Sky Pond and Glass Lake Trail
Sky Pond and Lake of Glass Trail
at Rocky Mountain National Park
When we were planning our trip to Colorado, we knew a couple of days at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) would be a must. After some research, we put the Sky Pond and Lake of Glass trail on our list of options. When we mentioned the notion of checking out the trail to a few Coloradans, they all insisted that it was the best trail at RMNP. While all the trails we did in Colorado (including Grays Peak) were stunning, this trail was beyond expectation in both scenery… and difficulty in a few spots!
- Scenery: 5.0
- Difficulty: 4.5
- Length: 9.2 miles
- Dog Friendly Factor: 0
- Convenience: 1.0
- Bonus Funtimes: 5.0
Scenery (5.0 out of 5.0): As long as your legs are strong enough to get you there, you’ll have no shortage of amazing scenery on the way up to Sky Pond. The trail starts out basic enough, with the trail mostly shaded by ubiquitous evergreens. Between the trees, glimpses of the surrounding Rockies peep out, including great views of Long’s Peak. The first major landmark, just shy of one mile into the hike and heard long before you can see it, is Alberta Falls. The volume of water roaring down the narrow falls was impressive, but this was also a VERY popular stopping point for a lot of people so we didn’t linger too long.
Shortly after Alberta Falls, the evergreen canopy begins to open up, allowing glimpses of Glacier Creek and Icy Brook, two mountain streams that skirt the trail on the way up to Loch Vale. Once up to Loch Vale (about 2.8 miles in) you arrive at the first and largest of the 3 picturesque mountain lakes on this trail. Loch Vale may be the center of ultimate tranquility – from this quiet spot you can view the top of the mountain range and if you squint you’ll spot the Timberline Falls that leads up to Glass Lake and Sky Pond. The fly fishermen quietly casting their lines was a hallmark of Loch Vale.
Passing Loch Vale, the trail enters into a canopy of trees until you reach an open meadow spotted with wildflowers. From here, Timberline Falls is clearly visible. As you climb the steps up towards the falls, be sure to look back down the valley and out to the surrounding mountain range. From this spot you’ll also view Loch Vale – which is not only lovely, but also helps you realize how much you’ve climbed in short distance.
Timberline Falls was a popular turnaround point for people who weren’t up for the adventure of scrambling up the side of the waterfall to reach Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. The aptly named waterfall is right along the tree line. Timberline Falls sprawls down on the surrounding rock in gorgeous fashion. This is another great spot to stop and enjoy the view.
If you’re adventurous enough to scramble your way up the dry spots on the side of the waterfall, the scenery of the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond won’t disappoint. Once atop the waterfall climb, you’re greeted by a mini-valley of sorts that isn’t visible from the trail below. In just a few steps you’re at the edge of the Lake of Glass, another spot that offers stunning views. Continuing over the boulder trail you’ll come to an idyllic meadow spot with green grass surrounding a small waterfall that cascades from the yet-invisible Sky Pond.
Once past the small cascades you’ll arrive at the final spot along this trail, Sky Pond. This mountain lake is probably twice the size of the Lake of Glass. Right at the base of the mountains’ peaks snowpack was visible all around the lake, even at the end of July. Looking the spot called Cathedral Spires is clearly evident, spiking out of the surrounding peak. From any vantage point at Sky Pond, the 360 view is breathtaking – whether you’re looking up towards the ever-closer peaks or back down the valley from which you just hiked.
Difficulty (4.5 out of 5.0): We hiked to Sky Pond the day after we summited our first 14er, Grays Peak, but even if we had had fresh legs, I’m fairly certain this trail would have left us worn out from the long, steady climb. The trail rises about 1,300 feet in 4.4 miles, with the steepest climb in the last mile.
As with everything we saw at RMNP, the trail was impeccably maintained and clearly marked (except a few spots once you ascend to the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond area, but even that’s pretty self-explanatory). The portion of the trail before you get to Loch Vale is made up of several switchbacks to help ease the steepness of the climb. Once you pass Loch Vale and begin the climb to Timberline Falls, the path often turns into rugged stairsteps. I always grumble when I see built-in stair steps on a trail because it’s pretty much always an indication that the climb is about to get fairly miserable. We saw several fellow hikers stopping for breathers along this portion of the trail.
The greatest degree of difficulty comes during the scramble up the side of Timberline Falls to the mini-plateau above that houses Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. This portion was probably about 50′ of maneuvering up a crevasse in the mountain side. It was challenging in a few spots, but we made it up without any real problems. Just give yourself plenty of time, don’t rush it and make sure to get a good grip on the ledges before you start pulling yourself up too much. Give yourself as much (if not more) patience to make the decent. It seemed that about 75% of people who started the climb were able to make it all the way to the top – others seemed to be easily deterred or got too frustrated to go much further.
While we were up at Lake of Glass and Sky Pond it was W-I-N-D-Y. Several veteran trail hikers that we spoke with on the trail said it was unusually windy on the day we were up there. A few gusts caught me off guard, but we’re glad we braved the gusts to enjoy the surroundings.
Length: 9.2 miles (it took us 4.5 – 5 hours roundtrip)
Dog Friendly Factor (0 out of 5.0): Dogs are not allowed on trails at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Convenience (1.0 out of 5.0): Again, this ranking is based on convenience from Nashville, TN. If you’re in Colorado or visiting, it’s an easy drive to RMNP from the Estes Park area. Also the park has a great shuttle system so don’t hesitate to take advantage of the shuttle system, especially as a two year road construction project is ongoing in the Bear Lake area where this trail is located.
Bonus Funtimes (5.0 out of 5.0): Like all great national parks, there’s no shortage of bonus funtimes at RMNP. In addition to hiking and camping this was an incredibly popular area for all types of fishing. If the number of hipwaders we saw on folks of all ages on the trail was any indication, this is an especially popular area for fly fishermen. Backpackers also rave about RMNP – especially after you get a few miles from the main trailheads, solitude is much easier to find without so many fellow hikers.
Slideshow of Sky Pond and Glass Lake Trail