Three lakes and freezing winds at Bear Lake Trailhead | Estes Park, Colorado

Have you ever been so cold that you wanted to cry?

I have.

While Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful in the winter, the blustering winds aren’t.

As I trudged through the snow toward Dream Lake, I wanted to cry. Then I realized that my tears would just freeze.

So I turned my back to Dream Lake, which was anything but a dream to look at, counting the seconds until the wind let up for a brief moment. Then it did, and I caught the quickest of glances before the winds forced me to turn my back again. Despite the bitter cold, the glimpse was worth it — WOW.

dream lake.jpg
What my eyes saw but my camera couldn’t capture in the wind. Thanks, Google!

* * *

Estes Park sits on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park, making it the ideal day trip for those in the Boulder City and Boulder County area.

From Louisville, Colorado, I took US 36 West up to Estes Park, following signs for Rocky Mountain National Park once I reached Estes. The park has easy-to-follow signs upon entering. Shortly after the gate, I turned left onto Bear Lake Road, taking it 9 miles to the end until I reached Bear Lake Trailhead. One-way, the trip took 1.5 hours. While the roads in the park are plowed, wind blows the snow and ice right back onto them, meaning a slow, cautious drive through the park.

Bear Lake Trailhead sits 9,475 feet above sea level and boasts easy to moderate hikes. The trailhead leads to multiple lakes — Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Bierstadt Lake and Lake Haiyaha. Due to the number of lakes accessible from the trailhead, it’s quite a popular spot. In the summer, visitors can park in lots at the bottom of the road and take a shuttle to the top. In the winter, however, the shuttles aren’t in service; if you arrive before 9 or 10 a.m., there is usually still parking available.


In the summer, the lakes reflect the mountains behind them, creating a jaw-dropping scene. In the winter, the lakes freeze over and allow snow-shoers, cross-country skiers and brave winter hikers to cross their hidden waters.

Bear Lake
Bear Lake

* * *

On a blustery day, it’s easy to get lost on the trails.

The wind covers up visitors’ tracks almost instantly; some of the trail signs are dug out by park rangers, but many sit lopsided, backward or exist beneath feet of snow. It’s also easy to get lost when your face is down, seeking solace from the biting winds.

Blake and I made an “I’ve seen this tree before” circle before we found our way, meaning we saw Nymph Lake twice. Following dots of red, black and blue into the trees, we managed to find the ascent to Dream Lake.

Nymph Lake

When the winds blow on the mountains, snow blows with it; the ascent was powdery, and I sunk like a snake in quicksand. Every step, fall and boost back up was a struggle.

As we neared Dream Lake, wind whooshed down between the break in two mountains, pushing me backward with all its might.

But step by step, I beat it’s power and finally saw the third lake I came to see.

I suspect that in the summer, we’ll have a dreamier encounter.

Look at that cloud of snow between the mountains!
Dream Lake 4.jpg
The best way to stand, back to the wind and, sadly, to the view.


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