Rocky Mountain National Park’s Bear Lake trailhead is located 20 minutes from downtown Estes Park, Colorado. The primary activity in the winter is snowshoeing but we’ve seen people doing a mix of cross country skiing, alpine skiing, and snowboarding. The trailhead is at 9,475 feet in elevation and includes restrooms but water was not available in the winter. In addition, the shuttle bus was not running so we drove to the end of Bear Lake Road. A park entrance fee or annual pass was required to enter. Cell phone service was weak for us. Before heading out, we called the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to hear about the weather conditions and snow levels.
In mid-March of 2013
, we used snowshoes rented from the YMCA
to hike around Bear Lake
and then out and back to Nymph Lake. We reached Nymph Lake after 0.5 miles and a 225 foot increase in elevation.
The path was wide and the snow was well packed because there were a lot of people using this trail.
It was mostly straight with a consistent upward slope that had us feeling the altitude a little bit.
The path leveled off for a short stretch just before we reached the lake.
It was cold with blowing snow so our views were limited. I took a picture from this same spot on a sunny day in 2009 and which can be seen later in this post.
This video depicts the blowing snow we experienced.
Our first experience snowshoeing was in early January 2009. On this trip, we continued past Nymph to Dream and Emerald Lakes. Snowshoeing was a lot easier than we had expected, as long as we walked forwards and not backwards. It fact, it seemed easier than it did when we hiked to these lakes the previous summer. Although, on this trip we were not carrying our daughter in a Kelty child carrier, which made a big difference. Our gear consisted of Leki trekking poles, MSR snowshoes rented from the Mountain Shop, a wicking baselayer, windbreaker jackets, winter beanies, and ski goggles.
There was little snow to be seen as we drove to the parking lot but there was three feet on the trails. If you like to hike and have never been snowshoeing then I highly recommend it because it was very similar to walking and renting snowshoes was affordable. Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to start because the trails are well traveled (i.e., follow the trampled snow) which helps because markers are buried in the snow and, thus, trails can be ambiguous. Please read my descriptions for summer hiking at Bear Lake
and Glacier Gorge Junction
The next picture was taken at Nymph Lake.
We continued another 1.1 miles and 425 feet gain in elevation to get to Dream Lake. The next picture was taken on a ridge between Nymph and Dream lakes and showcases the view to the south.
Dream Lake was as scenic in the winter as it was in the summer. Notably, there was significantly less people snowshoeing than there was hiking in the summer so the peacefulness was an added bonus. The subsequent picture was taken from the east side of Dream Lake.
Getting to Emerald Lake was more difficult because it required an additional 605 foot climb over only 0.7 miles. Therefore, getting to Dream Lake should be doable with a child in a carrier backpack but it would be a challenge to get to Emerald Lake because of the steeper slope.The following picture illustrates the most vertically challenging stretch.
Before we reached Emerald Lake, the final stretch departed from the dense forest and, as a result, provided stunning views of the nearby mountains.
In the summer, Emerald Lake’s shoreline was only accessible from the eastern edge so it was difficult to get to the far side. However, in the winter and if the lake is sufficiently frozen, you can easily walk to the far end.
The following video captures both the beauty and intense wind we experienced.
In sum, snowshoeing from Bear Lake was great for us as first timers and certainly worthy of our repeat visit four years later. Please read about our other favorite RMNP hiking trails.