by Fletcher McDonald
I went for the trifecta this late weekend of June, visiting Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Lake Haiyaha in the Southwestern corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. Early settlers to the area would travel here to drink glacial runoff, bathe themselves in the pure, icy cold waters of the Rockies, and drink brewskis. Or so it is rumored. By me. 😉
These three lakes branch off from the Bear Lake trailhead, reachable by car or park-provided Park-and-Ride. They feature paved trails, easy elevation gain, high foot traffic, and beautiful views.
Named for its emerald green waters, Emerald Lake is a 3.1 mile hike from the Bear Lake trailhead in the southwestern-most part of RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park). The majority of lakes in this area were carved millions of years ago by glacial erosion; the lakes are the remaining basins carved by the same weight of glaciers, slowly grinding down the Rockies; yearly, runoff from melting snow has done the rest.
You reach Dream Lake before Emerald; it lays in its own basin, below Emerald, and holds a small population of Greenback Cutthroat Trout that are easily in Dream lake from the trail. Currently considered threatened on the endangered species list (occupying less than 1% of their original range, these are catch-and-release only).
Lake Haiyaha lies off the beaten path, 3.6 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead, branching from the trail to Dream Lake as the first stop on a miles-long loop that will take you past Alberta Falls. It’s an interesting hike, to say the least. You cross a log bridge after passing a river that winds around large boulders and through an open meadow. The lake is .2 miles from a turnoff, and you have to traverse boulders and a rock field before you’re treated to the below view. Higher than Lake Haiyaha lies another basin, off the beaten path, and in the shadows of Otis and Hallet Peaks.
Rocky Mountain National Park was made a national park for a reason. The varied terrain and beautiful views, combined with the accessibility by foot and proximity to Denver make it a year-round attraction and a worthy visit for any visitor. Get there early, and you’ll have easy access to the trails; get there a little later in the day, and you’ll have to take a park-and-ride; either way, it is worth the trip.
Rocky Mountain National Park is little over one and a half hours from downtown Denver. Park Entrance is $25 for one day or $70 for an annual pass to RMNP; however, a yearly National Parks pass is $80, good for any National Park.