boot, did a few checks to make sure nothing was apparently broken, and then retied by boot extremely tight, and announced it was time to start walking again.

I’m stubborn, what can I say?! But eek, aside from the crowds, this is a bad place to sprain an ankle. Tom laughed, and said “This is what we get for being antsy!”

Couple of elk seen at the Loch
Alberta Falls, which is located about a half mile from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead

Just shy of six hours total, we arrived at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and had just a short wait for the shuttle to take us back to the parking lot. I must say, this was one of my favorite hikes I have ever done, and as someone who doesn’t necessarily like to repeat hikes, I would do this one again and again! What’s even better is it is possible to expand or shorten the hike since there is so much in this area – like adding on Sky Pond or Mills Lake, or skipping some lakes (but why?!).

As an update, the ankle, while re-sprained, survived Longs Peak just fine with some very good strapping with Leukotape. I am in the market for a new left ankle if anybody has a spare…

This hike is not only a great summer choice, but is possible to do in the winter, though getting from the Loch to Lake of Glass can be hit or miss on if there is a trail broken and if flotation (like snowshoes) is required. Also, going up Timberline Falls in the winter at minimum requires microspikes to handle the ice, and probably is not the best choice for those not use to hiking in winter conditions. I’ve had a ranger caution against it until they learned I was equipped with 12-point crampons and an ice axe.

Date Hiked: August 20, 2022
Trailheads: Bear Lake & Glacier Gorge
Total Mileage: 12 miles (Garmin Vivoactive 4s/Strava)
Total Elevation Gain: 2,106 feet
Total Time Spent: 5 hours 49 minutes
Weather: Overcast and pleasantly cool… a moody day!
Trail Conditions: Dry
Cell Service: Never checked, but I know from other trips there is 4G/5G service along the trail to the Loch from Glacier Gorge Trailhead
Special Considerations: This trail is located within Rocky Mountain National Park and entry fee is required. During the busy season timed entry reservations are in place. This trail begins in the Bear Lake Corridor, which has extended timed entry requirements. This area is incredibly popular, and often parking will be full by the early morning hours. There is a free shuttle available for Bear Lake Corridor, and it is recommended to park there if arriving in the later morning hours in the summer. When we arrived at 7:30am we utilized the shuttle.


4 thoughts on “Colorado Hiked: Alpine Lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park”

      1. Actually now that I look at the date on your post, I realize that’s the same day we hiked into Glacier Gorge to backpack! We went up to Mills and Black, though, but my photos from that day have really good reflections as well!


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