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Beautiful Lake Haiyaha – A Local’s Guide to the Bluest Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lake Haiyaha is bright teal blue with many boulders

Lake Haiyaha has long been a hidden gem in Rocky Mountain National Park, despite being connected to the most popular trail in the park, Emerald Lake. Up until the summer of 2022, the lake’s water color looked much like any of the other lakes in RMNP, but after a rockslide that summer, the silt turned the water a milky teal blue. Right now it’s unknown how long this color will last, but whether you see Lake Haiyaha with silty water or clear alpine water, it is a beautiful sight to behold and far less crowded than nearby Emerald Lake or Loch Vale. 

Note: We took these photos in the summer of 2022 after the rockslide that turned the water milky green-blue. This color is thought to be temporary, but no one is sure how long it will stay this way. 

This guide covers everything you need to know to hike to Lake Haiyaha, from national park permits to typical trail conditions. 

Lake Haiyaha Hike trail info, distance, elevation gain, difficult rating

Lake Haiyaha Trail Basics

Where does Lake Haiyaha get its name?

“Haiyaha” (pronounced Hi-ya-ha) is a Native American Arapahoe word that, depending on the translation, means “rock” or “lake of big rocks”. Lake Haiyaha is indeed very rocky and the terrain leading up to the lakefront on the trail requires a bit of boulder scrambling. Don’t worry, it’s nothing technical and we share more info later in this guide on how to prepare. But suffice it to say, it’s pretty obvious when you see all of the boulders scattered throughout the lake why it earned its name “Haiyaha”. 

Emerald Lake Trail Head
You can reach Lake Haiyaha via the Emerald Lake trail.

Where is the trailhead to Lake Haiyaha?

You can get to Lake Haiyaha from Bear Lake trailhead or Glacier Gorge trailhead. The hike from Bear Lake is the shortest option. Both of these trailheads are in the Bear Lake Road corridor, meaning you need a timed-entry permit or hiker shuttle permit in addition to standard park entry if you are visiting in summer months between 5 am and 6 pm. Both of these permits are described in detail below. 

You also need to pay for entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park which is $30 per vehicle for one day, or $35 per vehicle for 7 days. Alternatively, if you have a national parks pass you do not need to pay the entrance fee, but still need the timed-entry pass. 

Bear Lake Parking Area
The Bear Lake Parking Lot is large but fills up fast!

What is the parking like for the Lake Haiyaha hike?

The best place to park for hiking to Lake Haiyaha is the Bear Lake trailhead. This is the most direct and shortest hike to Lake Haiyaha, and you’ll also get to see Bear, Nymph, and Dream Lakes all on the way to Haiyaha. 

Your other for parking inside the national park is to park at the Glacier Gorge trailhead, which is just about a mile from the Bear Lake Trailhead on Bear Lake Road. There are fewer spots available at this parking lot compared to the Bear Lake trailhead. 

Both lots are known to fill up fast. We don’t recommend arriving any later than 9 am if you hope to park in either lot. 

You can also park your car outside of Rocky Mountain National Park at the Estes Park visitors center and take the hiker shuttle to the Bear Lake trailhead. Make sure to reserve this shuttle in advance at recreation.gov.

Do I need a timed-entry permit to hike Lake Haiyaha?

Because both parking options for Lake Haiyaha are on Bear Lake Road, if you’re visiting during the spring/summer/fall months, you need a timed-entry permit for Rocky Mountain National Park that includes Bear Lake Road (Option 1 on Recreation.gov). In 2022, these permits were required from May 27 to October 10. Dates vary each year, and for the latest information check the official reservation site.

If you don’t want to or are unable to obtain a timed-entry permit, you can enter the park outside of the reservation time window. For Bear Lake Road, this means you would need to be parked at the trailhead by 5 am or after 6 pm. Otherwise, you can reserve a spot on the hikers’ shuttle, which will pick you up at the Estes Park visitor center and drop you off at your trailhead of choice.

Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry Information
NPS Graphic/A. Andreas
Lake Haiyaha

How long is the hike to Lake Haiyaha?

If you park at the Bear Lake parking lot and hike directly to Lake Haiyaha and back again without adding on any other detours is 4 miles round trip with approximately 850 feet of elevation gain. It’s a fairly easy hike in our opinion in terms of length and elevation, though AllTrails rates it “moderately challenging” due to the effects of altitude on those who aren’t acclimated to the elevation, as well as the aforementioned rocky terrain that gives Lake Haiyaha its name! It takes an average of 2 hours to complete, but we recommend allocating more time if you want to add on any of the adjoining trails we describe below! 

You can also park at the Glacier Gorge parking area and hike to Lake Haiyaha from there. This route is 7 miles with 1,231 feet of elevation gain, making it a more difficult and of course lengthier route. 

Wooden bridge on the hike to lake haiyaha

How long is the hike to Lake Haiyaha if combined with Emerald Lake?

Ok, so you can totally go to JUST lake Haiyaha and have an epic time. However, if you parked at the Bear Lake parking area, we recommend combining the hike to Lake Hiayaha with the hike to Emerald Lake.

This is the most popular option for hiking Lake Haiyaha, and definitely delivers the highest reward for your efforts. It adds an additional 1.2 miles to your overall hike, bringing it to 5.2 miles overall, but is well worth it. Because the trail to Lake Haiyaha from Bear Lake goes past Nymph and Dream Lakes anyway, you may as well go all the way to Emerald Lake to complete an amazing 5-lake loop.

Don’t miss our blog post about hiking to Emerald Lake for more details on this stretch of the trail! 

How long is the hike to Lake Haiyaha if combined with Loch Vale?

If you park at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, you can combine a hike to Lake Haiyaha with a stop at the beautiful Loch Vale lake on the way. From Lake Haiyaha, you can go back the way you came for a 6-mile round trip hike, or loop over to Bear Lake via Dream Lake and back to Glacier Gorge for a 5.7-mile loop. 

Other trail combinations with Lake Haiyaha


The graph below shows you all of the different destinations you can combine on this trail network and the distances for each. As you can see, there are so many ways to combine Lake Haiyaha with other destinations in the Bear Lake Road area. 

Bear Lake Road Area Destinations and Distances
Glacier Gorge Parking Trail Options

Are dogs allowed at Lake Haiyaha? 

Nope! Dogs are not allowed on any trail inside Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are bringing your pup to the park, please know that your furry friend will be limited to staying in your vehicle or on a leash in parking areas only. 

Lake Haiyaha hiking trail

When is the best time of year to hike Lake Haiyaha? Can you hike there in winter?

The best time to hike to Lake Haiyaha is definitely summer or fall. Spring is also a good time to hike to Lake Haiyaha, but the ground may be muddy or even snowy if the snow hasn’t melted yet. In the summer, aim to be back to the trailhead before noon to beat the typical afternoon thunderstorms common in the Rocky Mountains in June, July, and August. 

While people do choose to hike to Lake Haiyaha in winter, we don’t recommend it since this area is in an avalanche risk zone. 

Lake Haiyaha

What caused Lake Haiyaha’s color?

On June 28, 2022, a landslide of debris ranging from small pebbles to large boulders tumbled down the south slope of Hallett Peak. This event deposited rocks and silt into Chaos Canyon and Lake Haiyaha. This silt is what creates the milky blue color in Lake Haiyaha. If you had visited Lake Haiyaha prior to June 2022, it would have had the same water color as other nearby lakes like Dream or Emerald. 

Fun fact: the same process of grinding rocks into silt that happened in this rockslide is how glaciers grind rocks down to dust. It’s called “glacial flour”. This is why glacial lakes have a teal color, too! 

No one can say for sure how long the water at Lake Haiyaha will stay this blue-green hue, but it would depend on the debris’ density and whether any additional debris continues to slide into the lake. 

Lake Haiyaha Trail Summary

This guide is based on the route from Bear Lake Road Trailhead to Lake Haiyaha via Bear, Nymph, and Dream Lakes. 

Bear Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake

Bear Lake Trailhead 

The hike starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead and parking area. There are toilets here and a ranger station. If you have any questions about your hike, conditions that day, or anything else, definitely stop and chat with one of the rangers! They have so much information they can share with you. 

To your right when you start the trail is a short path that goes to Bear Lake. Sunrise here is particularly beautiful when the sun lights up Hallett Peak behind the lake. Whether it’s at the start or the end of your hike to Lake Haiyaya, definitely be sure to make the tiny detour to Bear Lake! 

From Bear Lake, it’s about a half mile of mostly flat hiking to Nymph Lake. 

Nymph Lake

Nymph Lake is especially picturesque. If it’s a still day with no wind, the reflection of the forest and mountains in the lily-pad-laden lake is perfect! That said, it’s the least impressive of the lakes on this trail, so ration your time accordingly. 

Dream Lake
Dream Lake

Ascent to Dream Lake

From Nymph Lake the trail continues another half mile, mostly uphill, to Dream Lake. Be sure to look to your left part way up the ascent for views down over Nymph Lake. You’ll start to see more mountain views along this part of the trail, and the terrain gets rockier. 

When you get to Dream Lake, there is a wooden sign pointing the way to Dream Lake (to the right) and Lake Haiyaha (to the left). It’s a short walk to Dream Lake from here. Even if you aren’t going to detour all the way to Emerald Lake, it’s worth a quick stop at Dream Lake. It’s the most picturesque of the lakes on the Emerald Lake trail in our opinion. I always stop and take lots of photos there! 

If you’re planning to go to Emerald Lake on your way back toward the trailhead from Lake Haiyaha, skip Dream Lake for now. You’ll pass it on your way to Emerald Lake later. 

Wooden bridge on the hike to lake haiyaha
The trail to Lake Haiyaha

Ascent to Lake Haiyaha 

After taking the trail to your left at the Dream Lake junction, it’s a steady climb for about a mile. The trail narrows as it climbs and the drop-off is somewhat intimidating. You have plenty of room to not be near the edge, though, so don’t worry! 

When the climb levels off, you’ll enter a forest. You’ll get your first glimpse of Lake Haiyaha’s milky teal water when you cross the small bridge over a stream. Soon after that, you’ll cross a river on a long bridge. This spot is especially picturesque and felt like something out of a fairy tale. It was so peaceful listening to the sound of the glacial blue water meandering around patches of green boggy terrain. This is my favorite part of the hike to Lake Haiyaha. 

Lake Haiyaha
Lake Haiyaha’s unique teal color is the result of a rockslide in 2022

Destination: Lake Haiyaha

Shortly after the river crossing, you’ll see a lot more boulders. To get to the lake, you’ll need to hike and climb over some of the boulders. Just use them like stairs and watch your steps. When in doubt, use three points of contact (aka, use your hands as well as your feet) to navigate the rocks. 

Soon you’ll see Lake Haiyaha in front of you. Take in the water’s stunning teal color, unique to this part of Rocky Mountain National Park since the 2022 landslide that deposited silt into the lake. 

On a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with views of Hallett Peak over the lake. Look closely in that direction and you can see the debris from the rockslide on the slope. 

I spent about an hour at Lake Haiyaha. I ate a bagel, chatted with some hikers visiting Colorado from out of state, and took photos from various parts of the lake. The rocks here are abundant and large, so everyone has room to spread out and relax on a rock of their own! 

Dream Lake and Lake Hiayaha junction
Junction for Dream and Emerald Lakes
Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake

Optional: Detour to Emerald Lake

On your way back to the trailhead, it’s worth a detour past Dream Lake to Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake is one of the most iconic in the national park, with views of Hallett and Flattop Peaks towering over the lake. The reflection of the peaks in the lake is beautiful if you’re able to catch it on a clear and still day! 

In general, the lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park are usually calmer in the mornings. Thunderstorms also typically come in every afternoon in the summer, so this is another reason to time your visit early in the mornings.

What to Pack and Wear to Hike to Lake Haiyaha

  1. Day Pack: It’s so helpful to have a good day pack to carry everything you need. I’ve had the Osprey Skimmer 20 for Women for years and it’s held up on every adventure! And here’s the Osprey Talon 22 Pack for Men!
  2. Water Reservoir: If your day pack doesn’t have a water reservoir in it already, you can buy one separately to slip into your bag. These are so important for staying hydrated and comfortably carrying several liters of water with you! We recommend having a reservoir in your pack or a water bottle on you for every hike. Here are our favorite 2-liter reservoir and 3-liter reservoir!
  3. Sun Protection: This is so important no matter the season! Sun Bum is our favorite sunscreen brand.
  4. Hiking Boots: I hiked to Lake Haiyaha in my Columbia hiking boots. The grippy soles are helpful when climbing on the boulders to get to the lake. You can’t beat the price for the quality, too. Tim wore his Foxelli boots and swears they are the best hiking boots he’s ever owned.
  5. Socks: I started wearing these double-layer Wrightsock brand socks when marathon training years ago and have never gotten a blister with them! The hike to Lake Haiyaha covers rocky terrain, so it’s nice to have blister protection! In winter, I might mix it up with merino wool socks, too.
  6. Sunglasses: I love these wooden frame sunglasses, so they are my go-to.
  7. Hiking pants: These hiking leggings are my favorite in winter. In summer, I usually hike in biker shorts or leggings.
  8. Moisture-wicking layers: SmartWool is our favorite layering brand. I wear this pullover all the time and their wool t-shirts are great base layers. There are also SmartWool t-shirts for men!
  9. Jacket: Because of the high elevation of this hike, even in summer it can be really chilly on Rocky Mountain National Park’s lakes! I always pack my Columbia jacket when hiking in the mountains.
  10. First Aid Kit: An ultralight first aid kit is a must-have for every hike, but particularly with the boulders on the hike to Lake Haiyaha, you’ll be glad to have a first aid kit if you need one!
  11. Camera: I always hike with my Sony a7iii. It’s a great full-frame camera for capturing all of our hiking memories!
  12. Snacks: Clif Energy Bars are our favorite hiking snack, for a good mix of carbs, fats, and protein to power us through our hikes!
  13. Trekking poles: Many people like hiking with trekking poles to offset the burden on the knees, especially going downhill. We don’t use ours often, but these Black Diamond Trail Back hiking poles are really popular!
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Follow us on Instagram @organized_adventurer

Guided Tours in Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking for a guided experience in Rocky Mountain National Park? Check out some of these tours you can book to help you make the most of your time in RMNP without the hassle.

Where to Stay in Estes Park

We recommend basing yourself in Estes Park when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are some well-rated hotel options in Estes Park, which is just a few miles from the Beaver Meadows entrance station to RMNP.

Luxury

Midrange

Budget

Click here to search for additional hotels in Estes Park or search below!

 

Final Thoughts on Lake Haiyaha

Lake Haiyaha is truly the prettiest lake in Rocky Mountain National Park ever since the rockslide of 2022 that caused the lake to turn glacial teal. If you’re visiting Colorado, this lake absolutely belongs are your bucket list, and with 4 other beautiful lakes easily viewable from the same trail, we think the hike to Lake Haiyaha delivers the best reward-to-effort ratio!

For more information about the Emerald Lake portion of this hike, check out our blog post all about hiking to Emerald Lake from the Bear Lake trailhead. Looking for more difficult hikes? Sky Pond and Chasm Lake are two of our favorites. If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer, a drive on Trail Ridge Road, the tallest continuous paved road in the United States, is well worth a half-day!

Lastly, don’t forget to prep for your trip by buying a national parks pass, and reserving your timed-entry permit or hiker’s shuttle.

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