Spring time in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. The hike to Sky Pond was a back-up plan. A very good back up hike, as there are many to choose from in Rocky Mountain National Park….
It was another 3:30AM morning wake-up at the Estes Park KOA; with the original plan of a 10.5 mile jaunt to Lake Ypsilon. We are getting better at packing up camp efficiently; today took around 40 minutes. Unfortunately we did not do our research and thought the only way to reach the Lower Lawn Lake Trailhead was from Devils Gulch Road.
This road was closed, most likely to keep visitors honest with reservation passes. This direction is the bypass; there is another route to the trailhead via Fall River Road through the Beaver Meadows entrance. Since we were unaware of this, we altered our plans and drove to the Glacier Gorge trailhead to hike Sky Pond.
Check out our Epic Sky Pond Hike Video
The Glacier Gorge trailhead parking lot was already ¾ of the way full, be advised that many people are avoiding the Rocky Mountain National Park timed entry system by getting to the park before 6AM. We happened to park at the same time as 10 or so people who were all planning to do some climbing.
The trail from three weeks ago and that same trail today were like night and day. Today the trail was dry and had no snow until the Loch Vale. Since we had no desire to see Alberta Falls, we decided to bypass by utilizing the fire trail.
Fire Trail Shortcut to Loch Vale, Mills Lake trail Junctions
The Fire Trail is an uncommon route for most hikers as it skips over popular tourist destination Alberta Falls. It’s not marked on Google Maps but is on some hiking Apps like AllTrails.
From the Glacier Gorge trailhead, you hike about .4 miles until you cross the second or third bridge, then hang a right. You will bypass Alberta Falls if you take this route, but also save some mileage if you need to reach your hiking destination faster.
Be warned that the fire trail is different from the winter trail we used a couple months ago; the winter trail follows the creek more closely while the fire trail does not. Our shortcut shaved 1.8 miles off round trip. The fire trail rejoins the regular trail just before it splits in three different directions, left for Mills Lake, right for Lake Haiyaha and straight for the Loch.
The Loch – Extremely Popular Alpine Lake in RMNP
The trail switchbacks several times, but in no time we were at the Loch. The lake was completely thawed and a few hikers were there already taking in the views. We have grown accustomed to seeing this lake frozen and being able to walk right across, today was a new experience walking around the circumference.
Hang off to the right when you get to The Loch to continue on the trail. If you want to explore this epic destination hang a left and take in the scenic views. There are lots of opportunities around The Loch that are extremely photogenic. This is also one of my favorite places to photograph sunrise.
We stopped frequently along the creek to set up waterfall compositions, there was certainly no shortage! Three bridges cross over a creek and this landmark indicates the turn-off for Andrews Creek and Andrews Glacier. Can’t wait to tackle this one in the future!
Sky Pond Waterfall Climb
Right before the Lake of Glass is a steep climb adjacent to Timberline Falls. Half was covered in slushy snow and the other half you had to scramble up the waterfall itself! It made for some great GoPro footage but the rocks were slippery in places.
The Sky Pond waterfall scramble can intimidate a lot of people, as most that visit this trail are not climbers, more casual hikers. I recommend wearing shoes with good traction and just concentrate on your holds. Don’t rush.
Expect traffic jams at the Sky Pond waterfall climb, as this is one of the most popular trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. My advice is to communicate with the people climbing up and down the short scramble up to the Lake of Glass.
Lake of Glass – Always Seems to be Windy
As soon as we reached Lake of Glass we were blasted with wind. This area is known for being windy and today was no different; we gladly put on wind gear. We hunkered against the gusts to snap some landscape pictures. There was a lot of lingering snow around Lake of Glass which made route finding a task, but it’s still easy to navigate to Sky Pond. Around the edges of Lake of Glass, trees and rocks buffered the wind so we got a bit of a reprieve.
Stay close to the lake. There’s no signs or trail markers. You will climb up on a rock ledge to the right of Lake of Glass, and then you need to hang to the left so you are hiking near the lake. Don’t go up, or you will be bushwhacking and hopping on boulders. Which is fun and adventurous but if you are trying to reach Sky Pond without gassing yourself stay on the trail. If your hopping boulder to boulder you are not on the trail anymore.
Sky Pond – Some of the best views in RMNP
From the west end of Lake of Glass, it’s just a short hike to Sky Pond. The colors of Sky Pond and Lake of Glass complemented each other well. To get a better view of both lakes, we scrambled up a hundred feet or so and set up the tripod.
Sky Pond offers great views of Taylor Peak and the Sharktooth and we saw several groups ascend and admire the views. The wind continued and we heard an avalanche on the other side of the mountains, which was unnerving. We descended to the water’s edge and played around with photographic compositions there before packing up and heading back.
There were so many people on the steep part by Timberline Falls which made it a little sketchy. Even with microspikes we were slipping in the slushy snow. There were a lot of hikers without traction who seemed to be having issues getting down. Several were “glissading” for a lack of better word (really they were sliding down on their butts). We continued to see a lot of foot traffic until we got back to the fire trail and then we had some peace and quiet.
Thoughts on Hiking Sky Pond
We arrived back at the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 11:30AM and the parking lot was jammed. Two vehicles got into a fight over who would take our spot! Our round trip distance was 9 miles and the elevation gain was 2,054 ft. With all our detours along the creek and exploring the lakes it took us 7 hours.
The hike to Sky Pond in the spring solidified how different Rocky Mountain National Park can be with the change of the seasons. I personally thought the steep incline below Sky Pond was easier in the winter because there is no need to climb up a waterfall on slippery rocks. Also, we missed being able to walk directly across the frozen lakes and rejoin the trail.
Sky Pond is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park if you are looking for great views. If you are looking for a less populated trail, this is not it unless you are night hiking.
Tips for Hiking Sky Pond
- Research the a few days prior, the wind can get brutal at Lake of Glass and Sky Pond
- Expect snow and icy conditions pretty much all year. Although I’ve hiked Sky Pond in September and there was no snow on the trail. This could vary year by year.
- Read recent reviews, ask park rangers, get an idea of what the trail conditions area.
- The trail is popular, and packed with people every day. You will pass tons of people. If you get to the trailhead (Glacier Gorge or Bear Creek) at sunrise you will bypass much of the crowd’s on the way up.
- If you don’t need to see Alberta Falls (which is amazing) and want to save some time take the Fire trail. You could always take the Fire trail on the way back to save .9 miles and avoid the crowds.
- Bring rain gear, extra socks, footwear with good traction, sunscreen, micro-spikes. Optional: snowshoes for winter and early spring, trekking poles, gloves, 1-2 liters of water.
Have you hiked Sky Pond before? Tell us your experience and trail conditions! If you have any questions about hiking Sky Pond please leave us a comment 🙂
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