Can you believe it? You can see three amazingly beautiful alpine lakes and two waterfalls in one hike. This is one of the most beautiful hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. We wanted to do this hike as a loop connecting to Emerald Lake, Dream Lake, and Bear Lake. But due to rain and thunderstorm, we had to change the plan and cut it short. Still, I would say this hike is amazing and most importantly all the lakes are at comparatively lower elevation. That means less chance of altitude sickness and a comparatively easy hike. That also means sharing the trail with tons of people and meeting a lot of fellow hikers. This part is always exciting to me- to have some meaningful conversations and make new trail friends.
Though we decided to start early around 7 am, it took us more than one hour to get a parking spot. Almost every trail in Rockey Mountain National Park is extremely popular and it’s really hard to get a parking spot during summer. The key is being patient and keep looking for a parking spot. The Park Rangers are working hard to make our visit as smooth as possible. So, we should be respectful and be patient. We parked our car in the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot, took the shuttle, and came to the Glacier George trailhead.
The good thing about this trail is that it’s very well marked and there are signs everywhere. The day we hiked was a bright sunny day. Somehow the sun makes everything look happy. Though there was a little bit of cloud at the end of the sky, we did not worry much about that. Around 0.25-mile from the parking lot, you will find the Glacier Creek trail which eventually splits into two trails. The right one heads towards Bear Lake. You have to take the left one. Around 0.8-mile from the trailhead, you will reach Alberta falls, the first destination of the hike. This 30 ft waterfall is a scenic one and makes its way down a narrow Gorge on Glacier Creek creaking some thunder noises. This waterfall is a popular destination, and the traffic becomes a little bit less after this waterfall. At around 1.6 miles, you will come across a fork which is known as North Longs Peak Trail Junction. You have to take the right trail to continue your hike. 0.5 mile more or so, you will reach Mills junction where the left trail takes you to Mills Lake and Black Lake. There is another side trail to the right that leads to Lake Haiyaha. This is the connecting path that connects the Emerald-Dream-Bear Lake loop to this trail. You have to skip these two trails and take the middle one. I am pretty sure there are signs. Follow the one that will lead you to the Sky Pond or the Loch Vale Trail. From the junction, the trail starts to climb accompanied by a couple of short switchbacks through a gorge. At around 2.7 miles into the trail, you will reach ‘The Loch’ or ‘Loch Vale’. ‘Loch’ is an Irish word, and this term is for a lake or sea inlet. When we reached this sub-alpine lake located at 10190 ft, the lake with the view of the mountains caught our breath. There were a lot of people fly fishing and caught some trout. The water was so clear that you can easily see the trout roaming around. Many people were sitting near the lake and watching the scenery in front of them. We had our lunch here by the side of this lake and it was a really happy moment.
From here, you have to walk by the side of the lake, which is mostly shaded. Once you are at the end of the lake, the trail starts to climb again. A little over 3.6 miles mark point, there is another fork. The right trail is towards Andrews Glacier and the Andrews Creek Backcountry Campsite. This is the only backcountry campsite in this area, and you will need a backcountry permit to stay here. Soon after you take the left trail towards Sky Pond, you will see Timberline Falls, high above the trail, from a distance. And here comes the climb through a series of rock steps. Even in July, we found some portion of the trail was covered in snow and right before Timberline falls, there was a huge section we had to climb in snow. Crampons were not required though. Just simple steady steps were enough for those sections. At around the 4-miles mark, you will reach the base of the waterfall. To our surprise, we found an ice cave-like formation here. From the base, the cascading water and the ice formation both made it amazing. Now the exciting part begins. You have to scramble through the Timberline falls to reach the top. The first part may seem a little bit intimidating, but after that it becomes easy. If you are hiking during summer, it’s easy to climb. But winter and ice make it quite difficult and that is a whole other story. Just take your time and be extremely cautious. Always maintain three-point contact and you will be fine.
When you reach the top of the waterfall, you will see another amazing lake which is known as ‘the Lake of Glass’. You will be able to see the famous Sharkstooth, Taylor Peak, and Powell peak from this point. Take your time to sit and watch the outstanding view in front of you. You have only one destination left- ‘Sky pond’ which is located a little less than 0.5 miles from here. Start your hike along the west side of the lake and this part of the trail is rocky and rough. Sometimes, there is no distinguished trail. You have to pay attention and make your way through the rocks. Soon you will arrive at the Sky Pond located at an elevation of 10900 ft and to be exact around 4.5-miles from the trailhead. The view of the Sky Pond with the Sharkstooth peak is stunning. I felt like I could sit here all day and bask in the alpine goodness. We reached here mid-day; I wish I could do this as a sunrise hike. How amazing the sight would be when the first ray of the sun hit the peak of Sharkstooth! I may have to come back here just for that sunrise view.
At a glance/fact
- Hike length: 9 miles out and back
- Elevation gain: around 1780 ft
- Difficulty: moderate
- Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- Trailhead: Glacier George trail
- Co-ordinate: Trailhead: 40.31035, -105.64038
- Best time to visit: Summer and fall.
- Permit/Fee: Entrance to the National Park fee required.
- Parking: Glacier George trailhead parking lot. This parking lot is small and tends to go full early. You can also park in the Bear lake trailhead parking lot and take the shuttle to reach the trailhead or you can walk to the trailhead. If the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot is full, then you have to park at the parking lot near Bierstadt trailhead and take the shuttle bus. The shuttle bus service time is 6:30 am to 7:30 pm every 10-15 minutes (May 27 to October 18, 2021). More information about the bus service:
- Shuttle Bus Routes - Rocky Mountain National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
- Amenities: restroom at the trailhead (Bear Lake trailhead).
- Check the weather first and dress accordingly. Don’t forget to bring sun hat, glasses, sunscreen, snacks, and water. A little picnic near the lake is always amazing.
- Be cautious about altitude sickness symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headache, vomit, etc., please take rest, eat something and drink water. Then decide if you are feeling well enough to continue.
- As always, please remember to practice the ‘leave no trace’ principle all the time.