As a girl from Minnesota, one would think I was in love with the great outdoors. However, I wasn’t at all. I would go on a few hikes occasionally, like around Gooseberry Falls outside Duluth, MN – but that was the extent of my hiking. I preferred shopping, hanging out on the lake, and spending time with friends (but not outside, there were too many bugs).
When I moved to Colorado that clearly changed, and throughout my second summer here I have been working up to longer and more difficult hikes. I finally had the right gear (kind of), the confidence (most of the time), and I was ready to stomp all over the hike to Sky Pond; which I had heard was one of the more difficult hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).
You might recall we tried to do the hike to Sky Pond a few weeks ago, and it was an epic fail (well not totally, we did a different amazing hike, but that’s besides the point). We got to the parking lot at about 9:30am, which is prime for Bear Lake Trail traffic. This time though, we were prepared. We had our bags packed, alarms set, and we woke up at 4:00am to be on the road by 5:00am. Starbucks in hand, we were at the trailhead about two hours later and got close to the last spot in the parking lot.
- Starting Elevation: 9,240 feet
- Ending Elevation: 10,900 feet
- Net Elevation Gain (because of ups and downs): 1,780 feet
- Round Trip Length: 9.0 miles (add 0.3 if you are starting at Bear Lake Trailhead)
- Trailhead: Glacier Gorge or Bear Lake Trailhead, RMNP
- Fee: 20 dollars (or free if you have a National Parks Pass or RMNP Pass)
- Dogs allowed?: No
The trail starts out in a wooded forest going downhill, which is important to note because we had to save some energy to go back uphill at the very end, when everyone is usually exhausted. At just over 0.8 miles we arrived at our first destination, and one of the most popular in RMNP, Alberta Falls.
Following Alberta Falls we followed the trail about halfway up the falls to the right. This portion of the trail had a gradual incline and was shaded in the morning, but not the afternoon on our way back, which was another great reason to get an early start. At 2.1 miles we arrived at the Loch Vale/Mills Lake junction. We continued right to go up to our second destination, the Loch Vale. Soon we were welcomed with a snapshot of the incredible views of Glacier Gorge that we would soon see much closer.
Another shaded, but steady climb was ahead of us through a series of switchbacks. The trail was a little busier than I thought, but we kept moving over so people could pass as we maintained our moderate pace. However, shortly after groups passed us, we almost always passed them – maintaining a moderate pace, esspecially up steep areas, is important because we won’t be exhausted at the end of the hike.
We arrived at the beautiful views of the Loch Vale at about 2.8 miles. It was a perfect spot to rest as we had climbed to 10,190 ft (gained 950 ft), and needed to refuel for the last 1.7 miles.
Full of energy and hydrated, we continued in hopes of getting some of the views to ourselves at Sky Pond. The trail followed around the lake and climbed gradually for another 0.8 miles. After a bridge at mile 3.6, we continued left here to go to Sky Pond, as going to the right will take you to Andrew’s Glacier. Soon after this we started to see a waterfall, one that I assumed was Timberline Falls as I read you saw a beautiful waterfall before Sky Pond – but my mind was having a hard time believing we actually gained THAT much elevation. Spoiler alert: you do gain that much elevation.
Just after we continued the left, the trail steadily climbed until the ultimate climb – the trail of stairs that didn’t ever want to end. I was thankful we started the hike early, because this portion of the hike was completely exposed, and rose a steep 200 ft in 0.15 miles (not pictured because I was soley focused on surviving the ascent).
Everyone always says that the climb is worth it – and that is definitely still the case when it comes to this hike. Not only were we able to see just how much we had climbed, but we were able to see Timberline Falls up close and personal; without all the crowds.
I always research hikes before I do them, naturally because I like to know what I’m getting myself into; elevation gain, time to hike, time to drive, and more difficult parts of the hike. That being said, I knew we had to climb the right side up Timberline Falls to get to the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. What I didn’t know, was that the right side might still have water, and that the whole climb up would be wet and steep. Again, the climb was more than worth it, it just took a little bit of time (and patience, as you will likely have to wait for other hikers either on your ascent or descent). A few boulder hops later and we arrived at the Lake of Glass.
We followed the Lake of Glass on the West side to continue the final 0.4 miles to Sky Pond. Here the trail became a little harder to follow, but if you pay attention you’ll be fine. The only reason it may have been a little difficult for me was because I was distracted by the amazing views and wildflowers that were surrounding us. It’s a flat final stretch though, which was a nice break after the 1,780 feet we had just completed. We continued the boulder hopping trend, turned the corner and there it was, Sky Pond. We walked around the left side of the lake to get a more picturesque view of the Sharkstooth and enjoyed our lunch in front of one of the best views of the Rockies.
I hike now because I like it. Because I was unaware of how at home one can feel in nature. I didn’t know that I would feel at home in the wilderness. It’s like people say, you never know until you try. I tried, and it became an obsession. An obsession with pushing myself to the limit, an obsession with seeing amazing views that you can only walk to with your own two feet. An obsession that’s not only good for my health, but good for my soul. Hiking helps keep me grounded, it relaxes me. For me, hiking has added an intangible something to my life that I’ll probably never be able to describe, and I will always be thankful for it.