Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Call it Lake Bagging: Nymph, Dream and Emerald

Tuesday August 12, 2014
Glacier Basin Campground
Rocky Mountain National Park



I’d advise that mid August, while great weather, is not the time to come to Rocky Mountain National Park.


That is unless  you want to share the trails with hundreds of your new friends.

The moon is still up when we leave the campground.  When we get to the Bear Lake parking lot we are shocked to see there are at least 50 cars in the lot already 

We are on the trail just after 7:00 am.  These are early morning folks.  And one of the reasons is that all advice to those hiking to high altitudes is to be out early, say 4 or 5am so they can be back by noon to avoid storms and lightning.  Two people have been killed already this year in the park by lightning.  Guess I’m not as much of an outdoors woman as I thought.

The park has a portable electronic messaging sign on the road to Bear Lake which reports when Bear Lake Parking lot is full and advises you to go to the Shuttle Parking and take the shuttle to the trail heads.  They have  an excellent shuttle system that runs over much of the east side so it is easy to park and ride or, since it comes to the campgrounds, to camp and ride.  You could do a LOT of hiking without ever driving your car.  That is IF you want to be picked up at or after 7am and dropped off at or before 7pm during the summer.  Those are the mass hiking hours here.  Pretty hard to avoid them.


For our first hike, we have chosen a moderate 3.6 miles round trip.  The hike was described as easy in one place and moderate in another so we figured we’d be fine.  It’s  half mile to Nymph Lake (who names these things?),  6/10ths to Dream Lake and 7/10ths to Emerald Lake.   I’m using only a portion of the very large map of hikes going off from the Bear Lake Trail Head. I’d actually call it THE major trail head of the east side of the park.  We were hoping lots of these folks were going other places and at first it seemed fine.



Like all but about two trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, this one goes up and then up and then up.  At first it is a nice wide easy path.  It gets more rocky as we go higher.







After half a mile, we have Nymph Lake all to ourselves except for some early fishermen.





We aren’t race to the finish type hikers.  I, in particular, am a serious dawdler.  It’s all about the hike, not the destination.  I just keep looking around and finding amazing things.  So the later it gets in the morning, the more people we have to share the trail with.  The more people are marching around us.

Up some more and on the way what do I see but a ptarmigan.  I knew they were here but I never expected to spot one since they are masters of disguise.




We saw them in Churchill Manitoba when we were on our Polar Bear trip. SO fabulous!!   They were in their totally white outfit there so that they blended perfectly into the snow.  In the spring they molt into a cloaked outfit of mottled grey brown feathers and again blend right into the scenery.  You can pass right by them without even noticing since they can stand motionless forever.  Not sure if this one just didn’t see me or if I was nearly as motionless as s/he, but I got too many great pictures.   Very exciting.


Gorgeous among the wildflowers.



In the winter, ptarmigans have feathers on their legs and feet which lend added warmth and the ability to move smoothly over the snow, as if they were walking on snowshoes.






This way to Dream Lake.




I hear something in the bushes as I pass the sign.  I stop immediately and look around.   Luckily the non–stop talking hikers weren’t around and the elk doe came up on the trail.




I watch as she checks out the Dream Lake sign. 



She’s looking very closely as though she’s rather nearsighted. I sympathize.  Same problem here.



Then she decides she’d better taste it. Too funny! The things you can see on a hike if you are quiet.






It’s about 8:20 now – yes it takes a LONG time to go less than a mile if you keep stopping for birds and deer.  We now begin to follow a lovely stream which we later learn comes out of Tyndall Glacier and feeds into Emerald Lake and then on to Dream Lake and beyond.




I’m not the only one attracted to the sound of running water.  Is this our same doe?  Who knows?  They probably think we all look alike too.




It is really hard to pick pictures for this post.  The scenery is all so spectacular.









We arrive at Dream Lake and the reflections are amazing.  Which way is up?





There is one benefit to sharing such a gorgeous place with others, they can take your picture for you.





We stay a while and do some close up looking at these Rocky Mountains and their snow before traveling on our way  along Dream Lake’s shore.







At one point David sees fish in the lake.  We knew they must be here because of all the hikers with fishing poles.  First we see catfish but then brown trout.  Or at least I think this is a brown trout.  Doesn’t look like a rainbow and those are the only two trout in this lake I am told.


The scenery is stunning.  What more can I say.




Above us, beside us, at our feet, all gorgeous.



Sometimes you just have to sit yourself down and take it all in. 




So it’s actually about 9:30 before we are in sight of our destination, Emerald Lake, 1.8 miles from our start over 2 hours ago.





Emerald Lake





I don’t take too many pictures because as we sit here taking it all in more and more people arrive and it is too hard to get pictures with them climbing all over everywhere and yelling at their children to get down.  We do a lot of people watching and listening.  If they could only see and hear themselves.  If I were to do this hike again, I’d be on the trail at dawn and be here by 7 am.   

Through the binoculars and my super camera lens we watch some rock climbers.  They are way up there on the edge of the smallest patch of snow in my larger picture.





What goes UP UP, must go down down.   We leave as more and more people arrive.




On the way back I’m particularly taken with looking closely at the rocks, the beautiful stream and the wonderful wild flowers. 





Orange Paintbrush






Mountain Gumweed




Evening Primrose








Cow Parsnip






I am SO excited to see a Clark’s Nutcracker.  He’s on my list along with the Pika, the Albert’s Squirrel, the Big Horn Sheep and Moose.  A Prairie Falcon would be great too.  HA!   But check off the Clark’s.

The Clark’s Nutcracker was named for William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame.  He’s a big bird, 12” with a 24” wingspan.   He’s very sleek and handsome with his soft gray feathers and black wings.  Cool beans!



On down we go. 





Yellow Monkey Flowers




These little bells remind me of the Virginia Bluebells but here they are the Alpine Mertensia.





We are back at the car at 11:30.  The parking lot is full and two shuttle buses are dropping of loads of people.  We’re not sure how we are going to possibly top this hike but we’re going to give it a try and MUCH earlier in the morning.   Tomorrow???






  1. Absolutely beautiful photos! Enjoy!

  2. Seems there are so many people everywhere in August. I'm glad you got to see a few special wildlife sightings. The doe licking that sign was fabulous-lol. Beautiful flowers & stunning views. All you could ask for is fewer people! Love the ptarmagin who blends in. That's really unique to have seen him.

  3. What a great hike in a beautiful place. Having so much company can be stressfull, but it is just an indication of how great it is:)

  4. It's lovely, even if crowded. I fear we are loving our National Parks to death sometimes. That deer looks very much like an elk.

    1. Totally correct and why I typed deer when I knew better I hope is because it was SO late by my still feeling like East Coast time no matter how far west I go self. Thanks for noticing.

  5. You may have been very quiet, but that doe had her ear trained on you. Note how it is cocked to the camera. Then in another photo one ear on you and one a bit behind her and to her left. Something must have been watching both of you.

  6. I really love the lake pictures. The trail looks like a good one even though it's a climb up and then a test for your knees on the way down.

  7. Fantastic photos and I see we need to do more than a day trip to that park. Thanks!

  8. Fantastic photos. I am glad that you are wise enough to go slowly and take it all in.

  9. Yes, I think August is the busiest vacation month...all the swim team, little league, summer camps are over and they need to do a family vacation before school starts;o((

    But so glad you took us anyway as the photos make me feel like I am right there.... Oh I WISH!!

    Looking forward to more hikes.....

  10. I agree with Gaelyn that we are loving our parks so much! Makes it harder to enjoy the beauty and solitude of nature but isn't it great that people are out with their families in the parks instead of glued to their technology devices?! Absolutely terrific photos of the elk and beautiful flowers today.

  11. I hear you Sherry; the last month or so we've been sharing "our" park with thousands of our new best friends. Yellowstone was particularly horrific this past Sunday but we can't let it get in our way :-). Love the hike, will have to do it...lakes, waterfalls, creeks are our favorites.

  12. Hopefully more feet on the trails and more eyes on the scenery will mean more appreciation for all that mother nature has to offer - yet I'd venture to say that very few saw the elk doe and perhaps none saw the ptarmagin. You did a grand job taking stunning photos that feel like no one else is there - the reflections on the little lakes are wonderful. I'm loving every bird, bush and splashing creek - thank you, as always, for sharing.

  13. Oh my, what a lovely hike! Just makes your heart feel like bursting with all the beauty around you!

    I remember those crazy crowds at RMNP, especially on the East side of the park. Wouldn't it be lovely to be there in late Sept, early Oct??? I'm going to try for that some year.

  14. Now you can see why my only recommendation for RMNP was to go in October. Great photos.

  15. Thanks for the tip about missing the hiking crowds in mid August. We'll just have to schedule our hikes there for mid January. Should be a few less hikers then, don't you think? ;c)

  16. A gorgeous, stunning trail. I'd love to hike it myself... but in late September or early October when the crowds are less.

    So that's the Clark's Nutcracker. A very distinctive bird. So is the ptarmigan. They remind me of spruce grouse we see here. And the doe's a real beauty.

  17. Just spectacular pictures. I love mountain lakes, they are so still, with terrific reflections of the surrounding mountains. If we could just keep the people away :)

  18. Beautiful photos! I felt like I was walking the trail too. Thanks for posting the names of the pretty, mountain flowers and birds- I learned something new today. Safe travels!

  19. Nice to have done these trails through your eyes. As you say, one of the most popular hikes in all of RMNP, but it has eluded us both trips because still snow covered. One of these days, I WILL see those lakes!!

  20. I probably won't ever do those hikes in August, so it is wonderful that you share your photos and stories so I can enjoy it anyway. We have been in a very quiet part of Canada...back home now and just catching up.

  21. Fabulous pictures! I do hope someone can solve the problem of how to maintain the parks with increased visitation as we love them to death while at the same time cutting the NPS budget.

  22. Im with you when surrounded with such spectacular scenery, can't figure out which angle to take. Gorgeous pictures.
    Thanks for the tip about being there in August, will remember that when the time comes.

  23. When we were at Rocky Mountain National Park, we came across a Mountain Goat that had just given birth. Unfortunately, we happened to be on the trail with some noisy, inconsiderate people. It spoiled the whole experience not just for us, but for Mama and baby, too. You're right--on a "quiet" hike you see so much more.

  24. Oh, that is my kind of hike! Just beautiful! Nature is so wonderful, isn't she?

  25. Absolutely beautiful. And I just love that you are an unrepentant dawdler. Me, too. :) It's a dilemma, wanting people to appreciate nature but still wanting to have it all to ourselves….

  26. Oh WOW! is what I can say about this post! What an awesome gorgeous place! Too bad you had noisy people to contend with. I bet they never see any wildlife. Love the elk doe licking the sign- she has the head and neck of a deer but the body of an elk. Aren't ptarmigans the birds that lay their eggs on rocks on steep mountains? The cow parsnips look similar to Queen Anne's lace. The mountains, the flowers the animals the water and those beautiful lakes! What a perfect place! XXXOOO


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