A gem in the Rockies
Overview: This is a trail from Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way to Emerald Lake, you will pass Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, and Dream Lake. This is a fairly popular trail.
Warning: I encountered sudden snowstorms, rainstorms, and some deep packed snow. I would recommend you bring a hat and waterproof jacket because thunderstorms and snowstorms are fairly common in the rockies every afternoon.
Hike: From the enormous parking area, proceed towards the ranger station. At the time I was there, they had all the trail conditions posted on the dry erase board. Unfortunately the continuation of the route I wanted to do was marked trecherous requiring crampons and self-arrest gear with danger of long runouts. I talked to the rangers about going anyways, but the info I got back was not encouraging. Not being familiar with the Colorado system, I don't know exactly how much they exaggerate the danger, but I decided to heed their warnings. Therefore, this description will only be to Emerald Lake and back.
Passing the ranger station, continue on the paved trail for a hundred yards. To your right is a spur trail that lead to (and around) Bear Lake. I walked over to get the view but the loop trail around the lake was closed. Head back to the Emerald Lake Trail after finishing your tour of Bear Lake.
Turn right and continue the trail as it slowly climbs towards Nymph Lake. After about half a mile, you will come upon the lake, which is fairly small and cozy. The trail continues to the right on the lake and at the time I went, I began encountering some deep, packed snow.
After not quite a mile of sliding and crawling my way up snowbanks packed down by previous hikers and made icy and slick by people sliding (or falling) back down, I reached Dream Lake. I thought I may actually have been dreaming because before my eyes were some coeds in bikinis! (Did I mention it had begun to snow about this time?) Turns out they were just taking a few photos (and getting quite cold doing it) before getting dressed and scampering back to the trailhead.
After enjoying the scenery (Dream Lake is pretty nice too) you will follow the trail as it contours right (north) of the lake. The lake is fairly narrow but quite lengthy, so the wind (and possibly snow/hail) will whip up fiercly and begin to sting you a bit. Now's the time to don the extra clothes you brought in your pack.
Past Dream Lake, continue to climb until you reach Emerald Lake. At the time I was there (early June), Emerald Lake was pretty much completely frozen. It lies between steep talus slopes that shelter it a bit, however Emerald Lake is just about at the tree line, so the weather has more impact at this elevation given there is nothing to block the wind. In summer I believe it takes on a green hue (hence the name) and is quite beautiful, reflecting Hallett Peak and Flattop.
I could see a trail that attempted to contour around the south of the lake, but it was against a very steep talus face and went into a steep ravine covered in deep snow. I observed a few marks from folks who intentially or accidentally ran-out over a hundred yards down the slope. Not wanting to seek the same fate and with conditions worsening, I hurried back towards the trailhead through the blizzard.
Water Sources: The lakes are there if you have a filter.
Camping: I think most signs did not permit camping in the areas near these lakes. Camping is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park though, so check with the rangers and obtain your backcountry permit.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.