Summer is nearly here, and it’s got me dreaming of spending time in the mountains and getting out to adventure. While COVID-19 continues to leave us in uncertainty of what’s to come in these warm weather months, my hope is that we’ll still be able to make the most of our summer days. And to help inspire that a little in myself, and maybe in you too, I’m here to share about my favorite hike from last summer, and possibly my favorite hike I’ve done to date: Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. Please bear with me, we did this hike eight months ago, so I did my best to remember as much detail as possible. But if the details aren’t your thing, feel free to scroll through for some pictures of this beautiful hike.
This hike made it to the top of my hiking bucket list when I saw a friend post some pictures of it the summer before last. As a difficult 9 miler, it felt a bit out of my league since I still consider us very novice hikers, but it gave us something to work towards. After getting a few hikes under our belts over last summer, I felt prepared enough to give it a try, and the timing worked out perfectly in every way.
We waited until the end of the summer to give it a go because 1) like I said I wanted to work our way up to it and 2) Adam was training for a marathon throughout the summer, so we wanted to wait until he ran it at the beginning of September so we didn’t hinder his training. So a week after he completed his 26.2 miles, we set out for the mountains.
As a reminder, we live about an hour and a half away from the Estes Park entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) so it’s extremely accessible to us as a day trip (plus we have a free annual military pass to national parks, so that helps too). We left our house early in the morning so we could get to the park before it got too busy, but we also knew that we had some more flexibility than we did earlier in the summer because it wasn’t peak season anymore. Thankfully, the Park and Ride lot on Bear Lake Road had plenty of spots when we arrived at 7:30am. We gathered up our stuff, took the shuttle to the Glacier Gorge trailhead, and set out on our way (probably starting the hike around 8:15ish). The forecast for the day was seemingly perfect – chilly in the morning, but sunshine, blue skies, and a high of upper 70s were projected for the day. We layered up, and we were able to shed them when it warmed up, and then put some back on the higher we went in elevation. It never got too hot or too cold, it was just right.
The first leg of the hike is to Alberta Falls, which we’ve hiked to a few times previously. It’s a popular hike in the park and it leads to a 30 foot waterfall. I’m guessing with the time of year, and by starting just a little early, the trail wasn’t too crowded like it has been in the past for us. We made it to the falls by 9am, took a quick rest to enjoy the always-spectacular views, Adam made friends with a chipmunk, and then we continued on into new territory for us.
After Alberta Falls, I remember the trail became rather steep, and there were a handful of switchbacks. Adam has much better endurance than I do, but thankfully we’ve found a good rhythm on our hikes where we each go at our own pace. Usually I fall a little behind, because I try to listen to my body and rest when I need it (and I stop to take pictures and stare at the views), but Adam always stops and lets me catch up along the way. As we slowly trekked up the switchbacks I was admiring the gorge full of these tall slender trees.
By about 10:30am we made it to The Loch – the first of three lakes we’d come across on this hike. You can walk right up to the shoreline of one side of the lake, so we took some time to admire the surroundings of trees and mountains and glaciers. As we continued our way around the lake, we stumbled upon a small harem of elk on the trail. It wasn’t until I was a few feet away from one that I looked up from the path and noticed them. Thankfully we were at a spot in the trail that had a small detour so we could safely keep our distance. They weren’t threatening in any way, but soon after we came upon them we were pretty sure we heard a bugle in the distance and we weren’t about to wait around to see who else would join them.
We moved on from The Loch, and made our way through some meadowy terrain towards Timberline Falls. Based on reviews I read on AllTrails we knew that we’d have to do a bit of scrambling to get past the Falls, but it was uncertain if it would be too icy or not. We got a little nervous shortly after we left The Loch when we ran into some people on their descent who said the rocks at the Falls were too icy and they had to head back. We decided to keep going, hoping that as the day progressed the ice would melt, but I also tried to adjust my expectations in case the Falls were as far as we got. In hindsight, if the hike ended at Timberline Falls, it still would have been a great hike – well worth our time. But the end goal was still to go further, so I was holding out hope.
We started to approach the Falls around 11:30am, and when they came into view we saw a small crowd of people getting backed up at the base. I became hopeful when I saw many people slowly scrambling up the rocks to the right of the Falls. After we made our way up one of the steeper parts of the whole hike we got to the base, caught our breath, waited for the path to clear out a little, and made the decision to give it a go. Enough people were making it up the wet rocks that we were comfortable giving it a try. With caution, it was a very doable 100 ft climb for us.
When we reached the top, I turned around to see a stunning view of The Loch well below us. And then I turned and saw the stunning Lake of Glass in front of us. We were literally surrounded by beauty. Lake of Glass was actually my favorite of the three lakes, because of the vantage points we got as we made our way around it. I do remember one point that it was a little unclear where the trail was leading around the lake because we had to climb up some large boulders to follow along, but we stuck to the edge of the water to make our way around. Along the way we met a rather photogenic Marmot. The animals in RMNP often seem to be used to people being around so he came up pretty close to us and Adam had a great photo op (clearly he enjoys making friends with all the animals), but I also remember one point that it looked like the marmot was going to pounce on him so I made him back away just in case.
We moved on from Lake of Glass at about 12pm and traveled along the small stretch before Sky Pond, which was a picture straight out of a fairy tale. I was in heaven.
We finally made it to Sky Pond at about 12:10pm, which was nearly 11,000 feet in elevation. There were only a few other people that we came across, so we found a boulder to sit down and rest and admire the views of the lake and the cliffs that surrounded it. I remember feeling so accomplished. It was definitely a strenuous hike up, but every bit of the fatigue was made up for by the surroundings along the way. I also remember noticing two little specks moving up one of the glaciers far above the lake – there were people that were going to far greater extremes than us. I was humbled by 1) how little experience we have in the great outdoors and 2) how small we are in comparison to these beautiful mountains (a fairly common humility that comes upon me when we hike). But I was also so grateful to experience what we were doing, and excited for the potential of adventure in the future – though I don’t see myself ever having the desire to hike up a glacier. I think it was fairly windy up at Sky Pond, so we actually didn’t stay put for too long. Plus we didn’t want to risk running into any afternoon storms. So we turned back and started the descent back down the way we came.
It was like a treat to revisit all of the beautiful views we just passed. We took our time, knowing that descending is pretty tough on both of our knees, and the 1700+ feet of elevation we already trekked up was starting to show its wear on us. After taking a long lunch break in a meadowy area next to The Loch, we noticed some clouds rolling in, so we started to pick up the pace to get ahead of any possible rain. Plus I really had to go to the bathroom so I was cruising on the home stretch since we felt close enough to try to make it to a bathroom.
Thankfully we made it to the trailhead without a drop of rain, despite the very cloudy sky, and I made it safely to a bathroom. But man, I was T-I-R-E-D. This was definitely the most challenging hike I’ve done to date, but I was so satisfied at the end. The hike I had been dreaming of for a year ended up going perfectly. I still look at the pictures from this hike and smile. It was a challenge. It was a dream. And it deepened my love for the mountains even more.
While the pictures are gorgeous, they never do these Rockies any justice. So if you haven’t already, I highly recommend adding this to your own bucket list. If you have a comfortable amount of hiking experience under your belt, it is definitely strenuous at times, but manageable. And so, so worth it.
I hope you enjoyed trekking along with us on this hike from last year! Now that I’ve spent this time reminiscing, I’m aching to get out for some new adventures, so I really hope that I’ll be able to share about more hikes that we are able to do this year. Hiking is still such a new hobby for me, but it’s one that I hope I can continue to experience for all the years to come.
So tell me, what’s your favorite hike you’ve ever done? I’m always open to adding more ideas to my hiking bucket list, so let me know in the comments!
Until next time friends,