Hiking Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park: Stunning Alpine Lakes and Epic Views

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Are you looking for an adventure to one of the most breathtaking places in Rocky Mountain National Park? Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park is a stunning alpine lake located just below Taylor Peak and surrounded by jagged, often snow-draped peaks.

It’s a magical spot that will take your breath away! Pass by cascading waterfalls and stunning views as you experience this hike that is so popular with locals and visitors alike.

You’ll certainly have an unforgettable experience exploring the beauty of Sky Pond!

Sky Pond Hiking Stats

  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Junction
  • Distance: 8.6 miles roundtrip
  • Starting Elevation: 9240 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1710 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Best Time to Visit: July through September

Sky Pond is a must-see destination for those looking to experience the best that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer, that is, if you’re up for the challenge to reach the views. With stunning alpine lakes and breathtaking views along the way, it’s no surprise that this hike is so popular.

The trek from Glacier Gorge Trailhead to Sky Pond covers 8.6 miles out and back, with an elevation gain of 2,125 feet. It’s important to note that snow can linger on the trail into July and hikers should check the National Park Service website for updates on trail conditions before setting out.

To access the trailhead, you’ll need a timed entry permit which includes Bear Lake Road (between May and October). All in all, plan on spending at least 4 to even 6 hours or more on the hike—but trust us when we say it’s totally worth it!

A hiker travels through the alpine regions traveling from Sky Pond to Lake of Glass.
Beginning the return hike from Sky Pond through stunning alpine meadows.

Parking/Reaching The Trailhead

Reaching the trailhead for Sky Pond is relatively straightforward. You’ll need to drive Bear Lake Road almost to the very end and you can take one of two trailheads from there—the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead or the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Both of these trailheads are closer to the Beaver Meadows entrance in Estes Park than the Grand Lake entrance on the west side.

The Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead is ideal since it’s the shortest distance, but unfortunately, its trailhead parking lot is quite small so you’ll need to arrive early in the morning if you want to get a spot. It only has about 20 parking spots! We got there at 4:50 am and took the last space in that parking lot.

A paper trail map, like this one from National Geographic, is essential to help you navigate the park’s roads and trails.

Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead

The Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead is the ideal starting point for hikers looking to conquer the trail to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. Located near the end of Bear Lake Road, the small parking lot tends to fill up quickly, so you’ll have to arrive extremely early in the morning if you want to secure a spot.

There are only about 20 spots in this parking lot, located on the left side of the road traveling towards Bear Lake. Enter the parking lot at the far end; don’t worry if you think you’ve missed the first opening!

If you don’t secure a spot at Glacier Gorge Junction, don’t worry! There are other ways to access this hike.

Bear Lake Trailhead

Located at the very end of Bear Lake Road, the Bear Lake Trailhead is an extremely popular spot for hikers looking to explore the alpine lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park, including Sky Pond. The trailhead provides breathtaking views and offers plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities along its routes.

While this parking lot does not fill up quite as early as at Glacier Gorge Junction, it does often fill before 8:00 am during the summer months. This trailhead provides access to multiple other lakes, including those that are easier to reach like the Emerald, Nymph, and Dream Lakes hikes and the hike to Lake Haiyaha!

The Bear Lake Trailhead offers numerous trails perfect for all skill levels. For beginners, take an easy stroll around beautiful Bear Lake or use the Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes Trails to acclimate to the altitude before tackling Sky Pond.

Beginning at the Bear Lake Trailhead adds about 0.4 miles to the hike, so while it does not add a significant amount of distance, just be aware of the difference whenever you set out.

Hop on One of the Park Shuttle Buses

If you are unable to secure a parking spot at either of these two parking lots, taking advantage of Rocky Mountain National Park’s convenient shuttle service is the other way you can gain access to these busy trailheads.

This shuttle runs along the Bear Lake Road corridor and stops at multiple locations throughout the day. It’s a great way to make sure you have access to all the trails and sights without having to worry about finding parking.

Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll around Bear Lake or tackling the more challenging route to Sky Pond, the shuttle will get you there so that you can make the most out of your visit.

It’s important to note that while taking the shuttle is convenient, it’s still important to get an early start so that you can beat any potential crowds. Either board the shuttle at the park and ride on Bear Lake Road or reserve a seat on the longer ride from the Estes Park Visitor Center.

Check out the NPS website for more information on routes, times, and permits required for entrance into the park. So what are you waiting for? Hop aboard and enjoy everything RMNP has to offer!

What You’ll See on the Hike to Sky Pond

The hike to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most scenic hikes in the park, and with its sweeping views and beautiful points of interest along the trail, it’s popular for good reason. The trail is just over 9 miles round-trip and is considered a fairly strenuous hike. But the views along the way make every step worth it.

As you start the hike, you’ll pass through dense forests and cross over streams on wooden bridges. As you gain elevation, the trees start to thin out and you’ll be able to see the stunning mountain views that surround you. Keep an eye out for wildlife along the way, as this area is home to elk, marmots, and mountain goats.

Pass by multiple waterfalls, babbling streams, and more than one tranquil alpine lake.

As you continue on, the trail becomes more challenging with sections of steep switchbacks and rocky terrain. But the reward at the end is well worth the effort. Sky Pond sits at the base of towering mountains. Let’s begin the hike to Sky Pond!

Panorama view of Sky Pond and Rocky Mountain National Park peaks
Sky Pond Panorama Views

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls is a stunning waterfall, and it’s the first big point that you’ll pass along on your hike to Sky Pond. It’s less than 1 mile from the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead.

When you reach Alberta Falls, it’s impossible not to be in awe! The cascading water falls 30 feet over a series of boulders into a pool below, creating a picturesque scene that you should stop and enjoy, even if just for a short time.

Hikers and sightseers alike can take in the falls from the viewpoint and walk for just a short distance along Glacier Creek.

This spot does get significantly busier midday because it’s a more easily accessible but beautiful waterfall, so we’d recommend enjoying it on your way up to Sky Pond rather than saving it for the return trip.

Alberta Falls is a complex cascade along the trail to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Alberta Falls along the hike to Sky Pond

Mills Junction

Before you reach any of the spectacular lakes along this beautiful trail, you’ll come to Mills Junction. Up until this point, you’ve shared the trail with other hikers who have different destinations including Mills and Black Lake. This is where you’ll choose to take the trail to the right, heading up toward Sky Pond!

It’s located about 2.2 miles from the trailhead and is where the trail splits off, with the next stops to either Loch Vale or Mills Lake. There is also a trail to the far right, which you can use to reach Lake Haiyaha.

At Mills Junction, hikers can take a break but there aren’t vista-type views here. It’s a beautifully wooded area, but that’s all. Just prepare yourself because coming up next, you’ll navigate some switchbacks as the trail follows along Glacier Creek.

After you pass Mills Junction, take a little more caution as the trail can be steep and rocky in places, especially as you travel further along the route. You’ll travel 0.8 miles to the next spot, which is a great place to stop for a little snack before moving on.

Trail signage along the trail to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park points Mills Lake 0.6 mi to the left and Loch Vale 0.8 miles to the right, among other points of interest.
Choose your path at Mills Junction.

The Loch

The next stop on the hike to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park is “the Loch.” It’s the first of a few stunning alpine lakes surrounded by those majestic rocky peaks.

From the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, you’ll reach the Loch in about 3 miles, and it’s a popular destination where some hikers choose to turn around at this point.

From the fork in the trail, you’ll follow Glacier Creek as you ascend into the environment of subalpine meadows and evergreen forests. The switchbacks are long, but the 0.8 miles from the trail split is a little more on the strenuous side than some other sections of this trail.

Once you reach Loch Vale, take some time to explore or just relax by its shores. With its crystal clear and typically calm waters reflecting soaring crags above, it’s no wonder why this area is fairly popular among visitors!

Loch Vale is the first of three lakes on the hike to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sky Pond Waterfall Climb at Timberline Falls

The waterfall climb to Sky Pond is the most exhilarating and slightly intimidating part of the hike. After hiking around the Loch and through the evergreen forests for a short distance while climbing in elevation, you’ll pass the trail split to the right for Andrews Glacier and the Andrews Creek backcountry campsite.

Continuing to ascend, you’ll reach the rocky stairs that lead to the rock wall that Timberline Falls tumbles over. This is about 4 miles from the trailhead.

You’ll be scrambling up those boulders and ledges to the right of that 100-foot-tall waterfall! Sometimes, there is even a little water trickling down the scramble route, too.

Scramble up a rocky wall in RMNP to reach Lake of Glass and Sky Pond.
Scramble behind those boulders and up that rock wall like these hikers.

This climb is no joke – you’ll need to be comfortable with a little bit of rock scrambling, using both your hands and your feet to reach the top. But don’t let that scare you away; with the right mindset and preparation, taking your time and going at your own pace, it can be a truly unforgettable experience.

There is one thing to definitely be cautious of when choosing whether or not to scramble up the wall. If the rocks are really wet or icy, they can be dangerously slippery. If this is the case, you might want to choose another day to hike the entire way to Sky Pond.

As you ascend, enjoy views of jagged mountain peaks and the bird’s eye view of the Loch while keeping an eye out for wildlife. Once you reach the top of the waterfall climb, turn around and enjoy the view before moving forward.

The view of the Loch in the distance is beautiful, but in my opinion, the rest of the trail is the best part. There is less than one mile left, but it’s packed full of absolutely stunning scenes.

Timberline Falls is a 100 foot tall waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Timberline Falls

Lake of Glass

The Lake of Glass is a stunning alpine lake that will appear just after you climb timberline falls. This breathtaking body of water is well worth the effort to reach, and some even mistake this one for Sky Pond!

Once you finally make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with views of pristine waters framed by majestic mountain peaks and the jagged shoreline. The calm, clear waters often form intense reflections of the stunning landscape, including the mountains surrounding this lake.

You’ll definitely want to stop and take a quick break here, enjoying the views after that climb up the side of Timberline Falls.

You can also fish in the Lake of Glass, however, we have not seen anyone doing this when we have visited.

After your break, it’s time for the grand finale of the hike… the last stretch to Sky Pond! You may want to get your GPS navigation device out for this short part, as you’ll cross over some open rock faces for maybe 100 yards. We were certainly questioning whether or not we were on the right path.

2 hikers sit in the center of the frame at the bottom, admiring Lake of Glass and the rocky peaks in the backdrop.
We spent some time admiring the views of the Lake of Glass before moving on.

Sky Pond

Sky Pond is the last breathtaking alpine lake tucked away in the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park on this route. If you’re looking for an adventure, this is definitely the spot to go! The last stretch from Lake of Glass approaching Sky Pond feels other-worldly.

In late July and early August, the lush greenery contrasts so stunningly with the gray peaks behind. Wildflowers line the trail, and smaller waterfalls can be found cascading through the meadows.

You’ve gained most of your elevation to this point, so the short part of the trail left is quite enjoyable.

When you reach Sky Pond, you’ll be treated to views of towering peaks on 3 sides. While we were sitting enjoying the views at Sky Pond, we were able to watch a couple of climbers navigating the rock faces to the right. We only noticed them because one was wearing bright orange, but they appeared so tiny on the gigantic rock face.

The temperature difference from the trailhead to Sky Pond is noticeable, so embark on this hike with layers and prepare for breezy winds at the top. Wear a hat, too, to protect your face from the elements.

The tiny insects were seriously buzzing while we tried to enjoy some time at Sky Pond, so our jacket hoods went up! Insect repellent would be beneficial to have in your day pack on this hike.

After you’ve enjoyed your time at Sky Pond, you’re going to turn around and head back the way you came.

A hiker admires the views of Sky Pond.
Spend some time admiring the views at Sky Pond once you reach your destination.

Optional Add-On: Mills Lake

Mills Lake is a wonderful stop to add to your trip to Sky Pond if you have time and the weather is cooperating.

The hike from Mills Junction to the lake adds just 1.2 miles roundtrip, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with stunning views of another lake and its surrounding landscape.

With more crystal clear waters, rugged shorelines, and surrounding majestic peaks, this beautiful spot is also a must-see.

The large boulders on the edges of the lake are perfect for enjoying a snack or lunch with a view before heading back towards the trailhead.

While you could head to Mills Lake first before hiking past the Loch to Sky Pond, we’d recommend saving your energy for climbing Timberline Falls and visiting Mills Lake on the way back down the trail instead.

Mills Lake is filled with crystal clear water and surrounded by mountain peaks.
If you’re up for an extra 1.2 miles, you’ll enjoy the stunning Mills Lake, too!

You’ll Need a Timed Entry Reservation

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing experience, but from May through October, you’ll need a timed entry reservation. These reservations are one way the park attempts to help manage high visitation levels during the busiest seasons.

There are two types of reservations: one is for the Bear Lake Road Corridor (where this hike is), which also includes the rest of the park, and the other is for other areas of the park including Trail Ridge Road. If you plan on taking a trip between May and October, then you’ll need to get a reservation in advance. Check with the park for exact dates, as they do slightly change every year.

Once you have your timed entry reservation, you’ll also need a valid park pass. Make sure you have this prior to driving up to the ticket booth to enter the Bear Lake Corridor.

If you do not have both timed entry and a valid park pass, they will make you drive back to the end of the line and advise you to purchase a pass on your phone while you wait in line for the second time. (This happens if you make it through the main park booths early in the morning before passes are being checked.)

It’s also important to note that reservations can be hard to come by so know the dates when you plan to visit and keep an eye on when entry permits are planned to release. Some passes do also become available at 5 pm MT for those who do not secure an early pass or plan last-minute trips.

What to do if you DON’T have a timed entry pass

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and the Bear Lake Road Corridor without a timed entry pass is still possible, but it requires a bit of planning.

The best way to go about it is to enter the Bear Lake Road Corridor (not just the main entrance stations for the park) before 5 am Mountain Time. This will allow you to beat some of the crowds and avoid having to get a reservation.

After 5 am, or before 6 pm, you will need one of the timed entries in order to enter Bear Lake Road from May to October. 

If you travel to Rocky Mountain National Park on days when timed entry is not required, in late fall through spring, the conditions may make it very difficult or dangerous to hike the entire way to Sky Pond.

Rocky trails to the right follow along waterways to the left on the way to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.

How to Have the Best Sky Pond Hike

Rocky Mountain National Park is an absolutely beautiful outdoor space to explore, and Sky Pond is one of the most special destinations in the park. With a little planning and preparation, the long and strenuous hike can be much more enjoyable. To make the most out of your hike, here are some tips for having the best experience:

Start your day early. It’s best to arrive as early as you possibly can. You’ll inevitably be passing by hikers going the other way when navigating Timberline Falls, but the earlier you get there, the more likely you’ll have less of a crowd on the way up.

Bring snacks and water with you. This hike is long, and you’ll most likely break a sweat. Salty snacks help replenish your body, and hydration is key!

Pack insect repellent. The mosquitos and other small bugs here can be pretty bad so make sure you bring along bug spray or other repellents if necessary!

Finally, don’t forget your camera! There are some truly breathtaking sights along this hike and you won’t want to miss capturing them all.

Plan for Afternoon Thunderstorms

If you’re planning to hike to any alpine lakes like Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park, make sure you plan for afternoon thunderstorms during the summer months! The mountains are known for their unpredictable weather, and you don’t want to find yourself caught in a storm while out on exposed trails.

Here are some tips for staying safe and having a great time despite the rain:

First of all, start your day early. Rocky Mountain often sees thunderstorms around 2 pm on summer days so make sure you’ve made it back below the tree line or to shelter before then.

If you see that weather conditions seem to be changing more rapidly than even expected, it is best to turn around and plan to enjoy the hike another day. No spectacular views, even these ones, are worth risking your safety.

Lastly, pack a waterproof jacket and a rain cover for your pack if you’re carrying camera equipment or other things you might want to keep dry, just in case.

Dark clouds roll in over the mountains with evergreen trees in the foreground.
Dark clouds and thunder were rolling in as we were nearing the end of our Sky Pond hike.

Don’t Bring Your Pup With You

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with your pup? We know how much you love your four-legged friends and want to bring them along on all your adventures (we love ours, too!), but unfortunately, dogs are NOT allowed on the trails at Rocky Moutain National Park including the trail to Sky Pond.

The reason for this is that RMNP is home to many species of wildlife that can be disturbed by the scent left behind by dogs, as some animals view this scent as that of a predator. In addition, there are many areas throughout the park which contain sensitive plants and ecosystems that could be damaged if a dog were to wander through them.

We know it’s hard leaving your pup behind, but we promise they’ll still have plenty of fun! Dogs are welcome in parking lots, campgrounds, and picnic areas.

There are boarding facilities and doggie daycares in the communities just outside of the park if you’re traveling with your pup but still want to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Be Aware of Wildlife

Visiting RMNP is an amazing experience, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are many different species of wildlife in the area. It’s important to pay attention and be aware when you’re out exploring the park. While you may never encounter a wild animal, being prepared can help keep you safe if you do.

When we hiked to Sky Pond, there were signs not far from the Glacier Gorge Junction trailhead about a habituated mountain goat often seen along the trail. The goats are attracted to the saltiness of human sweat and urine but can be dangerous when they get too close to humans due to their sharp horns.

We didn’t run into any mountain goats, but we sure did keep a watchful eye!

Always stay on trails and don’t go off-roading. This will help keep both you and the wildlife around you safe. If you do see an animal, it’s best to give them plenty of space and not approach them.

Respectfully observe from a distance so they can continue their lives undisturbed. If they notice you, then you’re too close. If they appear agitated or threatened by your presence, it’s best to back away slowly until they are out of sight.

By respecting nature and the animals that call the Rocky Mountains home, we can all enjoy this beautiful place safely!

Best Time to Hike to Sky Pond

The best time to hike the trail to Sky Pond is mid-summer to early fall when the snow has melted away and the trails are accessible.

Depending on the snowpack from winter, higher elevation trails, including the one to Sky Pond, may still be covered in snow into June or even July.

While the trails may be accessible, some areas may still be snow-covered or icy early in the year. Be sure to check the conditions on the NPS website before you go, and have microspikes (We love our Katahoulas!) in your pack.

In September, it starts to get a little cooler, so be sure to bring warm clothes and prepare for possible snowfall. But don’t let that deter you! The beauty of this area during autumn is simply breathtaking and well worth braving chillier temperatures. And don’t forget your camera—you’ll want lots of pictures of this stunning landscape!

Trail signage along the hike to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park just after sunrise
Begin your hike to Sky Pond early in the morning, and enjoy the sunrise on the trail.

How Difficult is the Sky Pond Hike?

The Sky Pond hike is one of the most scenic hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. It takes you through beautiful alpine scenery, including waterfalls, forests, and sweeping vistas. But just how difficult is the Sky Pond hike?

The answer is that it depends on your level of fitness and experience with hiking at high elevations. The trail starts at an elevation of around 9,000 feet and climbs to over 10,000 feet, so you’ll be hiking at a high altitude for the duration of the trek. This can make the hike even more challenging for those who aren’t used to the thinner air.

The first part of the hike is relatively easy, as you follow the trail through the forest and along waterways. But as you pass the trail split at Mills Junction, the trail becomes steeper and more challenging. You’ll need to scramble up the rocks to reach the top of Timberline Falls, which can be quite tricky and requires some agility.

Once you reach the top of the falls, the trail levels out a bit, but you’ll still be hiking at high altitudes, which can make even the easiest sections of the trail more difficult.

Overall, the Sky Pond hike is considered a strenuous hike, and it’s recommended for experienced hikers or those who are in good physical condition. If you’re new to hiking or visiting the mountains for the first time, and not used to hiking at high elevations, this should not be your first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

No matter when you hike to Sky Pond it’s a good idea to take it at your own personal pace. Bring plenty of water and snacks, and make sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes with good traction.

Hiking Sky Pond: What to Pack in your Daypack

Hiking to this stunning alpine lake is an unforgettable experience, but it requires some preparation. Here’s what you should wear for your hike:

Sturdy hiking boots with grippy soles, ankle support, and waterproofing are essential for tackling the trails around Timberline Falls. You’ll also want to bring along a raincoat and pack cover—just in case you get caught in a summer rainstorm!

A hat and sunscreen will protect you from the sun on exposed sections of the trail and layers of clothing are important because temperatures can vary significantly from the beginning to the end of the hike and as you climb up to just below 11,000 feet. Of course, don’t forget plenty of water and snacks to keep your energy levels up.

Items you should have in your pack include:

Because this hike is more strenuous and is far away from any emergency response or cell phone service, the Garmin inReach is perfect to have on hand, just in case of an emergency. 

By preparing ahead of time with all the necessary supplies, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience while exploring this beautiful area of Rocky Mountain National Park.

A sweeping rocky view of the small Loch Vale 1 mile in the distance on the way to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.
A bird’s eye view of Loch Vale after climbing to the top of Timberline Falls.

Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-see destination for avid hikers. The stunning views, challenging hike, and serene alpine lake make it a truly unforgettable experience.

So grab your hiking boots, pack your backpack, and get ready to explore one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Don’t forget your camera, because you’ll want to capture every breathtaking moment of this incredible adventure to Sky Pond!

What is your favorite hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?