How to hike to Sky Pond at Rocky Mountain National Park (Our favorite hike in the park!)

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park? In this guide we’re giving all the details about our favorite hike in the park, Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail, including road reservations, mileage, things to see along the way, and more!

We visited Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time back in July 2017 and spent one day hiking a handful of trails in the Bear Lake Road Corridor region of the park, including the popular Emerald Lake. But little did we know that just beyond some of the lakes we visited was another lake that somehow looked even more jaw dropping than the others: Sky Pond.

So during our two months in Colorado, one of the top hikes not only on our Rocky Mountain National Park bucket list, but also on our Colorado hiking bucket list, was to hike to Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail. With jagged peaks and alpine lakes (our two favorite things!), this hike looked like something out of a dream. And we can confirm…it totally is!

Sky Pond Rocky Mountain National Park

Watch our experience hiking to Sky Pond at Rocky Mountain National Park!

In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to hike to Sky Pond, including the reservations required for the road (and what to do if you do not have one), what to expect along the trail, and more!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Sky Pond

Sky Pond is located in the Bear Lake Road Corridor at Rocky Mountain National Park and sits at an elevation of 10,900 feet, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, these peaks are so jagged that one is even called the Sharkstooth, which as the name implies, looks like a shark’s tooth.

The combination of these sharp peaks, with the clear and blue waters of Sky Pond gives you one breathtaking view at the end of this hike. But the best thing about this trail is that Sky Pond isn’t the only attraction. You’ll pass two other beautiful lakes along the way, have many mountain views, and see waterfalls (including one you CLIMB UP!) and rivers. This hike truly has it all!

To learn more about Rocky Mountain National Park and other hikes in the park, check out our guide with the best things to do at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Please treat Rocky Mountain National Park with Respect

Before going any further into this hike, one thing we really want to stress is to PLEASE treat Rocky Mountain National Park with respect and follow Leave No Trace principles so that others can enjoy these places for many years to come! 

Beyond the 7 LNT principles, please take a minute to read the Rocky Pledge and remember it when you visit Rocky Mountain National Park and amazing places like it. The park is full of fragile terrain, including alpine tundra areas, and also is home to tons of wildlife, so please follow all rules when exploring the park.

There have been many people caught on camera going up to wildlife (including animals like elk that WILL hurt you!) and we even saw people walking off trail in the fragile tundra areas, including with their dogs, which are prohibited. We love getting to share these beautiful places and help you explore them and we hope that you will treat them with the respect they deserve.

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail Stats

Miles (round trip): 9.4
Elevation: ~1,758 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

Sky Pond is accessed via the Glacier Gorge Trail at Rocky Mountain National Park, which is a trail that can take you to many other incredible lakes in the area as well. But for the specific route to Sky Pond, the hike is about 9.4 miles round trip, which took us just under 6 hours total.

Except for a couple parts that are rocky and the waterfall you have to climb (which we will share more about in the “our experience” section), this hike is pretty straightforward and has easy to navigate terrain. But it is uphill and it is at a higher elevation, with its highest point being around 10,870 feet, so make sure that you have acclimated a bit before attempting (at least one day) so you do not get altitude sickness.

Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, lack of hunger or thirst, difficulty breathing, confusion, and vomiting. If you start to notice these symptoms, it is best to stop where you’re at and begin descending to lower elevation. The only way to treat altitude sickness is to get to lower elevation, drink lots of water, eat something, and get rest. Ignoring altitude sickness can lead to more dangerous side effects.

Even after hiking to the highest point in Colorado just days beforehand, we were out of breath on this hike!

How to get to the Glacier Gorge trailhead 

As we mentioned above, to get to Sky Pond you will hike the Glacier Gorge Trail, which is located close to the end of Bear Lake Road in the Bear Lake Road Corridor, the most popular area of the park. There is a very large parking lot at this trailhead, but it does fill up fast. Even when we arrived at 4:30 in the morning, there was a steady flow of cars parking. If it is full, you have the option to take the park shuttle, which we will explain below.

One VERY important thing to know about this trailhead and the entire Bear Lake Road Corridor is that you must have a timed entry reservation between May 27 and October 10, in addition to your national park entrance fee. Below is some more information on this reservation, how to get one, and what to do if you don’t have one.

Timed entry reservation

The timed entry reservations are the park’s way to help manage the high visitation levels within the park. And while on paper it sounds frustrating to have to get these reservations (and they can be hard to get), we personally loved it, as we felt that it helped reduce crowds.

There are two types of timed entry 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 just for the areas outside of the Bear Lake Road Corridor and does NOT include access to the Bear Lake Road Corridor. These ones are much easier to get and we share more information about when you need them in our Rocky Mountain National Park Guide.

The Bear Lake Road Corridor timed entry reservations, as mentioned above, are only needed between May 28 and October 11 during the hours of 5 AM (MDT) to 6 PM (MDT). However, if you have a campsite within the specific region of the park you’re trying to visit, this covers as your entrance pass, so you will not need one.

How to get a reservation

These reservations are technically free, but have a $2 processing fee that is nonrefundable. And you can obtain your timed entry reservation on recreation.gov during an open period for reservations.

75% of the reservations will become available at 10 AM Mountain Time on the first day of the month for the following month. For example, if you want to visit the park on a specific day in the month of July, you will need to make your reservation on June 1. Reservations need to be made for each day you plan to visit the park.

Additionally, if you plan last minute or missed a reservation when they went on sale originally, 25% of reservations will be reserved and be made available for purchase the day prior at 5 PM Mountain Time. 

We suggest getting the earliest reservation possible, as the park only gets busier as the day goes on. But if you do not get a reservation, you do have other options!

What to do if you do NOT have a timed entry reservation

Getting one of the Bear Lake Road Corridor reservations is tough! These are the most coveted reservations of the two, as this area has some of the best hikes in the park for all skill levels. We were unable to get Bear Lake Road Corridor reservations, but there is a way around them and to be honest, we recommend this method whether you have one or not.

Enter the park before 5 AM Mountain Time. You only need the reservation after 5 AM Mountain Time or before 6 PM Mountain Time. So you can enter before or after these times without one. And while 6 PM may be a bit late to start this hike, starting before 5 AM is a great idea regardless of whether you have a reservation or not, as this area gets very busy and this will help you beat the crowds (and afternoon thunderstorms!).

The booth to check reservations for the Bear Lake Road Corridor is located right about here, so as long as you’re past this point before 5 AM, you’ll be good to go without a reservation! However, this means that if you leave this area after the hike, you will not be able to get back in without a Bear Lake Road Corridor reservation until after 6 PM.

But you can go explore other areas of the park after this hike without a reservation, as you’ll already be past the entrance gate! We did find that afternoon reservations for the rest of the park were pretty easy to get though.

Take the shuttle

As we mentioned before, the parking lot is pretty large, but it can fill up. So depending on when you start this hike, you may have to take the free park shuttle from Bear Lake Road to the trailhead. You must have a Bear Lake Road Corridor reservation to do this, as the shuttles start running at 6:30 AM, which is when reservations are required to get down the road.

NOTE: There is a hiker shuttle that can take you from the Beaver Meadow Visitor Center to the Bear Lake Road Corridor, where you’ll then transfer to the Bear Lake Road shuttle for the rest of the way, but it was not operating during our visit. To see its status, check this page. If it is running, you could take this shuttle and visit the park during the reservation hours without a reservation, although you will still have to pay your entrance fee.

When to hike to Sky Pond

Rocky Mountain National Park is open to visit everyday of the year, however your experience will vary depending on the seasons and time of day.

What to expect in different seasons

In our opinion, the best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, if you want to have access to the most hikes and scenic drives, is from June to September. This is the busiest time of the year, but if you can handle getting up extra early to beat crowds, you will have access to mostly snow free trails and be able to drive Trail Ridge Road, which we share more about in our Rocky Mountain National Park Guide

On this past trip to the park we visited in the end of June to early July, but we have also visited mid July, and during both visits, we didn’t encounter much snow and were able to do everything we wanted, for the most part.

If you’re willing to deal with some snow and some closures, May and October will be a good time to beat crowds and will most likely have pretty decent weather, but things can change quickly, so be prepared for anything.

You can also snowshoe to Sky Pond in the winter, which would be very magical! Visiting during this time does not require a timed entry reservation, but make sure to read up on avalanche safety, as avalanches are a threat when hiking in snowy conditions.

Glacier Gorge Trailhead
The parking lot at the Glacier Gorge trailhead when we finished our hike around 10 AM

Hike early and on a weekday!

Regardless of when you visit, we suggest starting the trail before sunrise in the summertime and early any time of the year, as it is very popular. And if you can swing it, you’ll have less crowds if you can go midweek rather than the weekend. 

What to bring to hike to Sky Pond

Lake of Glass Rocky Mountain National Park

To see everything we recommend packing for hikes, check out our hiking gear, where we share everything we bring with us when we hike, including the 10 essentials. But for this specific hike, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.

Headlamps

If you plan on getting an early start you’ll want headlamps to guide your way. We use these headlamps and they have been great! 

Layers

When hiking in the mountains at higher elevation you might feel cold one minute then sweating the next, so make sure to pack layers! During our hike, the weather changed when we got to Sky Pond, so we were glad to have a variety of clothing options!

Alltrails map

We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. While the trail is easy to follow, there are some turn offs and we like to use the map to track our progress along the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!

Spikes

Depending on how early or late in the season you hike, you might encounter snow or ice on the trail. We had a small section of slick snow to cross and our Kahtoola MICROspikes were extremely helpful in this situation. 

Patience

No matter what time of year you visit, the park will likely be busy with crowded trails and busy parking lots. Remember everyone is there to enjoy the parks just like you!

Things to know before hiking to Sky Pond

Sky Pond Rocky Mountain National Park

Before sharing more about our experience on the trail, here are a few more things to be aware of before hiking to Sky Pond.

Check the weather

Check the weather forecast for the day so you know what to expect, but be prepared for Colorado weather to turn in an instant. On our hike, there were a lot of clouds lingering over the peaks, which dispersed when we got to the end, but quickly rolled back in, bringing cooler temperatures.

Afternoon thunderstorms

Even if the weather looks great, afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summer months in Colorado. Much of the park is at very high elevations and being on hill tops, above the treeline, or in exposed areas increases your risk of being struck by lightning. Here is a helpful article with tips on what to do if you find yourself on a trail during a storm. 

Fees

It costs $25 per vehicle ($25 for motorcycles) to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, which covers 7 days. But if you’re visiting more than one National Park on your trip (or within the year), we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.

Restrooms

There are plenty of toilets in the trailhead parking lot, but none along the trail. If you decide to use the restroom on the trail, please pack out any toilet paper and make sure to use a trowel to dig a hole for human waste.

Dogs are not allowed! 

Just like many other National Parks, dogs are not allowed outside of parking areas and campgrounds at Rocky Mountain National Park, so please leave them at home or have a safe place for them to be while you hike.

Learn what we do with Kona if she cannot join us during our travels. 

Be aware of wildlife

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a variety of wildlife (we saw tons of elk and even some moose!), including bears and mountain lions. While we did not see either and they aren’t common to see, make sure you read what to do if you encounter one. We personally like to carry bear spray on most hikes, both for protection from animals and also any crazy humans, but it is not required in the park and most do not carry it.

Our Experience hiking to Sky Pond

Watch our experience hiking to Sky Pond at Rocky Mountain National Park!

Because we didn’t have a Bear Lake Road Corridor reservation, we woke up around 2:30 AM and left our campsite near Estes Park around 3:30 AM to ensure we got into the park well before the 5 AM reservation time began. We arrived in the lot a little before 4:30 AM and there was plenty of parking left, although with the steady flow of cars pulling in, it likely would have filled up within an hour.

We contemplated if we should start in the dark or wait a little bit longer (the fear of wildlife encounters in the dark makes us nervous), but as we kept hearing more and more people arrive at the parking lot made us nervous about crowds, so we strapped on some headlamps and hit the trail.

Glacier Gorge Trail Rocky Mountain National Park

A handful of other groups started around the same time as us, which helped a bit with the worry of wildlife, but also meant that the trail felt busy. However, as we kept going along the trail, the groups naturally started to spread out and eventually it felt like we had it all to ourselves.

The first major landmark on the trail is Alberta Falls, which is 0.8 miles from the trailhead. This is a very popular waterfall in the park and is super pretty. Although if you’re starting before sunrise, it may still be a bit dark to see it. But the good thing is it’ll be there on your return trip, although it’ll be much busier. 

Glacier Gorge Trail Rocky Mountain National Park

As we continued on the trail, the sun began to rise and we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise, which was especially beautiful with the views we had of the mountains. At around 2 miles into the trail, you’ll reach a turnoff point for Mills Lake, which we hiked on our first visit to the park and is a great option if you want something shorter (5.4 miles total). 

Once you make this turnoff, you start to hike through a river valley between mountains and the views start to get better and better. 2.7 miles in, you’ll reach The Loch, which is the first of the three lakes on this hike. We were so surprised by how beautiful this lake was, even with fog covering most of the view. The reflections were INSANE!

The Loch Rocky Mountain National Park

The trail will go along the right side of The Loch, so you’ll get to experience it from different angles as you continue the hike. From the end of The Loch it’s only another mile or so until you reach Sky Pond and the end of the trail. But before you can soak in the beauty of the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond, you’ll have to traverse Timberline Falls. 

As we approached Timberline Falls, there was a good bit of snow and we saw several people struggling to get across the 100 feet or so of snow and ice to get to the falls. We had read about this and we brought microspikes along for this reason. We strapped on our microspikes and they made walking up this part a breeze. A funny story though…on our way back we saw a guy go just to the side of the snow and ice pack on some rocks that looked much easier than walking on the snow. We aren’t sure why we didn’t think to do this on the way up, but that’s the way we went down and it was a breeze!

Once you get past the snow you’re at the bottom of Timberline Falls, which you have to climb up! We had heard beforehand that you climb a waterfall and thought to ourselves “what does that even mean?” Well it means you have to scramble up the rocks that water is flowing down. While it’s not the most rushing water, it is moving somewhat quickly and is VERY cold. 

The scramble is pretty straightforward, but due to it being pretty vertical and also wet, it made me (Kathryn) a bit nervous. Adam LOVED it though and despite me being nervous, we both agree it added to the experience for this hike. It helped that no one was really coming down, so we could take our time going up.

After you reach the top of Timberline Falls it’s only a few more steps before you have made it to the Lake of Glass, which is stunning, and finally Sky Pond! If your breath wasn’t taken away from the hike and climb it certainly will be from the amazing views you’ll get at Sky Pond. It’s a gorgeous alpine lake semicircled by towering snow patched jagged peaks, including the Sharkstooth, which is one of the coolest peaks we have seen. 

For the majority of our hike, many of the peaks were covered in clouds, but by some miracle, as soon as we got to Sky Pond, the clouds cleared a bunch and we had a clear view of the peaks. At the lake, there are many rocks you can sit and have a snack on, or just enjoy the view. We took so many photos and videos of the lake before finally forcing ourselves to leave. 

Just as quickly as the clouds left, they reappeared right as we were about to leave and we turned around shortly after leaving the lake and couldn’t see any of the mountains. We felt so lucky to have the weather work in our favor!

The hike down was pretty straightforward, although going down Timberline Falls was a little scary, as some parts are straight down and there was now more two way traffic, so we had to take turns. But once we got through that area, it was smooth sailing until around the Mills Lake turnoff, where the trail got busier and busier as we approached Alberta Falls and eventually the trailhead.

The parking lot was 100% full when we got back and the shuttle was dropping people off, so we feel very fortunate that we started the hike when we did. Not only because of the crowds, but almost as soon as we started the drive out of the park, a nice rainstorm came in, drenching the road and we assume some hikers as well.

Looking for more information about Rocky Mountain National Park including things to do and places to stay?

Check out our Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park guide for tons of information about where to stay, places to stay, things to do, and where to eat nearby!

Ready to hike the best day hike at Rocky Mountain National Park?

Pin this guide to hiking to Sky Pond to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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