Rocky In A Rush

Sunrise lights Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain from a small tarn just below Dream Lake. Hallet Peak at sunrise is iconic, and a short hike before sunrise to Dream Lake should leave photographers satisfied. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Sunrise lights Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain from a small tarn just below Dream Lake. Hallet Peak at sunrise is iconic, and a short hike before sunrise to Dream Lake should leave photographers satisfied. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
As photographers, we’ve all been there. Were visiting town on business or other personal matters but a must photograph location is nearby and beckoning to us. The problem is we only have a small amount of time to get out an photograph the said location. You do your research, study maps and keep your fingers crossed the gods of photography are on your side.

I’m a big proponent of investing time with your subjects and really getting to know a location or area. I’m a realist also. We all have busy lives and schedules and sometimes you’ve got to take the time your given and run with it. In situations like these where you just need to tune out the background noise and just get right to the meat and potatoes.

I’ll do my best here to lay out a quick, half day guide to photographing Rocky Mountain National Park that give you the best chance of success with your limited time. I’m basing these recommendations on photographing Rocky Mountain National Park during the busy summer season when access and weather are most favorable for a half day visit. I’m also basing my recommendations based on photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in the morning. Mornings in Rocky will more often than not provide favorable conditions at the locations recommended.

Just to preface this recommendation, I find all of Rocky Mountain National Park beautiful. I don’t personally have any one location that’s my favorite. Locations in Rocky are like your children. I don’t have a favorite, they are all full of limitless potential, but some are a little more receptive and productive then others.

Lets cut right to the chase. It’s one of the most popular locations in Rocky Mountain National Park for a reason. The Bear Lake Road area, and in particular the trailheads emanating from the Bear Lake parking lot will give a photographer visiting for a half a day the greatest chance of capturing Rocky in all her glory.

The Bear Lake trailheads can take you far and wide to locations around the park. For this scenario however, the most productive trail will be the Emerald Lake trail. The Emerald Lake trail will take you past Bear Lake(.01 mi), Nymph Lake(.5 mi), Dream Lake(1.1 mi) and Emerald Lake(1.8 mi) if desired. It’s a fairly short trail and moderate to easy in its climb so that out of town visitors in fair condition should be able to traverse the trail with little difficulty if they give themselves enough time.

For this scenario, the farthest most photographers will need to venture is the 1.1 miles to Dream Lake. Dream Lake is one of Colorado’s most iconic locations. Next to the Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake, I cant think of another alpine lake more photographed than Dream Lake.

Give yourself enough time to arrive at Dream Lake at least 30 minutes before sunrise. You probably wont be the only photographer at the lake and arriving to the lake early allows you to explore locations and find a nice vantage along the eastern outlet of Dream Lake. The eastern outlet area affords the nicest view of Hallet Peak and Dream Lake and is also the area of the lake most likely to have smooth water if winds are present, which is probable. The shallow water and more sheltered location on the east end of Dream Lake mean that often Dream Lake may be rippled and copy while the outlet area remains smooth. Furthermore, I would recommend you have a wide angle lens available to capture the scene. Depending on whether its a horizontal or vertical image, I find a 17mm to 24mm lens work best a capturing the peaks, sky and reflections(Full Frame DSLR equivalent).

Nymph Lake allows photographers to capture more intimate scenes of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Pond Lilies on Nymph Lake are a favorite subject of mine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 75-300 F4-5.6 L
Nymph Lake allows photographers to capture more intimate scenes of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Pond Lilies on Nymph Lake are a favorite subject of mine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 75-300 F4-5.6 L

Photograph sunrise from Dream Lake. First light over Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain are something to behold. After first light has bathed Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain in pink and gold, be prepared to move and explore the vicinity around Dream Lake.

Both the stream running from the outlet of Dream Lake and the small tarns the stream forms just east of Dream Lake can make for impressive views of the area. After photographing Dream Lake at sunrise one can either hike an additional .5 miles up to Tyndall Falls, or instead head back downhill towards Nymph and Bear Lake.

On your hike back down from Dream Lake, be prepared to spend sometime photographing Nymph Lake. The area around Nymph Lake has been hit hard by Pine Beatle kill in the last ten years. Even so, Nymph Lake offers terrific views of Hallet Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park’s on Fourteener and highest mountain, Longs Peak.

While Nymph Lake offers impressive views of Hallet Peak as well as Longs Peak, there is plenty of opportunity to capture more intimate scenes at Nymph. Pond Lilies bloom on the surface of Nymph Lake from late June through early August. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

You’ve now capture sunrise at Dream Lake, spent sometime photographing the views and pond lilies and your ready to complete your morning hike and make one last stop at Bear Lake.

Fog rolls over the summit of Longs Peak from the northern shore of Bear Lake. Bear Lake offers great vantage points of both Hallet Peak and Longs Peak. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm F4 IS L
Fog rolls over the summit of Longs Peak from the northern shore of Bear Lake. Bear Lake offers great vantage points of both Hallet Peak and Longs Peak. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm F4 IS L

Bear Lake offers numerous possibilities as well. View of both Hallet Peak and Longs Peak are impressive from Bear Lake. The eastern shore of Bear Lake is a great location to capture Hallet Peak. Hike around to the northern shore of Bear Lake for equally as impressive views of Longs Peak.

Bear Lake is particularly photographic during the Autumn season. Aspen trees line the hillsides around Bear Lake making it a prime photographic destination in the fall. One could easily spend their entire morning photographing at Bear Lake alone, especially during the third week of September which typically coincides with peak fall color.

Well there you have it. These are my suggestions on how to use your limited time in Rocky Mountain National Park to increase your chances of a successful but short but productive photographic adventure.