I completed the hike in July 2017. The first 6 miles a more or less flat with amazing valley views. Once you cross the bridge and head north to the lake, it gets quite steep but you still have access to plenty of water and shade. The real work begins about a mile/mile and a half before the campsite below Little Emerald where you are treated to fallen tree after fallen tree across the trail. On our way up some awesome ladies were working to mitigate that problem but it I imagine it will be a nonstop job with all of the beetle-killed pine along the way.

The campsite south of Little Emerald can accommodate a relatively large group of people without getting too cozy but it will be crowded on a holiday weekend. The walk around Emerald is excellent and the view down the valley is breathtaking.