I’ve been trying to take every opportunity I can get to get out and get hiking locally. I was so lucky this weekend when both of my best friends agreed to join me on an exceptionally long and challenging hike up to see Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. Charles and I have done a little exploring together, but this was Sarah’s first time up with us and it was just the perfect experience.
To get to Rocky Mountain National Park, we had to drive two hours out of Denver, headed north west. We passed through Estes Park, which I haven’t been to since I was a small child. It was such an amazing quaint little town. We all felt so quintessentially Colorado. That feeling was imprinted when we were sitting in traffic and a deer came racing down the street toward our car as we were pointing at a salt water taffy shop. I don’t know if other places are as obsessed with salt water taffy as Colorado mountain towns are, but this state and that candy will forever be bound in my mind.
We got to RMNP without a hitch, but found out rather abruptly that you have to buy a minimum week long pass for $20. I didn’t ask the price of the summer-long pass, but something tells me that next year I’ll just splurge for it, because twenty-bucks is a little steep for hiking in Colorado. Well worth it, but steep nonetheless.
I’ve read a lot about the parking situation at Rocky Mountain National Park, but I seriously underestimated it. I’ve been on some moderately busy hikes, but jeez-louise, this was a whole different level. It took us an hour and a serious stroke of good luck to find a decent parking spot. My best advice? Go at the crack of dawn. Like be on the trailhead at 6AM, because at 10:30AM we were all having severe doses of anxiety about the whole situation.
The particular hike we went one was suuuuuper busy. I can see why though, it was truly exceptional through and through. The first 2.2 miles were family/tourist central. There’s a few pretty waterfalls that are worth noting, but if you’re short on energy/time, just make a tiny stop at Alberta Falls and keep going. The trail gets better the closer you get to the top. Round trip, the whole thing was about 10 miles, even though AllTrails says it’s 9.
There are a few really gorgeous scenic stop-offs, one of which was shortly after Alberta Falls. We sat down and looked at the view for 20 minutes and ate some snacks. For this hike, I definitely recommend bringing a decent lunch and at least two water bottles per person.
Arguably one of the very best pieces of the hike to Sky Pond is The Loch, a gorgeous lake sitting a mile or two below your final destination. I would do this hike again just to get to that lake. We ventured around most of the diameter of the lake, seeing a couple of fly fishers out to their chests in the water.
The lake is set up against gorgeous snowy mountains in the background (where on your way back down you’ll notice the giant ass ridge you have to climb to get to sky pond), and in June the water is still quite icy. At this elevation I doubt it ever becomes swimable, but I could be wrong. MAKE SURE to bring mosquito repellant. The bugs were going cuckoo for coco puffs over our exposed arms. This hike should also be done in proper hiking shoes. Sarah had to do it in trainers and it was definitely more difficult for her.
The final ascent in the hike probably lasts about a 1/2 mile, but you’ll feel the difference when you reach that last piece. It starts with an uphill trek on some stairs. We had to stop a few times to catch out breath. Definitely an excellent thigh workout. If you go before the snow melts (which might be never), you’ll hit an almost glacial like climb, which was undoubtedly the scariest part for me. Climbing up the snow was tough, but once we got to the top, the real fear set in as we stepped so cautiously across this long stretch with a steep slope down that was only about a footprint wide.
The very last part (and I think the hardest part for most people) was a vertical scramble up about 15 feet of rock. You actually get to rock climb here, folks. It’s freaking badass because you’re climbing up a little waterfall. I was less worried about this than the big snowy drop-off, but my friends seemed more freaked out about this piece.
Once you’re up though, you’ll feel bloody victorious (until you realize you have to climb back down). Sky Pond was a dream. The water was beautiful and the scenery was in the top tier of Colorado’s many gorgeous views. We even got to fraternize with some overly friendly marmots (it actually chased me around some rocks).
The way down was my favorite part of the trip. Someone has carved a snow slide down that scary drop-off I mentioned and we slid on our bums, putting a foot out as a brake. We laughed so hard we had tears and nearly considered climbing up to do it all over again (but our thighs wiggled too much).
5/5 on this hike. It was one of the best I’ve ever done. It will take around 5-6 hours in total and you will be dead exhausted afterward!