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Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a number of beautiful alpine lakes and in today’s post we’ll be discussing the hike to Dream Lake, Colorado.

Home to some of the best hiking trails in the continental United States, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the country.

The Dream Lake trail is accessed from the Bear Lake Corridor. Dream Lake’s elevation sits at nearly 10,000 feet or about 3,000 meters above sea level. Situated just below the tree line, this trail offers views of Hallett’s Peak and multiple mountain lakes.

In this post we’ll cover all kinds of facts about the park along with everything you should know before hiking out to Dream Lake.

Don’t forget that Rocky Mountain National Park is now on the timed entry reservation system during peak season. This runs from the end of May through early October. If you don’t have a reservation be sure to head over to Recreation.gov to lock that in!

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado
The Dream Lake trail offers some of the most amazing views in all of Rocky Mountain!

If you aren’t familiar with that system, do not fear! I’ve put together a post highlighting how to get through the reservation process along with other useful tips. Check out my National Park Timed Entry Guide here!

Once you’re finished reading this guide, be sure to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide I put together over on my YouTube channel. It includes tons of great footage I shot during my visit to the park.

You’ll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I’m still happy you’re here!

Where is Dream Lake located?

Dream Lake Colorado is best accessed from the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is where you’ll find the Beaver Meadows park entrance station.

Without traffic the drive from Estes Park to the Bear Lake trailhead Parking lot should take you between 30 and 45 minutes.

Most of the drive occurs after entering Rocky Mountain which means you’ll be able to take in the parks beautiful scenery along the way!

Man hiking to Dream Lake in Colorado
A hiker presses on towards Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

On your way out, be sure to hit Bear Lake first! Bear Lake is located right by the main parking lot and there’s a nature walk that wraps around it.

As you hike on from Bear Lake there is one other detour you won’t want to miss out on. Nymph Lake is located roughly halfway between Dream and Bear Lakes.

Nymph Lake makes for a great spot to pull over and take a quick break. If you’re interested in learning more about the lake, I put together a full post on what to expect when visiting Nymph Lake. Be sure to add that stop to your Rocky Mountain hit list!

If you’re entering Rocky Mountain from the west, near Grand Lake, you’ll have to drive across the entirety of Trail Ridge Road to reach the Bear Lake trailhead. This can take around two hours.

Considering many of the parks best hikes and sights are located along the Bear Lake Corridor, it’s not a surprise that most people suggest staying in Estes Park over Grand Lake.

If you’re still searching for accommodations you can find great deals in Estes Park here or in Grand Lake here.

What to expect when hiking to Dream Lake?

The Dream Lake trail is one of the easier hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park with AllTrails pegging the roundtrip journey at 2 miles or about 3.2 kilometers.

There’s a slight elevation gain as you work on from Bear Lake. But despite the high altitude making breathing slightly more difficult, this is a trail that welcomes hikers of all skill levels.

The Dream Lake trail is well maintained and offers modest tree coverage which provides protection against the mountain sun.

Man wearing orange shirt at Dream Lake Colorado
The backdrop at Dream Lake Colorado makes for an awesome photo op!

While this hike isn’t the most challenging, you might end up being out in the elements for a few hours. This is especially true if you stop at Bear Lake and Nymph Lake along the way.

Be sure to bring essentials like water, sunscreen and light snacks. This is important if you plan to continue hiking from Dream Lake to Emerald Lake.

As a reminder the Bear Lake trailhead serves as the starting point for all of these destinations.

Where do I park for the Dream Lake trail?

Unfortunately, like many other popular National Park destinations the parking situation for Dream Lake is pretty brutal since it utilizes the popular Bear Lake trailhead and parking lot.

When I visited Rocky Mountain in late July we had a 9am timed entry slot which included Bear Lake Corridor access.

We entered the park around 9:30am and reached the Bear Lake parking lot by 10am. At this time rangers were already redirecting traffic.

Most cars were being turned away and told to park at an overflow lot (with shuttle access) down the road. By a stroke of luck we were the last car they allowed to park here before the main parking lot was shut down again.

Views of Dream Lake Colorado
Dream Lake is massive with beautiful views in every direction!

Unless you’re arriving very early you should probably just plan on parking at the overflow lot and taking the shuttle service to the Bear Lake trailhead.

Shuttles are plentiful so you shouldn’t need to wait long for one.

Is there cell phone service at Dream Lake?

Cell phone service throughout most of Rocky Mountain National Park is minimal. You may get intermittent cell phone service around Dream Lake but don’t count on it.

The higher points of the park (towards the Alpine Visitor Center) will offer better opportunities to get a signal.

How much does Dream Lake entry cost?

There isn’t a fee specific to accessing the Bear Lake parking area. The Rocky Mountain National Park entry pass and timed entry reservation are all you need to access Dream Lake.

You can check out current rates at the National Park Service’s website.

How long does the Dream Lake trail take to complete?

Start off by budgeting 30-45 minutes of driving time from Estes Park. From there let’s assume you park at the overflow lot and need to wait 10 minutes each way on the shuttle for pick up so you’ll need to budget about one hour for logistics.

The trail itself isn’t too long but assuming you make stops at Bear Lake and Nymph Lake along the way, your whole adventure could end up taking three hours or so.

Are pets allowed at Dream Lake?

Sadly, pets are not allowed at Dream Lake. While your pet is welcome to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, don’t expect to take them with you at Dream Lake or any of the other trails. Pets are only welcome around parking lots and certain campgrounds.

Are there bathrooms at Dream Lake?

There are bathrooms at the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot. There are no other facilities along the trail.

What is the best time of day to hike the Dream Lake trail?

Given the short duration of this trail you can really visit any time of day. Keep in mind that during the summer months Rocky Mountain National Park often experiences afternoon thunderstorms.

Arriving early or late in the day can improve your prospects at parking in the main lot and cut down on crowds around the lake.

Also – don’t forget to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide over on my YouTube channel if you haven’t already!

Should I bring any special hiking gear for Dream Lake?

Hiking gear isn’t necessary for this one. Hiking boots never hurt, but the trail is well kept and the distance is relatively short so even these aren’t required. Just be sure to pack essentials like water, snacks and sunscreen!

Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?

Chances are if you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park you’ll be doing some hiking. If you’re doing some hiking you’ll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.

For your convenience I’ve put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don’t overlook anything.

That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, so if you’re doing something more casual you probably won’t need everything on that list. But rest assured you won’t overlook a thing!

Check out these activities available in the area

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Read my Timed Entry Reservation Guide

There’s one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting US National Parks. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise stress free day exploring some of Americas most beautiful destinations.

If the park you’re visiting requires timed entry be sure to check out this guide.

Fortunately – we have put together a guide walking you through that process. We also provide useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.

You can access my Timed Entry Reservation Guide here!

I hope you find this guide to hiking Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park useful during your trip to Colorado!

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