Hiking Sky Pond: Rocky Mountain National Park
Sky Pond - Source: Steven Bratman Flickr
Sky Pond is one of Colorado’s most sought after hiking trails located in the pristine Rocky Mountain National Park. This national park is located in northern Colorado and spans the Continental Divide. It's known for its alpine tundra, aspen trees, wildlife (which can be spotted all over the park), and hiking trails. The famous Trail Ridge Road runs through the park and will take you above 12,000 ft (3,658 meters) providing spectacular views, wildlife sightings, and amazing alpine wildflowers. You’ll increase 4,000 ft (1,219 meters) in just a matter of minutes driving up this road.
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Distance: 9.5 miles (15.3 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 1,837 ft (560 meters)
Route Type: Out & Back
Highest Elevation: 10,900 ft (3,322 meters)
View from Trail Ridge Road - Source: DeWayne Hansen - Flickr
The Surrounding Area
Rocky Mountain National Park is known as a hiker’s paradise with 350 miles (563 kilometers) of hiking trails throughout the park. It is an absolute must-visit when coming to Colorado. There are trails that can accommodate all hiking-levels. Each trail offers unique scenery and views of the Rocky Mountains.
Camping inside the park is also an option. The park has three reservable campsites including Aspenglen Campground (52 sites), Glacier Basin Campground (150 sites), and Moraine Park Campground (244 sites). Longs Peak Campground (26 sites) and Timber Creek Campground (98 sites) are first-come, first-serve campgrounds. Backcountry camping is also allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park with a special $30 permit between May thru October. If you opt to backcountry camp, refer to the National Park’s wilderness guide.
Currently, to get into Rocky Mountain National Park you need a reservation if coming in by car between 6 AM - 5 PM. I would recommend getting to the park at 5AM to avoid the reservation, as they fill up quickly and it can be difficult to get one. The trailhead parking lot for Sky Pond is very small and also fills up quickly, so another reason to get there bright and early. Plus, if you can hit it right with the sunrise, you’ll get some spectacular views. If you get there later, there is a shuttle to the Glacial Gorge parking lot, where the trailhead is located.
Tips For Hiking To Sky Pond
Wear good waterproof hiking shoes - It gets rocky and slippery on sections of the trail
Bring hiking poles - These will be helpful in the steep sections
Wear sunscreen - You are in high elevations and the sun is bright in Colorado
Bring bug spray - It can be very buggy on the trail
Never feed the wildlife
Leave the trail as you found it - i.e. no trash
What To Expect
The Sky Pond trailhead, Glacier Gorge, and is located about 8 miles off of Hwy 36 on Bear Lake Road. As you start off on the trail, you’ll hit Alberta Falls just under a mile in. This is a very popular scenic stop that features a 30-foot waterfall running into the glacier creek.
Albert Falls - Source: CorkySandpiper - Flickr
Continue to mile 1.6 where you will meet the North Longs Peak Trail junction. Keep to the right. As you’re on the trail, be on the lookout for marmots, pika, and chipmunks. They love to scurry by among the rocks.
Heading straight on the trail, you hit a couple of switchbacks through an impressive gorge. After the third switchback, checks out the waterfall flowing down the gorge below.
At 2.8 miles, you will have reached “The Loch”. This is a subalpine lake resting at 10,190 ft (3,322 meters). Across the lake, soak in views of Taylor Peak, Thatchtop Mountain, and Powell Peak.
The Loch - Source: Keith Burton - Flickr
After the Loch, the trail will start to climb. When you reach the Andrew Glacier split, stay to the left. Andrew Glacier will take you to the Andrew Glacier Backcountry campsite, one of the only campsites in the area.
Shortly after the split, you will see Timberline Falls, around the 4-mile marker. This is where things get interesting. You will begin to climb the steep rock steps for about 200 feet (61 meters). The trail continues up Timberline Falls, which is a challenging scramble up the chute. There may be sections with water coming down. Be very careful in this portion of the trail and take it slow. You’ll need to use your hand to help guide you up the 100 feet (30 meters).
Timberline Falls Climb- Source: David Wilson Flickr
When you reach the top of the falls, you will see the beautiful alpine Lake of Glass with its chilly water. West of the lake, the trail will continue and become a bit rockier.
At 4.8 miles, you will have reached Sky Pond. This alpine lake is surrounded by three cliff walls. Check out the granite spires of Sharktooth, Taylor Peak straight ahead, and Powell Peak off to the left. Hang out and enjoy the views that you’ve worked for. After, you’ll make your way back to the trailhead the same way you came in.
Sharktooth Spires - Source: Instagram @wildersruth
About the Author:
Laura is a Colorado adventurer and enjoyed being active outdoors. You can typically find her hiking or cycling up a mountain. She runs the blog All The Colorado Things which focuses on adventure and travel in Colorado. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram.