Hiking Sky Pond Trail: The Best Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Talk about high anxiety! I was nervous about hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park for months prior. Brad and I were still in our dating phase and I wanted to impress him with my hiking abilities. Except, I didn’t have any! Yes, I consistently walked for exercise, but seriously I am a flat-lander. I knew enough to understand that a 3 mile walk on a flat blacktop trail is not the same as a 9 mile hike in Rocky Mount National Park starting at 10,000 feet with over a 1700 ft. elevation gain. And one section of the trail was marked as difficult. What on earth did I get myself into?

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Sky Pond Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of Brad’s favorites and he wanted to share that special spot with me. I’m so grateful that he did! It’s a hike you will fall in love with; gorgeous mountain views, scenic valleys, two beautiful waterfalls, peaceful lakes, wildlife everywhere, babbling brooks along the trail and so much more. The great majority of the hike is very comfortable hiking with only a couple tough spots that are worth pushing through.

Where to Find the Sky Pond Trail Head

The trail head for the Sky Pond hike is at Glacier Gorge. Glacier Gorge is trail head for multiple trails so is pretty busy and has limited parking. We took the park’s advice and parked in the Park & Ride lot near our campsite in Glacier Basin Campground. From there we used the Rocky Mountain National Park’s free hiker’s bus service to get to the trail head.

The free hiker’s bus is very easy to use. It runs from mid May through Mid October. On really busy day, such as weekends in the summer, you should consider parking at the Visitor Center and hopping on the bus from there. The Park and Ride lot is huge, but fills up by mid morning on peak days.

Shuttle bus to Sky Pond Trail Head
image courtesy of NPS

At the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, you’ll find bathrooms and occasionally Park Rangers sharing information about the trails and wildlife. Rangers greeted us and immediately honed in on Brad’s fishing pole sticking out of his pack. He had to dig deep to find his fishing license and then we were on our way after a couple friendly reminders of the rules for Sky Pond fishing.

First Stop Alberta Falls

The first stop on the Sky Pond hike, just under a mile in, is Alberta Falls. This alone is a worthwhile hike if you are limited on time or want a less strenuous activity. Up to here the trail is wide and family friendly. Even though this section was busy, there’s plenty of space overlooking the 30 foot waterfall drop to relax and take some amazing pictures.

Alberta Falls Rocky Mountain National Park
Our First Stop: Alberta Falls

Don’t be put off by the crowded hike to Alberta Falls Rocky Mountain National Park. Most folks turn back here so the crowd on the trail drops of tremendously.

The Beauty of Loch is Worth The Trip

We continued on to The Loch at about the 3 mile mark. The trail through the forest was among beautiful trees with a fast moving stream trailside. Near the end though I was huffing and puffing as the switchbacks became a bit steep. At this point I was incredibly grateful for the hiking poles I had brought along.

Bird at The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park
This little bird entertained us as he watched us eat.
Taking a break at The Loch in RMNP
Taking a break on Sky Pond Trail at The Loch

The Loch is a gorgeous lake with unbelievable valley and mountain views. We took a long break sitting on a rock, watching the birds, and just relaxing. We could have turned around here and I would have been incredibly satisfied with my experience.

The Climb UP Timberline Falls

But no! We have a goal of hiking to Sky Pond so we headed towards the most difficult part of the trip. Hiking up the icy Timberline Falls. Yes I do mean hiking UP a Waterfall that is covered with ice and snow. We were lucky in that August brought enough warmth leaving the trail passable even with some patches of snow and ice. On a previous trip Brad found the falls and trail a wall of ice and rangers later advised that they were considered a technical climb that year.
Timberline Falls on Sky Pond Trail
Timberline Falls in August on Sky Pond Trail

Elk Calf hiding in the Bushes near Sky Pond in RMNP
Elk Calf Near Sky Pond
The reward was a quick break at Lake of Glass where we came across a mama elk and her babies. After watching them eat for a bit, on to Sky Pond.

And special moments like this is why we hike in the National Parks!

And We Arrived to Peaceful Sky Pond

Not many continue the hike this far and we had the lake to ourselves for about an hour. I stretched out on a sun warmed slab of granite while Brad wandered the shore and fished Sky Pond. There are not words to describe the blissful feeling experienced when you are living in the moment while sitting next to a quiet mountain lake.

We did it! Here we are at Sky Pond taking a break.

Too soon it was time to head down the trail. As we were heading out we met a mom who was taking her 2 youngsters past Sky Pond for their first backcountry camp out. I looked at her with admiration and a bit of envy. I wish I had been that self-confident at that point in my life.

Well in normal Stork style we had lingered at Sky Pond a little too long and had to pick up the pace to get off the mountain before dark. I pretty much just slid down Timberline Falls on my butt! I was so glad I brought my hiking poles which were wonderful for reducing the impact when moving downhill quickly. We arrived at the trailhead just before dusk. Remember we took the bus over to the trailhead? Well the buses had quit running for the day. Even though we had hiking headlamps with us, the thought of hiking 2 miles in the dark to our car was a little overwhelming.

And then we found magic in Rocky Mountain National Park! A group of young people in a very packed Subaru stopped and gave us a ride to our car. We were sitting on top of each other and everyone was a little stinky from hiking. But who cares! We were grateful for their generosity. And we were all happy to have enjoyed the beautiful day in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Hiking Tips For Sky Pond Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Bring layers. The wind can be pretty strong and cold
  • Walking poles were very helpful for steep switchbacks. Something simple like these work well for this level of hiking.
  • Pack a pair of dry socks for after you hike back down Timberline Falls. Nothing worse than the 3 mile hike back in wet socks!
  • The trail splits off to other destinations several times so it would be helpful to have a map.
  • Throw in some lightweight over-the-shoe spikes/crampons in case the falls are really icy. Something like this one works well for summer. Winter will require something more heavy duty. We were lucky that in August enough rock was exposed that we could get up. But you can’t predict ice levels from year to year.
  • Bring plenty of food and water – You will burn some calories on this hike.

For a complete list of what to take on a long day hike like this check out this post about the Day Hike Packing List Essentials.

Frequent Questions about Hiking the Sky Pond Trail

How Long Does Sky Pond Hike Take?

The 9 mile round trip hike to Sky Pond can take 4 hours if you push through it and up to 10 hours if you take your time and enjoy each stop. It’s really about your personal hiking style and your fitness level. Those switchbacks after Alberta Falls can be a little challenging if you aren’t used to the higher elevation. Also consider time of year as climbing up Timberline Falls in the winter when it’s very snowy and icy will take longer.

What do you Need to Know About Sky Pond Camping?

The only designated back country campsite in the Sky Pond area is Andrews Creek. All Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Camping requires permits. Advance reservations are strongly recommended. Or you can opt for Rocky Mountain National Park Camping in one of the drive in campgrounds. We chose Glacier Basin Campground because it was so close to all the great hikes in the Glacier Basin.

 

Hiking to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. #WalkingTheParks #HikingRockyMountainNationalPark