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Sky Pond Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park: Everything You Need to Know

The Sky Pond hike is one of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, offering waterfalls, alpine lakes, and jaw-dropping views of some of the most jagged mountains Colorado has to offer. This hike does come with some quirky challenges, though—like climbing up one of the aforementioned waterfalls! If you want to tackle this unique trail for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about the stunningly beautiful Sky Pond hike, from what permits you need on to what you should bring along to make sure you have the best time on the trail.

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The Loch along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
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About the Sky Pond Hike


8.6 miles

Elevation gain

1,771 feet



Woman standing along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Dog friendly?

Like most hikes in the U.S. National Parks, you’ll need to leave your furry best friend at home for this one.

How long does it take to complete the Sky Pond Hike?

It takes most hikers between five to seven hours to hike this trail. 

Trail map

How to Get to the Sky Pond trailhead

The Sky Pond hike is located in Rocky Mountain National Park, about two hours north of Denver, Colorado. 

Mountains from the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

If you’re flying into Denver, there are a few options to get to Rocky Mountain National Park without a car, such as on the Bustang bus or the Estes Park Shuttle. However, if you can swing it, I’d highly recommend renting a car to get to and around the park.

Per private vehicle, it costs either $30 to enter the park for one day; $35 to enter the park for a week; or freeeee(!!), with an America the Beautiful Pass. This handy dandy pass costs just $80 and gets you into all of the national parks and over 2,000 federally managed lands for FREE for a whole year! 

Woman holding an America the Beautiful pass along Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Due to the popularity of the park, there’s also a timed permit system during the busiest part of the year. Here’s how it works.

Reaching the Sky Pond trailhead from May 24 through October 22

To access Rocky Mountain National Park during its busiest periods, each vehicle needs to have a timed entry permit. There’s two types of permits that you can choose from:

  1. Timed Entry Permit or
  2. Timed Entry + Bear Lake Road permit.
Pine trees and mountains along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

The Sky Pond hike is accessed via the Glacier Gorge trailhead, which is located on Bear Lake Road. Accordingly, to access the Glacier Gorge trailhead from May 24 through October 22, from 5 AM through 6 PM, you will need a Timed Entry + Bear Lake Road Permit, which you can purchase at recreation.gov. You will not be able to access this area of the park with the regular Timed Entry Permit.

Sixty percent of these permits are reservable ahead of time, while forty percent of timed entry permits will be released on a first come, first serve basis at 7 PM MT on the day before your desired entry date.

Many of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park are located along the Bear Lake Corridor, so it’s not uncommon for the Timed Entry + Bear Lake Road Permits to sell out ahead of time, especially during busier times, like weekends in the summer and fall. Accordingly, I’d recommend booking your permit as far in advance as you possibly can. 

Couple sitting on a boulder and looking at a mountain along Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

If it’s sold out for your desired dates, not to worry—you can try to snag a permit the day before or, alternatively, enter Bear Lake Road before 5 AM (I know, it’s going to be a REAL early morning wake-up call!). 

Reaching the Sky Pond trailhead from October 23 through May 23

Good news—if you’re doing the Sky Pond hike in the off-season, there’s no need to have a timed entry permit. All you need is to pay your entrance fee to the park and you’re good to go!

Parking at the Glacier Gorge trailhead

The Glacier Gorge trailhead only has about 40 parking spots. As you can imagine, the lot fills up FAST, especially during busy periods. 

Trail signage at the Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

You can either try to get here SUPER early (as in, 4:30 AM during busy times, like summer weekends) or, alternatively, if you can’t find parking, I’d suggest trying the Bear Lake parking lot, which is quite a bit larger than the Glacier Gorge. From the Bear Lake trailhead, there’s a path that connects to the Sky Pond trail, which adds about 0.2 miles (one-way) to your hike—just follow the signs for “Alberta Falls.”

As a Plan C, you can park in the Rocky Mountain Park and Ride lot and take the park’s complimentary shuttle, which runs about every 15 minutes from May 24 through October 20, 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM, to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. 

Shuttle at Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

What to Expect Along the Sky Pond Hike 

Assuming that you’re departing from the Glacier Gorge parking lot, the trail will almost immediately run into two other pathways. The first junction is 0.2 miles, where the trail forks off to the left along the Glacier Creek Trail—but, for the Sky Pond hike, we’re going to hang to the right. And then, at 0.3 miles in, the trail forks and leads off to the right. This is the connector trail to the Bear Lake trailhead—so here, we’re going to keep to the left. If all else fails, just remember to follow signs for Alberta Falls!

The trail follows along the babbling Glacier Creek and climbs gradually through a pine tree forest.  At just 0.8 miles into the trail, you’ll run into the first major feature of the trail—Alberta Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park that dramatically drops 30 feet into a rocky gorge below. 

Alberta Falls with pine trees behind it along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

You can either get a look at the waterfall from a nice viewpoint along the trail or, alternatively, climb along the giant boulders, lining the gorge, to get a closer look at this gorge-ous waterfall (get it?!). 

You’ll continue to climb through the pine tree forest, with the views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains getting better and better with every step. At about 1.6 miles into the trail, you’ll reach a junction. Keep to the right, following signs for Mills Lake and Loch Vale—the trail to the left will eventually lead you to Chasm Lake (one of my favorite hikes in the park!) and to Longs Peak, the tallest mountain in the park and the 13th highest peak in Colorado. 

Snow covered mountains along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Two miles into the trail, there will be another junction—to the right, the Lake Haiyaha Trail leads you to one of the most insanely blue alpine lakes in the park, while the Glacier Gorge Trail continues to Mills Lake to the left. But we’re going to continue straight and follow signs for Loch Vale and Sky Pond.

After this junction, the trail will turn into steep switchbacks as you climb up to the Loch, a stunning alpine lake that sits in the shadow of a rugged mountain. Be sure to stop here and enjoy the spectacular views—given the technical challenges along the remaining portion of the trail, many hikers decide to turn around here. 

Pine trees along the Loch along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

If you decide to press on, the trail hugs the north side of the Loch’s shores, thankfully flattening out quite a bit, and then follows along a rushing creek, called Icy Brook. Over the next 0.8 miles, the trail winds through a beautiful pine tree forest, across several wooden boardwalks and log bridges. 

The final junction is 3.5 miles into the trail, with Andrews Glacier Trail to the right and a short boot trail to Embryo Lake to the left. Again, we’re going to continue straight, where the trail gets REAL fun. 

Man standing along dirt switchbacks along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Here, you’ll have to climb along a field of enormous boulders before you reach the base of Timberline Falls, a 100 foot waterfall that drops to the rocky floor below. You’ll actually need to climb up the rocky cliffside that Timberline Falls is cascading down to continue along the trail—meaning it’s pretty likely that you’ll get wet with cold, glacial water for most of the year while you’re scrambling up the cliffside and most of the rocks that you’ll be climbing up will be wet and slippery.

In full transparency, my husband, Justin, and I hiked this trail in an unusually chilly October and there was already quite a bit of snow along the trail. The portion where we needed to climb up Timberline Falls was covered with a thin sheet of ice and, given the steepness (up to a 40% grade!) and the rockiness of the climb, we didn’t feel safe continuing past this portion of the trail. 

Timberline Falls along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Photo edited and from licensed Mark Devries under the CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

If you have had experience scrambling before, I don’t think this portion of the trail it will present much of an issue for most hikers (at least when it’s not icy!!). Just remember to use your best judgment and be okay with turning around if the conditions don’t feel safe to you! And, if it’s SUPER important for you to make it to Sky Pond, you might want to consider planning your trip in the warmer summer months. 

Once you reach the top of the cliffside and the brink of Timberline Falls, you’ll reach the shores of Lake of Glass, a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by a bowl of glaciated mountains. Be sure to take a look behind you as well—you can see the Loch and, in the distance, the vast valley below. 

Lake of Glass along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Photo edited and licensed from Christian Collins, under the CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

You’ll need to scramble over some boulders to continue along the trail to Sky Pond, which hugs the western shoreline of the Lake of Glass. From here, the trail flattens out and you can just enjoy the spectacular views over the next half mile, with sweeping alpine meadows, dense pine tree forests, and ahead, the jaw-dropping jagged Taylor and Powell Peaks. 

And finally, at 4.5 miles into the trail, you’ll reach the stunningly beautiful Sky Pond. This alpine lake sits in a basin at the foot of the aptly-named Sharktooth peaks, a series of jagged granite spires that tower overhead.

Sky Pond along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Photo edited and licensed from Christine Warner-Morin, under CC BY 2.0 DEED

Once you’re done taking in the spectacular views, you’ll simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead. 

Add-ons to the Sky Pond Hike

Given the number of junctions along this trail, there’s a ton of additional trails that you can add on during your return hike from Sky Pond, if your legs haven’t had enough of a workout. 

For example, you can decide to head back along the Sky Pond trail to the junction with the Lake Haiyaha Trail and follow that pathway to its eponymous lake and on to the absolutely gorgeous Dream Lake (in my opinion, the most beautiful lake in Rocky Mountain National Park!). From here, you’ll follow the Emerald Lake Trail, past Nymph Lake to the Bear Lake trailhead and then take the connector trail back to the Glacier Gorge parking lot (here’s a trail map of this route). 

Woman standing at Dream Lake along the Emerald Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

This option adds about 1.4 miles on to the Sky Pond hike, for a total length of 9.9 miles—and given that you get to see three extra gorgeous alpine lakes along this route, this seems like an awesome bang-for-your-buck option, if you ask me! 

An alternative add-on during your return hike is to follow the Sky Pond trail past the Loch to the junction with the Glacier Gorge Trail and follow this right to Mills Lake, yet another stunning alpine lake surrounded by pine tree-strewn mountains. This will be the first lake that you pass along the Glacier Gorge junction fork and adds about 1.4 miles total to the Sky Pond hike. 

When to Visit the Sky Pond Hike 

Sky Pond is best hiked from late June through September, when the trail is clear of ice and snow. 

However, I’d highly recommend starting the hike quite early—as in, 6 or 7 AM early. In addition to having a better chance of scoring a parking spot, it’s not unusual for thunderstorms to roll into this area in the early afternoons. 

Woman hiking across a log bridge along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Not only do the clouds obscure the views you’re working so hard for, but lightning poses a real danger to those who are hiking above the treeline—and nothing ruins your vacation to Colorado quite like getting struck by lightning. If you see lightning in the distance while you’re above the treeline, you should turn around immediately—no alpine lake is worth risking your safety!

Beyond the occasional lightning strike, this area has a long and cold winter, so don’t be surprised to find snow along the trail in June or in October (like we did!). 

Snow covered mountain along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

If you’re hiking in the heart of winter (November through April), you should come prepared with the appropriate gear to deal with a serious amount of ice and snow, like microspikes and snowshoes (Justin has this pair and I have this pair).

There’s also several avalanche chutes along the trail, so I’d suggest checking conditions on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center before you head out, as well as being trained on avalanche safety and having the appropriate gear, like an avalanche safety kit.  

Tips for the Sky Pond Hike

Be prepared for the elevation.

The Sky Pond hike starts at over 9,100 feet above sea level, so the air here has a much lower concentration of oxygen as compared to at lower altitudes. Between the length and elevation gain, this hike is already fairly tough, but the higher altitude will make it feel that much harder, especially if you haven’t appropriately acclimated yet. 

Rocky Mountains along the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado

Justin and I flew here from St. Louis, which is about 500 feet over sea level, and pretty much immediately went on the Sky Pond hike. Given that our bodies didn’t have a chance to acclimate, this trail absolutely kicked out butts and we drank an obscene amount of water on the trail, even though the day we visited was quite cold.

So don’t do what we did—take a day or two to acclimate to the higher elevations if you’re coming from at or near sea level, so this hike doesn’t wipe you out as much as it did for us!

Pssst… be sure you’re familiar with all of the most important hiking safety tips before you hit the trail!

Prepare for there not to be cell service. 

You likely won’t have cell service along the vast majority of Bear Lake Road or the hike itself, which can be a bit confusing in certain sections, due to the amount of junctions and enormous rocks along the trail. I’d recommend downloading an offline map of Rocky Mountain National Park on Google Maps and of the trail on the AllTrails app ahead of time, so that you can rely on GPS to see where you’re at in the park. 

Pssst... you’ll need an AllTrails+ membership to download trail maps, but luckily, our awesome readers get a free seven day trial and 30% off an annual membership if you use this link!
Snow-covered hill and mountain along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

What to bring for the Sky Pond hike

Hiking boots

Given the somewhat sketchy climb up Timberline Falls and the other scrambling you have to do along the trail, you absolutely should not do this hike in anything other than hiking boots with ankle support and decent traction. Justin uses this pair and I use this pair—and we both love our boots!


Again, your body is going to be working harder on this already challenging hike, due to the elevation, so you’re going to need plenty of hydration. You should bring at least three liters of water per person if you’re hiking in the summer months (and honestly, even in the cooler months!). We both have these comically large Nalgene bottles that we take on all of our hikes. 

Woman hiking up dirt switchback along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Plenty of layers and a rain jacket

The conditions at higher elevations are unpredictable, so come prepared for cool or rainy conditions, just in case.

Sun protection

Most of the Sky Pond hike is through a pine tree forest, but the last mile or two is past the tree-line and exposed to the sun. I’d suggest packing along sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.

Even though it may not feel like it, the UV index is a lot more intense at higher elevations—I actually got second degree burns from the sun when I failed to put on sunscreen during a winter trip to Colorado! 

Woman smiling with a mountain in the background along the Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Trekking poles

Not required, but Justin and I have been using trekking poles on steep or rocky hikes lately and they are a game changer. They definitely make steep inclines a lot more tolerable—but word of warning, they can be a bit annoying when you’re climbing Timberline Falls or otherwise scrambling, so you might want to also bring a hiking backpack that you can pack them away as needed. 

Some dry clothes

It’s not unusual to get a bit wet with cold water while climbing up Timberline Falls, which can feel refreshing on hot days and downright chilly when the weather is cooler.

I’d suggest, at a minimum, packing along a pair of extra socks to swap out so you don’t have to be slogging through multiple miles in a cold soggy pair and, if you’re visiting during a cooler time period, you might want to consider bringing along an extra pair of pants, just in case. 

I hope you enjoy the Sky Pond hike as much as we did! Do you have any questions about this awesome trail? Let us know in the comments below!

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