|Trail Features:||Outstanding Views, Alpine Lake, Waterfalls|
|Trail Location:||Glacier Gorge|
|Roundtrip Length:||9.0 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||9240 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1780 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||394 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||10,900 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||12.60 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||40.31035|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-105.64038|
The hike to Sky Pond begins from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road, located 8 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. Due to the extreme popularity of the Bear Lake Road area you may want to consider using the free park shuttle to access the trailhead during peak tourist season.
Roughly one-quarter of a mile from the parking area, just after crossing Chaos Creek, the trail briefly converges with the Glacier Creek Trail. After walking a very short distance the Glacier Creek Trail splits off to the right and heads toward Bear Lake, while the trail to Sky Pond branches off to the left.
At just over eight-tenths of a mile hikers will reach Alberta Falls, one of the more popular hiking destinations in the park. This scenic 30-foot waterfall, which thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek, is named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in the Estes Park area.
The next section of trail, between Alberta Falls and Mills Junction, was rehabilitated by the park service and the Rocky Mountain Nature Association as part of a major multi-year project that was completed in 2012.
At 1.6 miles hikers will reach the North Longs Peak Trail junction. Continue on towards Sky Pond by turning right here.
Roughly one-half mile further up trail you’ll reach Mills Junction. The trail to the left leads to Mills Lake and Black Lake, while the side trail to the right leads to Lake Haiyaha. As part of the same trail rehabilitation project, this unimproved route was also upgraded in an effort to make it safer and easier to follow as it travels towards the lake.
To continue on towards Sky Pond hikers should proceed straight ahead on the Loch Vale Trail.
Above the junction the route becomes quite steep as it climbs over a couple of short switchbacks through a fairly impressive gorge, while Icy Brook cascades down the valley on your left. On the third switchback you’ll reach a vantage point that offers a nice view of a waterfall tumbling down the gorge.
At roughly 2.8 miles hikers will reach Loch Vale, better known as The Loch. This beautiful subalpine lake, situated at 10,190 feet, is located within one of the most studied watersheds in the world. For more than twenty years scientists have monitored chemical inputs to the watershed, from wind and precipitation, in order to distinguish between human impacts and natural processes occurring in this environment.
Dominating the views directly across from the foot of the lake is 13,153-foot Taylor Peak and Taylor Glacier. Framing the spectacular gorge on either side is 12,668-foot Thatchtop Mountain towards the south, and 12,829-foot The Sharkstooth towards the southwest. As you proceed around the north shore of the lake, 13,208-foot Powell Peak will begin to reveal itself towards the south.
The word “Loch” is the Scottish Gaelic and Irish term for a lake or a sea inlet.
Beyond the lake the trail begins to climb again, and at just over 3.6 miles you’ll reach the Sky Pond / Andrews Glacier split. The trail to the right leads to Andrews Glacier and the Andrews Creek Backcountry Campsite, the only campsite in this area. To continue on towards Sky Pond, stay to the left at this junction.
Roughly one-third of a mile above the junction you’ll have your first good view of Timberline Falls, high above the trail. From this vantage point the trail begins to climb a series of rock steps. The optimal word here will be “gasp”, as you’ll be gasping for air during this next section of trail which climbs roughly 200 feet in just 0.15 miles.
Just over 4 miles from the trailhead hikers will reach the base of Timberline Falls. The main portion of the waterfall drops roughly 100 feet, and continues cascading down the valley below you. Be sure to look out across the valley for a birds-eye view of The Loch off in the distance.
From here the trail continues up a chute to the right of the falls. This is a fairly challenging scramble that climbs roughly 100 feet, and requires hand holds and the use of all four limbs while ascending. The first 30 feet or so are the most difficult, but beyond that it’s a relatively easy scramble. Just to complicate things a little, portions of the climb may have water flowing down the route. I’m not sure where you cross the threshold from hiking to mountaineering, and the climb up to the Lake of Glass may not cross that line, but it sure does approach it. It’s nothing exceedingly dangerous, but you will have to take your time and be extremely cautious. If you have a fear of heights you may want to think twice about proceeding any further. Also, if rain or snow is imminent, it would not be wise to continue beyond this point.
At the top of the climb, just over 4.1 miles from the trailhead, hikers will reach the Lake of Glass, an incredibly beautiful alpine lake with outstanding views of The Sharkstooth, Taylor Peak and Powell Peak. This lake is also sometimes referred to as Glass Lake.
From here the trail becomes fairly rocky and rugged as it travels along the west side of the lake. To stay on the path you’ll have to pay a little bit closer attention. Just take your time and you should be able to stay on course without any problems. If you look straight ahead you can see the moraine that creates Sky Pond (see photo above).
At roughly 4.5 miles hikers will finally reach Sky Pond, which sits at an elevation of 10,900 feet. The views here are simply spectacular. The alpine lake fills a cirque basin, and is surrounded on three sides by sheer cliff walls.
Off to the right are the granite spires of The Sharkstooth. Against the backdrop of a cobalt blue sky, the scene makes for an extremely dramatic view. The mountain directly across the lake is 13,153-foot Taylor Peak, and towards the south is 13,208-foot Powell Peak.