Vien R. Guenther
Bear Lake to Sky Pond Trail Hike – Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Once you hike at Rocky Mountain National Park, you will keep coming back. Why not, there are plenty of trails to explore, beautiful lakes, waterfalls and incredible views to see. Plenty of choices to explore in the park for climbers, hikers and non-hikers alike - different trails and at different times of the year.
The landscape views in the park change as the seasons change, and one of our favorite times to hike here is in Autumn when the aspen leaves turn gold. One moderately strenuous (can also be difficult depending on time of year) hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is the trail to Sky Pond. This is probably one of the best trails in the park. It begins at either Bear Lake Trailhead or at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, but you must be early since most of the time both parking lots are full. You can get lucky at Bear Lake Trailhead at the end of Bear Lake Road, if you arrive before 8:00 a.m. If not, then you have to take the free shuttle bus at the park-n-ride.
The trail to Sky Pond is one of many popular trails in the park - but not all hikers go all the way to the end of the trail, that includes us sometimes when we only go as far as Loch Vale. Sometimes we make it short, or longer, depending on our stamina and time of day. After all, if you are a day hiker you have to consider that when you hike in, you also have to hike out, doubling the length of the hike.
This trail is easy at first until you reach the 30-foot high Alberta Falls, then as you go higher the trail gets steeper. Hiking to the Alberta Falls by itself is less than a mile from both trailheads, accessible for most visitors. So it’s not a surprise that this is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park. Probably the most photographed as well.
Alberta Falls is named after Alberta Sprague, wife of Abner Sprague, who homesteaded in Moraine Park in 1874. Most people (non-hikers) only stop here - a wise choice when you don't know your capabilities and are not well equipped for a long hike. Hiking in Colorado is different, the elevation can catch you unawares.
So, don't be surprised when people start to thin out beyond the waterfalls. The less foot traffic the better, right? As the trail goes higher the views start to open up. The aspen trees and the mountain landscape is gorgeous in autumn, as you can see. Still, it gets better as you hike up to Loch Vale.
Loch Vale is also known as The Loch, a Gaelic name for a lake or sea inlet. Some of the times we end our hike here, especially in Spring when the trail to Sky Pond is treacherous from snow and ice that has yet to melt. We just hang out here and go fish for a while. The Loch is one of the favorite lakes among hikers in the Rocky Mountain so you might find it a little crowded during peak season. Walk around the lake, you might find your own quiet spot if you plan on ending your hike here.
Some people will just stop at the Loch while others will continue all the way to Sky Pond. Why not? Your effort will be greatly rewarded.
One thing to keep in mind though is that there is a scramble up a steep rock face beside Timberline Falls. The rocks can be slick from the water spray so you need all fours to climb. You don’t want to hurry to get to the top, slipping off the rocks can be painful or worse.
LAKE OF GLASS
About a quarter-mile beyond Timberline Falls is the Lake of Glass. You were probably curious why it was called that name. You have to see it with your own eyes, the lake’s clear emerald surface is like glass, especially looking down at it from above. This lake has one of the most beautiful clear emerald colors you will see in lakes. You will see fish swimming just below the surface, enough to entice any anglers to try their luck.
You finally reached the Lake of Glass, but don’t stop there, this is not the end of the trail yet. You hiked all the way here so you might as well finish it all the way to Sky Pond. Fortunately, there is no more scrambling up on rocks - that is, until you return back down to Timberline Falls. Just less than a quarter of a mile and you will reach Sky Pond. Believe me, you will be glad you made the extra effort to get there.
But before Sky Pond look for the Lake of Glass Falls, located between the two lakes. It’s not as high as the other waterfalls along this trail, but it’s worth checking out as you can see on the photo. In fact, you can't miss it. Any photo opportunity is appreciated by anyone who brought cameras with them, and this is one of them.
Sky Pond (11,900 feet) is located at the end of the trail, at the base of several mountain peaks – The Sharsktooth, Taylor Peak, Powell Peak and East Glacier Knob. You can’t go any farther beyond the lake, unless you are an experienced climber. We are not so this is where our hike end. To get this far was an accomplishment by itself.
One special feature of this lake is the incredible mountain backdrops. The most unique of all is the Cathedral Spires - the series of sharp peaks resembling a cathedral, hence the name. One of the peaks is called “The Sharkstooth” (12,630 feet) - resembling a shark’s tooth. You will see climbers up there if you have your binoculars.
Now, this was another accomplishment under your belt. Bagging this hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is enough to brag about. Did I say once you hike in Rocky Mountain National Park you will keep coming back? See ya next time!
The trails are well marked, pointing you to the trails you want to take, but take along a map, it will be useful if you suddenly change your mind as to which trail to take. If unsure, it is best to ask fellow hikers. You probably can tell which ones are seasoned hikers from the way they look, dress and what they carry.