Why we love it: Gazing at Sky Pond is well worth the 4.5-mile haul to get there, but you don’t have to hoof it all the way to the end for rewarding views. Three distinct destinations break the hike into manageable chunks and offer perfect turn-around points for trekkers not ready to commit to the full distance.
When to go: Late spring through fall, but go during the shoulder seasons to avoid summer crowds.
When I moved to Colorado six months ago, one of my first goals was to return to Sky Pond. I first hiked the trail in 2009 on a week-long jaunt to Rocky Mountain National Park. Though I’ve tramped over trails and up peaks across the West, Sky Pond still stands out as one of my favorites hikes. It’s a challenging trek, but you’re rewarded with three stunning lakes, two waterfalls, and classic Rocky Mountain views. Now that the deep snow is melting from the high peaks, I finally got my wish.
I set out from Rocky Mountain National Park’s Glacier Gorge trailhead and followed signs for the Loch. I passed aspen groves and the crowded Alberta Falls before switchbacking up through the forest, where a break in the trees offered a nice view of the Icy Brook gully. After three miles, I reached the Loch, a large alpine lake nestled beneath the rocky face of Taylor Peak. The next destination, Timberline Falls, was just visible at the far end of the lake.
You can turn around here if you’re tuckered out, but I continued on, following the trail along the lakeshore for another mile. A steep-but-short final haul brought me to the falls, where icy meltwater cascades down a granite ledge. Behind me were spectacular views of the Loch and lower valley.
The last half-mile push to the lakes required scrambling up 280 feet of broken cliff on the right side of the falls. (The climb is a Class 2, so go slowly and use your hands, especially if the rocks are icy or inundated with meltwater.) I was quickly rewarded with views of Glass Lake, nestled in an alpine bowl above the falls. But the best was yet ahead: another .35-miles through brush and boulders brought me to Sky Pond. I soaked my tired feet in the cold, clear waters and gazed up at the Sharkstooth, a jagged rock formation occasionally dotted with rock climbers.
Getting there: From Estes Park, follow U.S. 36 West/Moraine Avenue for 3.8 miles to Bear Lake Road. Turn onto Bear Lake Road and drive about eight miles to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. Note: Trailhead parking lots fill up quickly, but the park offers a free shuttle service  along Bear Lake Road during the summer.
More info: Click here  for trail descriptions, a map, and other details.