Of the seemingly infinite hikes to do in Colorado, Sky Pond stands out as one of the best. If you’re looking for a high-altitude challenge offering everything from lakes, waterfalls, and jaw-dropping peaks, then Sky Pond belongs on your bucket list. Of my many visits to Rocky Mountain National Park, the adventure that sticks out the most is Sky Pond.
It required an early morning wake up call, a challenging 10-mile round trip, and a steady incline up to 11,000 feet above sea level. And honestly, I can’t even say anything bad about the hike, not even for dramatic effect. There were hardly any dull stretches. The trek flew by. For a trek that takes around six hours, that is a glowing compliment.
Let’s take you through to the trek.
Where To Begin the Sky Pond Trek
All trails to Sky Pond begin inside Rocky Mountain National Park. To get inside, you’ll have to pay the $25 daily entry fee or flash them your annual pass. The annual pass for just Rocky Mountain National Park is $70. For the America the Beautiful Pass that allows entry into all national parks and monuments, it is $80. The gates to Rocky Mountain National Park usually are only staffed starting at 6 AM, so if you want an early start, you may be able to bypass the entrance fee altogether.
Once you’re inside the park, the trail to Sky Pond can either be started from Bear Lake parking lot or Glacier Gorge trailhead. Starting at Bear Lake adds about a quarter mile to the total distance. However, it has more parking spaces, so if Glacier Gorge parking lot is full, then you’ll want to pop on over to Bear Lake. From there, you can follow the trail left towards Alberta Falls.
What You’ll See Along the Way to Sky Pond
One of the best things about the hike to Sky Pond is the abundance of things you’ll see along the way. Getting to Sky Pond takes nearly five miles of steady incline, but with all of the attractions along the way, the hike flies by.
At less than a mile in, you’ll see your first of many jaw-dropping sights. From where Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake trailheads intersect, it’s about .6 miles of steady incline to get to this point. These falls are stunning, with the forested, mountainous backdrop adding to its raw beauty. When the water is flowing at full force, it is even more magnificent.
Once you wrap up at Alberta Falls, Loch Vale is about another two miles away. Thankfully, the way here is filled with many marvelous viewpoints. Most of the way, you’ll be under the shady forest, but there will be patches where you find yourself above the tree line. This allows for some breathtaking views of the mountains and gives you a grasp on the sheer size and scope of Rocky Mountain National Park.
You’ll walk along a cliffside for a mile or so with a sharp drop into a small valley where the river runs, flanked by the lush green canyons. On a clear day, the mountains in the distance will tower over you until you find yourself back below the woods.
A little after you hit mile 3, you’ll run into Loch Vale, more commonly just referred to as The Loch. Take your time here because this spot offers some of the most amazing views of the entire trail. Snow-capped peaks beyond the clear waters of The loch makes for a picture-perfect photo opportunity.
You’ll walk along the Loch for close to a mile before the incline picks up significantly. Enjoy the many viewpoints because this is where the trail gets tricky.
While the incline has been gradual up to this point, it picks up significantly. This is a short stretch, distance-wise, at least. In about 1/5th of a mile, you’ll go up around 400 feet in incline. Some stretches are so steep that you’ll have to do a bit of bouldering to climb up. When the snow has melted and the water is flowing, this makes it even trickier.
There’s usually a bit of a traffic jam at this point since there’s only one way up and down. Take a quick detour to the side to see a stunning view of Timberline Falls. Make sure to look back behind you to see just how much of the trail you’ve already conquered. Once it’s finally your turn to climb up, take extra care to maintain your footing. A fall here can be painful, and you’ll be 4 miles from the trailhead in the event of a serious injury.
Lake of Glass
Once you’ve climbed up Timberline Falls, you’ll run into Lake of Glass. Some people think this is Sky Pond and leave once they get here. While it is absolutely stunning on its own, DO NOT leave before reaching Sky Pond. Sky Pond is on another level entirely, on par with the likes of Laguna Torre in El Chalten.
Take in the views at Lake of Glass before going along the right side of the lake to reach Sky Pond.
Whewwww. You’ve finally made it. On a clear day, this view is unlike anything else you’ll find in Colorado. The jagged mountains that resemble sharks’ teeth makes for an epic backdrop to the turquoise waters of Sky Pond. Despite the popularity of Sky Pond, the difficulty often means that there won’t be too many people up here. If there are crowds, Sky Pond is big enough that you can circle around the pond and find a nice secluded spot for lunch and some photoshoots.
The Way Back From Sky Pond
Sky Pond is an out and back trail, meaning you have to go back the way you came. If you’re adventurous, you could tack on a few other hikes. For example, you can detour to Lake Haiyaha, which eventually connects to the Emerald Lake Trail. There is a detour to a glacier, as well. However, if you’re like me, your legs are probably tired and you just want to head back riding the high of the amazing views you’ve seen.
You’ll see the same things on the way back, but thankfully, it’s all downhill. It took us about 3 hours to reach Sky Pond and only about an hour and a half to make it back to the parking lot.
Quick Notes About Sky Pond
Parking For Sky Pond Hike
Parking will be limited at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and even at Bear Lake Parking Lot. Arrive at around 5 AM for any hope of finding parking at Glacier Gorge. Bear Lake will be easier to find parking as late as 6:30 AM. If not, then park at the Park and Ride station and take the bus to the trailheads. Park and Ride starts at 7 AM and ends at 7:30 PM.
What To Bring To Sky Pond
Expect to be out on the trails for about six hours, depending on your fitness levels. I’d recommend two liters of water, as well as breakfast, lunch, and a few snacks. Prepare for all of the elements. Weather at Rocky Mountain National Park can be wildly unpredictable. When the sun is out, it is insanely strong. Bring sunscreen. When it rains, it can get really cold really fast. Bring a rain coat, a rain poncho, and maybe a dry change of clothes if you know it’s going to rain.
The terrain for the trail isn’t too difficult, but hiking boots will help immensely. I brought walking poles as well, which proved to often be more of an annoyance than of help. During the climb up Timberline Falls, I wished that I hadn’t brought them at all. However, they were a monumental help in taking off some stress on the long way down.
And bring a camera, duh. I shoot with a Nikon D5600.
Best Time to Visit Sky Pond
During the summer months is the most common time for hikers to take on Sky Pond. Once the snow starts melting around June and July, the trail becomes much less technical to conquer. As far as time of day, it’s best to go in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds.
If you are visiting during the Coronavirus pandemic, there are a few things to note about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve compiled them in this other post, but in short, make sure to reserve a spot with the timed-entry system. Practice social distancing and wear a mask when passing fellow hikers.
Where To Stay When Hiking Sky Pond
Estes Park is the main hub for visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park. As touristy as it is, it really is your only option if you want to be within 30 minutes or less from Sky Pond. Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park is also an option, although expect campsites to be fully booked out during the summer months.
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Sky Pond Photo Gallery, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
And last but not least, some of my favorite pictures I took on the hike to Sky Pond.