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Prettiest Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park

A true gem in the National Park system, there are dozens of lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Filled with lily pads and trout. Surrounded by mountain peaks and alpine trees. Shining with clear blue and icy cold water. Visited by moose and elk.

Rocky Mountain is one of the best West National Parks and that is due in large part to its stunning alpine lakes with majestic, rugged mountains for backdrops and colorful evergreen trees and wildflowers.

We spent last summer exploring this park and creating the perfect Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary. We are so excited to share some of our favorite Rocky Mountain National Park lakes with you! Since we didn’t make it to all the best lakes (yet!), a few travel writing friends have contributed their favorites as well!

Lucky for visitors, many of the park’s pretty lakes can be accessed via short or long hikes, or sometimes just a leisurely stroll. Check out the hiking details, best seasons for visiting, and other tips below.

Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park | Island and Alpine

Where is Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in the beautiful mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado. The park entrance is just a few minutes from downtown Estes Park and 1.5 hours from Denver.

A visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is a perfect weekend getaway or day trip from Denver or in addition to adorable Breckenridge on a Colorado road trip.

Bear Lake

  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake
Bear Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park | Island + Alpine

Bear Lake is the first beautiful Rocky Mountain Lake in this list due to it’s popularity, accessibility, and gorgeous scenery. The most visited lake in RMNP has earned that title for good reason! Bear Lake is only a few hundred feet from the parking lot making it a great option for visitors of all ages and activity levels. The loop around the lake is a 0.8 mile easy stroll on smooth, level ground.

Level walking path at Bear Lake, Colorado

Due to its popularity, visitors should plan to arrive early to the Bear Lake parking lot especially during summers and weekends. We arrived at about 7:45am on a July weekday and snagged one of the last spots. Visitors can also ride the shuttle from the Glacier Gorge and Bierstadt Lake Trailheads, but this makes the wait longer to hit the trails!

The glacier-formed Tyndall Gorge surrounds this beautiful alpine lake giving hikers great vies from all directions. Consider packing a picnic and enjoying the lake from a bench. Restrooms are on site as well as helpful rangers, and sometimes nature displays to teach visitors about the living creatures around the park.

Bear Lake can be visited in all seasons making it a fun and easy activity not only in summer, but in winter too. Easy enough to be explored in sandals during warm weather, you can strap on your snow shoes and hike around it in the snow as well. As long as the road to the Bear Lake parking lot is open, visitors can enjoy this lake year round.

Numerous other hikes depart from the trailhead at Bear Lake, so consider adding more trails to your day, such as Emerald Lake, Alberta Falls, and Lake Haiyaha.

Emerald Lake

  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Lake Haiyaha
Rocky Mountain National Park - Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is a popular lake to spend a couple hours hiking to see and the end result is worth the uphill climb. The hike to reach the lake is moderately easy, but has plenty of elevation changes, and the last stretch might make you wonder why you signed up to climb so many stairs, but it is so worth it!

Due to its relatively short distance (3.5 miles), fairly easy difficulty level, and easy access from the Bear Lake parking lot (see above for parking tips), this trail gets pretty packed. It is recommended that you start this hike first thing in the morning if possible in order to enjoy the lake in a more peaceful environment.

The views at Emerald Lake are so astounding that they literally took my breath away. And that wasn’t just from altitude – I promise! On the way to Emerald Lake, you will also pass Dream Lake and Nymph Lake (featured below), giving you three beautiful lakes for the price of one!

Stairs to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Don’t leave Emerald Lake off of your Rocky Mountain bucket list! Its glittering waters are gorgeous and contrast so beautifully with the rugged mountain peaks. Pack a snack and relax a bit on the boulders before heading down the mountain. If you look carefully, you’ll see waterfalls cascading down the face of the mountains!

Dream Lake

  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha
Dream Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park | Island + Alpine

Dream Lake speaks for itself as you will find this lake to be breathtaking in beauty! Just 2.2 miles of pretty easy terrain and hikers will find themselves face to face with Dream Lake. Dream Lake is the second of three lakes on the Emerald Lake hike, and if you find that the stairs leading to Emerald Lake are a bit much for your crew, you are strongly encouraged to hike to Dream Lake before turning around.

Take the time to walk along the path on the the right of the lake for some crazy beautiful views. We saw swimmers jumping into the freezing water here – totally allowed but not recommended!

Nymph Lake

  • Distance: 1.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha
Nymph Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park | Island + Alpine

Nymph Lake marks the first beautiful lake on the way to Emerald Lake from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Just 1.2 miles round trip, this easy hike gifts hikers with the perfect spot for a water break with a view. The trail is uphill with 262 feet elevation but not too steep for most activity levels. The lily pads decorating the lake give this lake a fantasy like appearance.

As long as Bear Lake Road is open, Nymph Lake is a great, short, easy hike to tack onto Bear Lake in the winter. Rent some spiked boots with plenty of traction and explore this gorgeous area when it is a winter wonderland.

Lake Haiyaha

  • Distance: 3.9 miles (4.9 miles + Emerald Lake)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake
Photo Credit: The World Travel Guy

For a slightly less famous lake in Rocky Mountain National Park with beautiful blue water, check out Lake Haiyaha! The access and views are best in the summer, but you can also go in winter.

This hike starts from the Bear Lake trailhead, which means it’s part of the same trail for Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake, although to reach Lake Haiyaha you’ll need to go on a detour from Dream Lake for about 1 extra mile, which takes at least 30 minutes of hiking (one way). The turn is clearly marked with a sign.

If you measure the distance from the start of the Bear Lake trailhead, the total roundtrip distance to Lake Haiyaha is about 4 miles, and in total it takes about 60-90 minutes to reach the lake, and less on the way back.

It’s not too difficult, and the effort is worth it, because you get to see a colorful blue lake without quite as many people as you might see at Dream Lake or other places in Rocky Mountain National Park! // Contributed By David & Intan From The World Travel Guy

Sprague Lake

  • Distance: .5 mile loop
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Trailhead: Sprague Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Bear Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park | Sprague Lake at sunset

Sprague Lake is a very easy, flat trail with a .5 mile loop around the lake. The packed gravel makes this path for an easy choice for all ages. The panoramic views of Hallett Peak and the Continental Divide are the perfect backdrop to this beautiful lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We highly recommend an early morning visit or a sunset, golden hour visit. Bear Lake Road is very busy during late morning through the afternoon, and these times of day also provide the best reflections on the lake. Expect to find lovely wooden benches along the route for enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

This gorgeous lake is located on Bear Lake Road so make sure that you book a timed permit with access.

Pro Tip:

Sprague Lake is also an AMAZING place for a family photo session!

Contact Katie with Flytographer (based in Denver) and get $25 off your own vacation photo shoot. She was incredible and they make the BEST souvenirs and Christmas card photos!

Sprague Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park | Island + Alpine | Katie with Flytographer
Photo Credit: Katie in Denver with Flytographer

Fern Lake

  • Distance: 7.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Fern Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Odessa Lake, Spruce Lake, Cub Lake, Lake Helene

Easily one of the best lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Fern Lake is a quieter hike in the area and is often overlooked in favor of slightly flashier lakes. 

However, a hike to Fern Lake is perfect if you’re looking to get off the beaten path and want to see one of the best waterfalls in Colorado since you’ll be able to spot Fern Falls along the way. 

Just try and visit in June since snowmelt makes the waterfall look impressive at this time of year. Also, bring plenty of bug spray since mosquitos like to hang out at this lake. 

And if you’re into wildlife spotting, try and get on the trail early in the morning since you may be able to spot a moose. 

However, because parking is limited in this part of the park, you’ll probably need to park at the park and ride and then take a shuttle to the trailhead itself. 

Once there you can tackle this moderately difficult, 7.5-mile trail in around four hours since it features 1,476 feet of elevation gain. It’s also well located near other Rocky Mountain lakes such as Cub Lake, Odessa Lake, Lake Helene, and Spruce Lake. // Contributed by Meg of Fox in the Forest

Sky Pond

  • Distance: 9.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Lake of Glass, The Loch
Photo Credit: PA on Pause

Sky Pond and the hike to reach it is often considered one of the best hikes to lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. While it isn’t easy to reach, you’ll pass stunning scenes including rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, and other lakes along the way. The views along the trail are absolutely jaw-dropping.

In total, the hike to Sky Pond is 9.8 miles roundtrip and is considered fairly difficult. There are just over 1,700 feet of elevation gain along this trail! To reach Sky Pond, you’ll also pass by the Loch and Lake of Glass.

You’ll begin the hike to Sky Pond at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Alternatively, begin at the Bear Lake Trailhead, which adds 0.2 miles to the trip.

Once you reach Sky Pond, spend some time enjoying the views. You might get lucky and spot rock climbers braving the rocky walls surrounding the lake.

Prepare for bugs along this trail, especially near the water during the summer months. The winds can be blustery near the top, too, so come prepared with an extra jacket.

While you can hike to Sky Pond year-round, you’ll definitely need spikes and/or snowshoes during the winter months. Trekking poles can be helpful, too, any time of the year!

This is not a good first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park if you are not acclimated to the altitude. Plan ahead and begin early in the morning. If the weather looks questionable, it’s best not to test fate. Getting caught in a nasty storm in this alpine environment can be extremely dangerous! // Contributed by Samantha of PA on Pause

The Loch

  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Lake of Glass, Sky Pond

The Loch is another one of the beautiful lakes located in Rocky Mountain National Park. The views surrounding the lake are breathtaking, and the peacefulness you will experience here is hard to beat. 

The best way to reach Loch Lake is by hiking via the Glacier Gorge Trail. It is a moderate trail just under 5.5 miles out and back, and you should leave at least 3 hours to enjoy the trek. A few parts of the trail have steep inclines but nothing too strenuous. 

The Loch via Glacier Gorge Trail is popular year-round. You can enjoy it in the summer sunshine or strap on a pair of snowshoes to reach the lake in the winter. You may even catch an elk herd near the lake if you’re lucky! 

If you want to make the trip longer, you can continue to Sky Pond. However, please ensure you have plenty of time and the proper equipment before doing so. Hiking to Loch Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is an incredible experience you will never forget! // Contributed by Janae of Adventures With TuckNae

Lake Irene

  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Lake Irene Picnic Area
  • Nearby Lakes: Poudre Lake
Photo Credit: History Fangirl

Lake Irene is a small lake close to the Alpine Visitor Center and the Grand Lake entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a great easy Rocky Mountain lake hike for those spending the day on the western side of the park. 

The secluded spot is not a secret, but it gets less traffic than many of the lakes on the eastern side of the park. Those looking for a bit of solitude while visiting Colorado’s national parks can come here early in the day for some quiet time alone.

The lake is reachable from the Lake Irene Picnic Area just off Trail Ridge Road, which has a small parking lot, picnic tables, and restrooms. From here, the trailhead to access the lake is just past the end of the parking lot.

The hike is just a quick circumnavigation around the lake. The full distance of the trail is only 0.9 miles with only a 95-foot elevation gain. As you can imagine, this trail has earned an Easy rating!

Once you reach the far side of the lake, make your way to the scenic overlook that’s a short walk back before continuing around.

This trail is considered accessible by many because there is a boardwalk. However, wheelchair users and those with strollers should note that there are several spots where it would be impossible to cross without assistance, including a short set of stairs.

The lake is reachable when Trail Ridge Road is open, but if the road is closed for winter then you cannot get here. // Contributed by Stephanie of History Fangirl

Chasm Lake

  • Distance: 8.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trailhead: Long’s Peak Trailhead
  • Nearby Lakes: Frozen Lake, Black Lake

Chasm Lake is a stunning alpine lake nestled in Rocky Mountain National Park at an elevation of 11,760 feet. The lake is surrounded by towering peaks, including Long’s Peak, and steep cliffs and is the perfect spot to enjoy some magnificent views.

This challenging hike is 8.8 miles out and back. Hikers will want to take this trail in the mornings before afternoon thunderstorms roll in as part of the trail is above the tree line and therefore very exposed.

The water at Chasm Lake is crystal clear with an intense blue color that is breathtaking. When light hits Chasm Lake from different angles it creates shades ranging from deep turquoise to bright emerald green which makes this place look surreal and like something out of a dream. Chasm Lake should definitely be added to your bucket list if you’re looking for a peaceful escape in nature with breathtaking views!

More Rocky Mountain National Park Lakes Info

Dream Lake | RMNP | Island + Alpine

What is the prettiest lake in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Everyone has a different favorite lake, but Emerald Lake is the prettiest lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in our opinion! Sky Pond and Chasm Lake are also stunning. Bear Lake is the most popular lake in the park due to its beauty and easy access.

What lakes can you swim in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Legally, you can swim in all lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park except for Bear Lake. However, the water is so cold in all the lakes, even on the hottest summer day, that swimming is not encouraged due to safety.

How many lakes are there in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky Mountain National Park has 156 beautiful lakes. In addition to that are 450 miles of rivers and streams.

Can I swim in Emerald Lake?

Yes, you can swim in Emerald Lake. However, it is very, very cold due to being filled with melted snow at 10,000+ feet elevation.

Do I need a pass to hike Emerald Lake?

Yes, you need a pass to hike to Emerald Lake from May – October. Your pass must indicate “Bear Lake + Park Access Timed Entry Permit”. Reservations can be made starting the 1st of the month prior to the month you wish to travel. For example, if you wish to visit on July 15th, you should request your entry ticket on June 1st right at 10am MDT to obtain your first choice date and time slot.

Thank you for sharing!

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