The hike to Sky Pond is by far our favorite, and most challenging, hike we’ve done to date in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park! This unique alpine lake sits beneath spiny peaks resembling the jagged spires of the Dolomites or Patagonia. And while those places are gorgeous, we’re a bit biased toward this mountain lake in our backyard. It’s just a 2-hour drive to the trailhead from Denver.
Even before reaching Sky Pond, the well-maintained trail will take you to two other lakes, and two waterfalls – one of which you will climb. Yes, climb. We weren’t kidding when we said this is the most challenging hike we’ve done in RMNP!
If you’re a practiced hiker and up for a challenge, the hike to Sky Pond is a bucket-list experience! In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about hiking to Sky Pond, from how to get permits to Rocky Mountain National park to what you’ll see on the trail. Keep reading!
Sky Pond Basic Trail Information
Where do you park for the Sky Pond Hike?
The best place to park for the hike to Sky Pond is the Glacier Gorge trailhead. To get a spot here, plan to arrive in Rocky Mountain National Park by 8 a.m. The Glacier Gorge lot is smaller than the Bear Lake lot a half-mile up the mountain, so it fills up fast. If you end up parking at Bear Lake, you will add an extra mile to your hike roundtrip.
Is Sky Pond in the Bear Lake Corridor?
Yes! The trail to Sky Pond, whether you park at Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge, is located on the Bear Lake Corridor. This means you MUST have an “Option 1” timed-entry permit during the summer months from recreation.gov to enter the Bear Road portion of Rocky Mountain National Park between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. Permits are required beginning at the end of May until the end of October, with specific dates each year announced by the National Park Service.
We recommend booking your reservation as far in advance as you can since numbers are limited and spots do book up. If the date you wanted is already taken, you can simply arrive at the park before 5 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Alternatively, you may be able to obtain one of the late-release permits, which are reservable starting at 5 p.m. Mountain Time the night prior to the day you would like to visit.
How to Make a Timed Entry Reservation
When booking your reservation, be sure to choose Option 1: Park Access + Bear Lake Road Corridor, otherwise, you will not be able to reach the trailhead for Emerald Lake.
Please note, no matter what part of Rocky Mountain National park you wish to visit, if you plan to arrive between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m., you need a reservation. If you aren’t planning to do any of the hikes or see any of the sites along Bear Lake Road, you can get a reservation for Option 2: Park Access, Does Not Include Bear Lake Road Corridor. Option 2 permits are usually more available than Option 1 because Bear Lake Road is one of the most popular sections of the park.
In order to hike the trail to Sky Pond, you must have an Option 1 permit if you wish to enter the park between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m.
How long is the hike to Sky Pond?
If you are hiking from the Glacier Gorge trailhead, the hike to Sky Pond is 9.4 miles round trip. It took us about 6 hours to complete this hike in lightly snowy conditions with stops for rest and taking photos! The 1758 feet of elevation gain can also make this hike take longer than others of similar distance but with less elevation gain.
How difficult is the Sky Pond hike?
We think the hike to Sky Pond is pretty difficult, and this is coming at it with significant hiking experience. Tim and I have hiked the Inca Trail, the W Trek in Patagonia, Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand, Ausangate in Peru, Acatenango in Guatemala, and a whole lot more. And yeah, Sky Pond is a tough day hike!
The trail is uphill all the way to Sky Pond, and you start ascending pretty much right at the Glacier Gorge trailhead. It’s also quite rocky at parts and requires some scrambling. The climb up Timberline Falls is intimidating but doable. Parts of the trail also lack shade, so make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection!
A note on Altitude Sickness
The hike to Sky Pond is difficult on its own, but many hikers visiting the Rocky Mountains from lower elevations will experience altitude sickness too. This will make the hike more difficult for most people than a similar hike closer to sea level. For reference, Sky Pond sits at 10,880 feet above sea level!
There’s no great way to predict how your body will respond to being at higher elevations! In general, though, most people can expect to feel more easily out of breath during physical activity while at higher elevations like in the Rocky Mountains. Don’t be surprised if you also have a headache and extreme fatigue for the first few days at altitude while your body acclimatizes.
If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness, take your hike to Sky Pond very slowly or postpone it a day or two. Drink a lot of water and eat nourishing foods, even if you lose your appetite, to keep your energy up!
Is the Sky Pond hike suitable for kids?
I would not bring most young kids on this hike unless they have above-average hiking experience and can be trusted not to wander off a cliff. This hike is challenging and parts could be dangerous, like the waterfall climb at Timberline Falls in particular. We have not seen any kids hike this trail when we were there, so it seems kids hiking Sky Pond are the exception, not the norm. But, Tim and I don’t have kids – just our Mara Cat! – so use your best judgment and talk to a park ranger if you’re unsure!
Can you bring your pet to Sky Pond?
There are very limited places you can bring your pet outside of your vehicle in Rocky Mountain National Park. So, no, you can’t bring your pet on the hike to Sky Pond, or any trail in the national park. Now that we only live 2 hours from the park, we can leave Mara Cat at home when we go in for day hikes, but on our previous visits to Colorado, we stayed in pet-friendly accommodations in Estes Park so she could stay there during the day.
When is the best time of year to hike to Sky Pond?
The most reliably favorable time to hike to Sky Pond is during the summer when you have less chance of getting caught in snow or sloppy/icy trail conditions. That said, the weather in the Rocky Mountains can vary wildly, and even summer days can be blizzardy and winter days sunny. Always look up the weather forecast in advance of your hike. We do not recommend hiking to Sky Pond on particularly windy, snowy, or rainy days.
What is there to see on the hike to Sky Pond?
There are many landmarks and beautiful viewpoints on the Sky Pond trail. Frankly, this hike is gorgeous and home to some of our favorite views in the entire national park. The effort to hike to Sky Pond is high, but the rewards are even greater!
The first landmark you will come to on the hike is Alberta Falls. This is a great place to take a short break and experiment with waterfall photography. Or if you’re like Tim, fall asleep on a rock in the sun next to the falls!
A note on photographing Alberta Falls
We spent way more time than necessary here trying to get a decent photo of us with a silky waterfall background. Because you need a slightly longer shutter to get that smooth water effect, we had to stand super still and hope no one walked into the frame for the few seconds the photo was taken. Take it from us, if you want to get good photos here, plan to arrive early in the morning to scope out a good spot and try to wrap up your shoot before the crowds arrive.
Most people who set off on this particular trail stop here! Alberta Falls is the destination for many hikers, including kids, so this part of the trail will be crowded. You can think of all the landmarks on the hike to Sky Pond like thresholds to the next portion of the hike, with fewer and fewer people continuing on after each spot. All of these locations are destinations in their own right so you’ll see hikers of all ages and skill levels on the first segment of the hike to Alberta Falls.
The view at Loch Vale is one of the most beautiful in all of Rocky Mountain National Park in our opinion. We visited on a partly foggy day and the clouds set such a lovely mood over the lake. It felt like the kind of place you’d see a Loch Ness Monster swimming around in. Okay, maybe I just thought of that because of the name, but there really is a calm, somewhat mysterious vibe to Loch Vale.
The trail continues around the righthand side of the lake, partly on the ground, partly on the boardwalk. We think the best view is the one you get right when you arrive at the lake (and even a bit to the left), though, so take your photos before continuing along the path to your right!
Timberline Falls is like the last Bowser villain at the end of the video game. You’ve made it this far along the hike to Sky Pond and now you have to scale a waterfall. It’s the last challenging part of the hike and the final barrier between you and your ultimate destination! And, it also happens to be the MOST challenging part of the hike too.
On busy days there will be people climbing in both directions at the same time, which can be stressful if you are nervous about feeling rushed by others. You need to strategize where to put your hands and feet climbing up Timberline Falls, and if it’s the slightest bit icy we recommend using microspikes for more traction, in addition to grippy hiking boots! Don’t worry, it’s not a technical climb, but you should have the right footwear to reduce the risk of slipping and falling.
Lake of Glass
After you hike (carefully!) up Timberline Falls, you’ll be rewarded with views over Lake of Glass, a beautiful blue lake in a bowl walled with mountains.
It can be notably windier at this part of the trail since it’s a bit more exposed. When we hiked here in October, it was cold and very windy at Lake of Glass. Tim and I sat behind a rock to shield ourselves enough to be able to eat a snack before carrying on to Sky Pond.
Looking ahead on the trail we could already see that in the direction of Sky Pond itself, there were dense clouds and even some snow. The weather was still mild enough to safely continue, but we knew even with the windy conditions at Lake of Glass, the sun and lack of precipitation would make it a much more comfortable place to snack than Sky Pond itself!
Please remember to always pack up after yourself and leave no trash or litter behind when eating on hiking trails or anywhere in the outdoors!
Shortly beyond Lake of Glass at 10,880 feet above sea level is Sky Pond, a stunning alpine lake surrounded by steep and jagged mountain peaks. Sky Pond was formed by the advances and retreats of the Taylor Glacier, which feeds the lake. It resembles Argentina Patagonia’s Laguna de Los Tres or Chile’s Torres del Paine, all places with dramatic, tower-like peaks overlooking a lake.
Sky Pond is very photogenic, and you can walk around a large portion of the lake to check out different angles and views.
If you do hike on a clear winter day, you may even find the lake completely frozen over.
What gear do I need to hike to Sky Pond?
We recommend grippy, waterproof hiking shoes, a day pack with at least 2 liters of water, and a jacket. Sky Pond is more exposed and at a higher elevation than the trailhead, so it will be cooler there. Layers can make you more comfortable and prevent you from being too cold or too hot since you can add and remove pieces of clothing as needed.
There can be snow and ice on this trail even in summer, so we recommend carrying shoe traction attachments like microspikes or YakTraks in your daypack. Parts of this hike are sketchy and steep, so if there’s any ice, especially on the Timberline Falls ascent, you will be glad to have the extra security.
You can find all our hiking gear recommendations here!
Is there camping at Sky Pond?
The closest campsite to Sky Pond is Andrews Creek Backcountry campsite. It’s 0.2 miles beyond the junction of the Loch Vale Trail and Andrews Creek Trail. You can obtain a backcountry camping permit in advance here.
Final Thoughts on the Sky Pond Hike
Sky Pond is an amazing and challenging hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The views are incredible and rank up there with some of the best alpine lake views we’ve seen anywhere in the world.
If you love lake hikes, don’t miss the relatively short and easy hike to Emerald Lake, which will take you to 4 lakes total. Our detailed guide has everything you need to know about the Emerald Lake hike.