Julie United States 12 Comments

Sky Pond is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for good reason. This hike has a little bit of everything…waterfalls, alpine lakes, high mountain views, and fun river and stream crossings. To get to Sky Pond, you will rock scramble up a waterfall, which can be refreshing when the weather is warm and downright cold in chilly conditions. But the whole reason to do this hike is for the view of Sky Pond, one of the most spectacular lakes in the park.

There is never a boring moment on this trail. The everchanging views and trail conditions really keep this hike interesting. Yes, it is on the long side and it can be challenging, but you get a great pay-off at the end, with the view of Sky Pond.

If you are looking for a spectacular day hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, Sky Pond should go at or near the top of your list.

About Our Experience

We hiked this trail twice. Or, I should say, Tim hiked this trail twice.

We loved this hike, despite less than ideal conditions the first day we did it. The four of us hiked to Sky Pond on June 30. The weather forecast was for clear skies but chilly temperatures (a high of 65 degrees in Estes Park). What we got was a very cold morning (morning temps were in the 40’s in Estes Park) and snow showers once we got past Loch Lake.

Snow clouds hid the dramatic peaks that surround Sky Pond. Less than 30 minutes after our visit to the lake, the clouds descended farther, visibility plummeted, and snow began to fall. We half hiked, half jogged down to lower ground. The snow stopped by the time we got back to Loch Vale.

Tim hiked to Sky Pond solo a few days later. Weather conditions were much different. It reached 80°F in Estes Park with bright blue skies with a few puffy white clouds. The weather can be dramatically different day to day, even during the summer.

Facts About the Hike

Distance: 9.5 miles out-and-back
Starting Elevation: 9,240 feet (at Glacier Gorge Trailhead)
Highest Elevation: 10,880 feet (at Sky Pond)
Elevation Gain (trailhead to Sky Pond): 1,640 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 2,125 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 4 to 6 hours

These hiking stats are starting from Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Parking at the large lot at the end of Bear Lake Road adds approximately 0.4 miles to the hike (round trip).

Sky Pond Elevation Profile

Sky Pond Elevation Profile

Hiking to Sky Pond

Parking/The Trailhead

The hike to Sky Pond starts near Bear Lake. To get to the trailhead, you will drive Bear Lake Road almost to the very end.

You can take one of two trailheads to reach Sky Pond.

The Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead is the ideal place to start this hike, since the distance will be the shortest. However, the parking lot is small and you have to arrive very early in the morning to get a space. We arrived at 5:45 am and we were able to get a space, but the parking lot was filling fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if the parking lot was completely filled by 6 am. And this was at the end of June 2020, when RMNP was operating at 60% capacity for Covid-19.

Glacier Gorge Trailhead

Your second option is to park at the enormous parking lot at the very end of Bear Lake Road. Get here no later than 8:00 am if you want a space. Take Bear Lake Trailhead and follow signs for Alberta Falls.

To get to the trail to Alberta Falls and Sky Pond, it is a 0.3-mile walk from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and a 0.5-mile walk from the Bear Lake Trailhead. If you can only get parking at the large lot at the end of Bear Lake Road, it only adds 0.4 miles round trip to the hike.

Sky Pond Trailhead

Alberta Falls

Once on the trail, follow the signs to Alberta Falls and Sky Pond.

Trail to Alberta Falls

About ¾ of a mile into the hike you will reach Alberta Falls, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the park. You can either see the waterfall from the viewpoint or walk along the edge of the river on the giant boulders for a closer view.

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls Sunrise

Loch Vale

Past Alberta Falls, the trail slowly and steadily gains elevation. At 1.4 miles, you will come to a fork in the trail. Stay to the right to continue on to Loch Vale and Mills Lake (the trail to the left leads to Longs Peak, the highest point in the park).

Longs Peak Junction

Trail to Loch Vale

About a half mile later, you will reach the Loch and Mills Lake Junction. Stay to the right to continue to Sky Pond.

Sky Pond Trail Marker

The trail runs alongside Icy Brook. You will reach a viewpoint of a waterfall and then the trail briefly but rapidly gains elevation as you hike a series of switchbacks.

Sky Pond Hiking Trail

2.3 miles into the hike you reach Loch Lake, a very pretty lake. The trail follows around the right side of the lake, through Loch Vale, and levels out for a little bit. Enjoy it, because once you get past Loch Vale, the climbing begins again.

The Loch RMNP

This section of the hike, from Loch Lake until you get to the trail junction for Andrews Glacier, was one of our favorite sections of the hike. It’s easy hiking here, you will cross several split log bridges over creeks, and the forest is beautiful and quiet.

Split Log Bridges

Bridge on Trail to Sky Pond

Lake of Glass

At the final trail junction, stay to the left continue to Sky Pond. Now the climbing really begins. The trail climbs up through a field of boulders until you reach Timberline Falls. When we did this at the very end of June, there were still giant patches of snow on the ground.

Boulder Field Sky Pond

Next you reach Timberline Falls. The trail to Sky Pond continues up through a portion of this waterfall. For roughly 100 feet, you will rock scramble up the waterfall. Depending on the water flow, there is a chance that you will get wet. The water is very chilly, even in the summer months. Take your time here because the rocks are slippery.

Timberline Falls

Tyler hiking up the waterfall

 

Sky Pond Waterfall

Another view of the waterfall (photo taken on the return hike).

 

View from Timberline Falls

View from the top of the waterfall, back to Loch Vale.

Once past the waterfall rock scramble, it’s just a few more steps to get to the Lake of Glass. Some people mistakenly turn around here, thinking that they reached Sky Pond, but that’s still a half mile away. Take your photos here and then get back on the trail to Sky Pond.

Lake of Glass RMNP

Lake of Glass

 

Trail around Lake of Glass

Trail along the Lake of Glass

Sky Pond

The trail to Sky Pond starts on the right-hand side of the Lake of Glass. We had a hard time finding the trail. You will hike/rock scramble up some large boulders. Follow the rock cairns in this section. Once past this point, it is a fairly flat walk alongside the Lake of Glass until you reach Sky Pond.

Enjoy the amazing view. You earned it! You can hike around much of the lake, for different viewpoints or for solitude.

View of Sky Pond

Sky Pond

Sky Pond Panorama

Retrace your steps back to Glacier Gorge Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead.

Optional: Mills Lake

If you still have a little energy left in your legs, you can make the detour to Mills Lake. The hike to this lovely lake adds 1.4 miles and 200 feet of elevation gain to the hike.

To do this, take the trail to Mills Lake and Black Lake at the Mills Lake Junction. Mills Lake will be the first lake you reach.

Mills Lake

Mills Lake

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Start the hike early, ideally by 7 am. During the summer months, afternoon thunderstorms are common, typically occurring by 2 pm. You need to be back in the tree line by 2 pm.

Leave no trace. When you are in the park, practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring into the park, be considerate of other hikers, stay on the trail, and do not remove anything from the park.

Do not expect your cell phone to work. On 95% of the hike we had zero cellular service (this also goes for the entire drive down Bear Lake Road). There were a few spots in clearings or at higher elevations where we got a few bars of LTE or 3G, just enough to send a text message. But don’t depend on your phone to call for help, talk to friends, or send photos to friends and family.

Be prepared to turn around early. If weather conditions change and you see approaching thunderstorms, be prepared to end your hike before you reach Sky Pond. Your safety is more important than making it to the lake.

If you are not acclimated to the altitude, this is not a good first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The long distance, elevation gain, and altitude make this a tough hike. If you have not already spent time in Colorado adjusting to the altitude, I recommend that you spend a day or two acclimating to the higher elevation. Emerald Lake, Deer Mountain, and Gem Lake are good warm-up hikes.

What to Bring on the Hike

Hiking shoes. Don’t do this hike in anything other than hiking shoes or hiking boots. There’s a good chance you will hike through snow, even in the summer. Plus, the waterfall scramble can be slippery, and the extra traction that hiking shoes provide will help you out a lot here.

Hiking poles. Hiking poles are optional but they take the stress off of your legs and help to ease leg pain and fatigue.

Water and snacks. At least 3 liters of water in the summer.

Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. For much of the hike you will be in the shade of the trees. However, the final mile to Sky Pond is exposed, so you will be in the sun for at least an hour of the hike.

Camera. Even a smartphone will do. Sky Pond is a great place to use the panorama feature.

Sky Pond Hike

This panorama was taken by Tim with his iPhone.

Rain jacket or fleece. It’s chilly at Sky Pond. Be prepared for all weather conditions, even snow in the summer months. Pack a rain jacket and/or fleece and even another layer of clothing.

If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.


If you have any questions about hiking to Sky Pond, let us know in the comment section below. Happy hiking!!

More Information for Your Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park:

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Destination Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

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Rocky Mountain National Park Sky Pond

 

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Comments 12

  1. Hi,

    Would you recommend this hike on the first week of December or will the snow make it impractical ? Also, if this hike is not recommended at that time, what other places would you recommend in the area ?

    Thanks

    1. Post
      Author

      It really depends on how much snowfall the area has had recently. It could be possible, if snowfall has been light or temperatures have been warm. You can get updates at the visitor center when you get to RMNP. It looks like Trail Ridge Road is closed for the season. You should be able to hike to Bear Lake and beyond to Dream and Emerald Lakes. The national park service has a page with ideas of what to do during the winter months. Here is the link. Cheers, Julie

    1. Post
      Author
  2. This post was so helpful- thank you! How hard would you say the waterfall climb/scramble is? I have no rock climbing experience or anything and have a tendency to trip/slip while hiking so just the look of that waterfall seems kinda daunting.

    1. Post
      Author

      It’s not too bad. It is slippery, but if you take your time, you shouldn’t have any problems. However, the water is very cold, even in the summer, so your hands will be cold and wet after you climb up and down the waterfall. If it’s a warm day, it will be refreshing. On a cold day, it’s a few minutes of torture. You could bring some gloves to warm your hands up…that might help. But it’s worth it! Cheers, Julie

  3. Did you have to pay to get into the park? It’s my first time and didn’t realize, I see a bunch of tour prices. But we don’t want to do a tour. We just want to hike on our own.

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes. Currently, there is a park entrance fee of $25 per automobile per day. Usually, a 7 day pass is available but right now it is not. I’m not sure why. You can purchase an America the Beautiful Pass for $80 which covers all national park admissions (and many other federal lands) for one year (this is what we do). Also, for Rocky Mountain NP, you also need a timed entry reservation for the days you plan to visit ($2 per day). Learn more here. Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi.

    Did you have to get a ticket and time slot to entry the park?
    I plan to be there next week and the earliest slot to go inside the park is 12noon.
    Can you give me any tips?

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes, Rocky Mountain National Park does currently require a reservation and time slot to enter the park (we also had to do this for our visit in July). At noon, there is very little chance that you will get parking at Glacier Gorge or at the large parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road. But you can try. I recommend parking at the large parking lot on Bear Lake Road and taking the shuttle to Glacier Gorge. Keep an eye on the weather forecast for afternoon thunderstorms (try not to do this hike on a day when thunderstorms are forecasted). Starting at 1 pm you should still have enough time to finish the hike before it gets dark but bringing a flashlight or headlamp might be a good idea. Happy hiking! Cheers, Julie

  5. Thank you for this amazing post. Your blog has been used over the years to plan many trips and you inspired us to start saving money for our own year long trek around the world post covid…We were hoping to go to Rocky Mountain NP in the fall! What would be the latest time we could go for the hiking trails to still be accessible?

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      Author

      Hello Emilie. I’m not sure how long into the season the trails stay snow free, but I think September would be an amazing time to visit. Early to mid-October should be nice too, but I think there is a greater chance of snow, at least in the higher elevations, at this time. Cheers, Julie

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