Bear Lake trailhead is located inside Rocky Mountain National Park and is approximately 20 minutes outside of Estes Park, Colorado. Primary activities include hiking and backpacking but dogs are not allowed inside the park. It has a large parking lot but since it is so popular I recommend parking at the “Parking for Bear Lake shuttle bus” because the shuttle runs often (i.e., on ten to fifteen minute loops) from 8am to 7:30pm. The trailhead has restrooms, water, and park rangers available to assist you. Cell phone service is weak at best.
Hiking from Bear Lake
The Bear Lake Trailhead is 9,475 feet in elevation. As you can see in the following picture, the trails leaving the trailhead are wide and easy to manage. In addition, Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, and Dream Lake are a short distance from the trailhead providing instant scenic gratification for most hikers. Because of the easy accessibility and amazing scenery, you are likely to share the trails with lots of other people. We hiked these trails on a Friday and it was definitely crowded which detracts from the otherwise majestic hike.
Nymph Lake is reached after hiking 0.5 miles and a 225 feet gain in elevation. The trails begins with dense forest canopy and gradually opens up to provide sunshine and views.
Dream Lake is achieved after 1.1 miles of hiking and a 425 feet increase in elevation. The following picture illustrates a fun stream crossing just before reaching it.
The next picture was taken from the far side of Dream Lake. From this shoreline, we were able to see a half dozen trout and many fly fishermen but did not witness any fish being caught.
Hiking to Emerald Lake requires an additional 0.7 miles of hiking, a total rise in elevation of 605 feet, and approximately one hour to complete. It is a slightly more difficult hike than was Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. It is a beautiful dead end to a trail with both majestic views of mountains and densely forested areas. Unfortunately, its shoreline is only accessible from the eastern edge so you have to eat your picnic lunch in close proximity to other hikers.
Bear Lake is 0.5 miles and a 20 feet gain in elevation from the trailhead.
As you can see from this next picture, this trail is wheelchair accessible and fun for people of all ages. However, to hike around Bear Lake requires that you manage some moderately inclined spots. We did not hike around it but instead used its trail to connect to the Bierstadt Lake trail (i.e., see trail map above). For information on snowshoeing at Bear Lake, check out Bear Lake Snowshoeing.
Hiking to Bierstadt Lake from the Bear Lake trailhead was a lot of fun because we only saw one other family on the trail and, thus, it was a very peaceful hike. It was a very wooded 2.0 mile trail that did involve much change in elevation. The only view we had was when we reached Bierstadt Lake. In order to get a view, we had to leave the main trail and walk along the southern edge of the lake on a narrow foot path.
Hiking to the Parking Lot
Hiking from Bierstadt Lake to “Parking for Bear Lake shuttle bus” was a 1.5 mile hike that was moderately difficult going down but would be strenuous in the reverse direction. Thus, as the park ranger told us, I would not start from the “Parking for Bear Lake shuttle bus” unless you wanted your hike to begin in a very challenging manner. And, especially, if you plan to carry a child or heavy backpack. As you can see below, this hike briefly breaks away from densely wooded forest for an open view of mountains to the south. Out total hike time was between four and five hours and a total of 7.1 miles.