The Best Snowshoe Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.
With hundreds of miles of hiking/snowshoeing trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, many of which are only minutes from your cabin door at McGregor Mountain Lodge, we get asked a lot about what are the best trails for snowshoeing. We have to gauge this question based on who is asking but, regardless, there is one trail that is always a guest favorite no matter their experience, fitness, or desired destination. There may be a dozen snowshoeing trails that could arguably be deemed the best trail in the entirety of Rocky Mountain National Park, but the Emerald Lake Trail is a highlight for the novice, first time snowshoer, or a seasoned snowshoe veteran.
Most folks who are asking this question are new to either one of two things. Either they are completely new to snowshoeing, or they have never snowshoed in Rocky Mountain National Park. So this article is geared more toward those who check either one of those boxes. If you’re a snowshoeing pro and have visited the area before, then chances are you have travelled along this trail at least once, if not many times.
The first highlight of this snowy trek is the journey to the trailhead. One must travel down Bear Lake Road as it winds higher and higher into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. As it climbs, it will become more evident that you are entering a wilderness gem as the snow gets deeper, the temperature continues to drop, and the wind will most likely be picking up. This isn’t a groomed ski run or an amusement park attraction. Rocky Mountain National Park is known for providing access to the wilds which is why it draws millions of visitors every year, all hoping to tap into that call for wild places that resides deep in us all.
Once the trailhead is reached, it’s time to strap on the snowshoes, get your poles ready, if you’re using them, make some final gear adjustments, zip up your layers, throw your pack on, and hit the trail.
One of the reasons we recommend this trail over many others is simply due to the ease of access into classic Rocky Mountain National Park scenery. Differential Glaciation caused the wild and dramatic scenery you’ll see from the first step. Sheer cliffs rising a thousand feet above you, sweeping ridgelines between lofty summits, and mountain lakes carved into the valley floors by ancient glaciers that once filled Tyndall Gorge, into which this trek leads, make this a true Rocky Mountain experience while not having to snowshoe miles and miles to reach such a magnificent place.
Follow the signs to Nymph Lake, the first noteworthy stop about a half mile up the trail. This gentle trail winds around a small rise below Nymph providing a gentle introduction to this high country terrain. Before no time you’ll be at a quaint lake, more like a large pond, with a stunning backdrop. Head to the northeast side of the lake for the best views.
After a quick photo break, continue up the trail for .6 miles toward Dream Lake. This trail is mostly gentle with a few short but steeper sections. And get ready. You’re in for one heck of a scene. If you did any digging on RMNP before your trip, you’ll be treated to a scene you undoubtedly saw in your research. Dream Lake is the poster child of the National Park. A long and narrow lake pointing to the head of Tyndall Gorge with Hallett Peak and the Flattop Spires looming high above. Be sure to take the time to get all the pictures you can as you wont want to forget this spot! However, I would encourage you to take a few minutes, put the camera away, and just take in the sights and sounds of this truly magical place.
Continue on up the trail toward Emerald Lake. Another .7 miles along increasingly steepening terrain will get you there after a bit. Don’t give up, keep on putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll thank us for sending you to this stunning spot located in a huge natural amphitheater flank by giants. If the wind isn’t ripping and it’s not too cold, take a load off here, have a snack, drink a bit of water, and soak it all in. THIS is RMNP. THIS is Colorado. It doesn’t get much better.
Get ready for the return trip and take comfort in knowing it’s all downhill from here.
Emerald Lake Snowshoe Stats:
Round-trip: 3.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: 650 Feet
Starting Elevation: 9,450 FeetEnding Elevation: 10,100 Feet
Scenery Grade: A+++
Legs: Wonderfully Tired
Stomach: Time for some tacos at La Cocina de Mama.
Again, there are definitely other trails that can compete for the best snowshoe trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the Emerald Lake trail is where we point all guests when they are looking to get the most bang for their buck or if they’re trying out snowshoeing for the first time. Once you’ve done this trek, you can graduate to some other stunning and worthwhile destinations like The Loch, Mills Lake, or even, Sky Pond, Black Lake, or Thunder Lake.
If you have any questions be sure to call or email us. We’d love to help and we are very passionate about moving through these mountains and it brings us great joy to help make your trip to this little corner of the Rockies as memorable as it can be.
We do have snowshoes for rent here in the lobby, and even have a snowshoeing package that gets you set up for the perfect weekend of exploring our snow laden trails. Come on up and we hope to see you soon!