While in Rocky Mountain National Park, if you want to travel beyond the roadside overlooks and the walk around Bear Lake, this is the hike to do. The hike to Emerald Lake is most closest and easily accessed trail to visit the rugged east edge of the continental divide. This is a very popular trail, year round this trail is well defined, well maintained, and well traveled.
You will be walking up an elevation that's equivalent to walking the up the stairs of a 10 story building. Keep in mind, it's not the exactly like walking up 10 flights of stairs, you'll be stopping to take pictures, rest, having a snack, and taking in the view. But no matter you will be climbing around 660 feet, starting at 9,400 foot elevation. How long you stop and rest along the way is up to you. People of average health, and acclimated to the elevation can do this hike in a few hours.
You will start to walk towards Bear Lake, see a glimpse of it, and turn left up the trail toward Nymph Lake. Nymph Lake is a scenic small alpine lake. There’s a few outcroppings that make things scenic. The steepest part of the trail is just past Nymph Lake.
Dream Lake is where the view really goes from good to great. You will have – Wow! – moments if you've never been in an alpine environment before. This is one of the marquee views of Rocky Mountain National Park.
A little farther is Nymph Lake. The view goes from great to outstanding. It’s similar to Dream Lake, but everything is closer. Plan some time to take in the views of the cliffs and snowfields from the waters edge.
In the winter months (typically November through May), the trail is snow covered. Usually the trail is packed down and boots with good traction are adequate. Snowshoes are not needed unless it has recently snowed. Deep into winter (typically Late December through Early March) it is normally safe to walk across the frozen lakes. If you have any doubt about the stability of the ice, do not walk on it. Always remember, you are responsible for your own safety.