Another beautiful Colorado Hike coming your way! This time it’s Sky Pond.
There is something about alpine lakes tucked into mountains that I absolutely love. Maybe it’s because they look like like this:
Compared to Gem Lake, the hike to Sky Pond is a little bit longer and a little bit more difficult, but just as awesome. This hike had been on my radar for a while, but I finally got to move it from the “must hike” list to the “this hike was awesome” list back in early September.
We (“we” being myself and a guy that I dated for a few weeks that I am no longer seeing, so he will only be mentioned as a generic “he” throughout this post) set out from Denver super early on September 10 to drive out to Rocky Mountain National Park. Our goal was to get there slightly before sunrise (6:30am), but it ended up being closer to 7:00am. The parking lot at Glacier Gorge was already full, so we parked at an overflow lot about ½-mile down the road. Bonus hiking miles!
For it being early September, the weather was a nice little fall preview. Brisk air in the morning with sunshine, bright blue skies, and some colorful aspen trees. It was a little chilly at the start, but we warmed up quickly with the sunshine and the hiking.
Be aware as there are some forks in the road during the first few miles, so make sure to follow the signs towards Loch Vale and Sky Pond. If you take a wrong turn, you’ll still end up someplace awesome (like Lake Haiyaha, which is on my “must hike” list), just not where you originally intended.
One great thing about this hike is that there are many things to see along the way – Sky Pond is not the only attraction! The first is Alberta Falls, which is just about one mile into the trail and is a 30-foot scenic little waterfall.
After Alberta Falls the incline begins to pick up and the switchbacks begin. Two miles later the trail brings you to the next landmark: Loch Vale.
“The Loch”, as it’s called, is a little subalpine lake surrounded by mountains. This would be a good place to stop if you need a little rest and/or snack.
From here the trail stays flat for only a short while and then the stairs begin and it gets nice and steep. Like I-definitely-can-tell-I’m-over-10,000ft-elevation steep. At this point my heart rate was pretty high and I was feeling light headed, but then I turned around and took in the views and everything was a-ok.
The stairs lead you right to the base of Timberline Falls, which is about 4 miles from the beginning of the hike.
Here is where the fun part begins: scrambling up some rocks. This was the first time I’ve ever had to do much scrambling during a hike. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. Because of the cooler morning temps, there was some ice on the rocks; however, I just took it slow with small movements and some advice from that guy and made it up in one piece.
Then you see a lake and it’s like “YAY! I made it to Sky Pond!” only to realize that it’s not. We weren’t expecting this one and totally would’ve stopped there if someone hadn’t told us that it was, in fact, Glass Lake. Other hikers are so helpful.
I didn’t mind that it was there though. It was beautiful.
The remaining trail to Sky Pond was quite tricky, as in we lost the trail and climbed over a bunch of rocks until we found it again. Then a little stone path a few steps lead right to it.
Sky Pond is about 4.5 miles from the trailhead and sits surrounded by cliffs at about 10,900 feet. It was crazy windy, so we found a little cove that somewhat blocked the wind and had our lunch of pb&j, cheddar pretzels, and peanut butter oatmeal cookies. We were only two of a few people there at the time. It was very peaceful and we just sat and took in the scenery, watching the climbers in the distance and keeping our eyes on the marmots.
I still can’t believe how blue those skies were, especially when contrasting against the white/gray of the mountains.
It’s times like that when I realize how much I truly love hiking and being in the mountains. All the miles and climbs and gasping for air are totally rewarded.
And then my heart races in a different sort of way.
We hung out at Sky Pond for about 45 minutes and then started to head back towards the trailhead. Luckily on the way back we found the proper trail from Sky Pond to Glass Lake. It made things much easier.
It’s always interesting to hike trails in reverse. It’s the same scenery, but in a different perspective and in a different light of day.
As we were going down there were quite a few people just beginning their way up. We even passed by a little elk family chilling in the woods near the trail.
The round trip hike is about 9 miles, but with our bonus miles to the overflow lot and some additional wandering we ended up at about 10.6 miles. It was such a fantastic hike and ended up being a gorgeous day, so we decided to celebrate with some post-hike beers at The Barrel in Estes Park.
I hope you give this one a go!
Here are some additional tips:
Sky Pond Stats:
- Length: 9.0 miles
- Type: Out and back
- Beginning elevation: 9240 feet
- Elevation gain: 1780 feet
- Location: Estes Park, CO
- Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Trailhead
- Bathrooms: Yes
Weather, Clothes, and Food:
- Weather: 50s at the start, but climbed up into 80s towards the end of the hike. Bright blue skies, but quite windy in the higher elevation.
- Time of year: early September
- Duration: About 6.5 hours, but we hung out at Sky Pond for 45-60 minutes.
- Outfit: Eddie Bauer hiking pants, Athleta Chi tank, Under Armour quarter zip, Merrell hiking shoes, Smart Wool running socks, and The North Face rain jacket
- Extras: Patagonia backpack, sunscreen, and sunglasses along with water and sandals for after the hike
- Snacks: pb&j, cheddar pretzels, peanut butter oatmeal cookies, Quest bars, water, and no beer (because we forgot it)