Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Emerald Lake - RMNP

Last Sunday I got a chance to hike to Emerald Lake with 5 friends. It wasn't much of a birding hike, but our stop at Emerald, just over 10,000 feet, produced some good looks at a few of the higher elevation critters. The lake is edged on the far side by some dramatic faces rising above to the Continental Divide, and makes it one of the more heavily visited places in the park. Of course that also leaves the lake wide open to winds, rolling down from the ridge several thousand feet above. The Clark's Nutcracker (above) seemed used to having its feathers ruffled.

The residents, both Clark's Nutcrackers and Steller's Jays seemed to have gotten used to relieving hikers of their snacks and lunches - and were bold enough to watch from a few feet as we sat and enjoyed the view.

I was happy to get the close range shots, and to have a chance to see that white tail that flashes when the Clark's Nutcrackers fly above. Their all gray heads help to distinguish them from the somewhat similar Gray Jay.

The brazen attitude of the pair of Nutcrackers and lone Steller's Jay was matched by the mammals in the area, chipmunks were everywhere, and this Yellow-bellied Marmot may have been considering whether it had a chance to wrestle my pack from me.

If you are a visitor to Rocky Mountain National Park and have a limited amount of time for your visit this is a hike I highly recommend. Starting from the Bear Lake trailhead it is rated as easy and passes Nymph and Dream Lakes before ending at Emerald Lake. The total out and back round trip for those three is 3.8 miles, and Bear Lake can easily be added at the beginning or end to bring the total closer to 4.5 miles. If you do visit and want to give this one a try be sure to get there early or go on a weekday - visitors in the summer will fill the parking lot, and crowd the trail. We were on the trail around 9:00 and already had plenty of company. Descending, we were passing groups of around thirty people, and trust me, there isn't enough space at the top for a group that big to even enjoy the scenery. As of last weekend the trail between Dream and Emerald lakes was still mostly covered by snowfields, and postholing became an issue as the temps rose. That should become less of an issue, but if you are going in the late spring be aware that snow can push the rating from easy to a mild moderate.


  1. Those are great shots of the Nutcrackers! There are some at the top of a mountain near here and I have found them to be fun to watch in flight. Up there they would seem to just drop out of the sky.

  2. I love your photos! :-) Marmots are SO adorable! :-D I was just in CO last week, but I didn't see any of those birds. :-(