Colorado, Colorado Hikes, Rocky Mountain National Park, US National Parks

Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: winter at Sky Pond… again

Is it possible to hike a trail too many times?

In some cases, the answer to that question might be ‘yes.’

When the hike in question is Sky Pond, though, and it’s wintertime, I would argue that the answer is very clearly ‘no.’

Back in December 2020, Pat and I hiked to Sky Pond with our friends. It was the second time we’d completed this hike but our first winter attempt, and it far exceeded our expectations. Sky Pond is a pretty destination in the summer but, because it’s so overhyped, I actually ended up being a little disappointed. Winter at Sky Pond, however, was amazing. It was so amazing that Pat and I have decided to make this hike an annual winter tradition.

So, in February 2022, we found ourselves at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, bundled up and trying to convince ourselves to step out of the car into the wind.

Since I’ve written about this hike before – twice – I’m not really going to say much about it now. Details on the trail in summer conditions can be found in this post. Details on the hike in winter can be found here. Everything was pretty much the same this time around, except that there was more snow on the trail (we wore snowshoes almost the entire hike) and it was, if possible, even more beautiful this winter than it was last winter. My main motivation for writing this post is really just to share the photos.

So without further ado: a winter 2022 hike to Sky Pond.

The winter trail cuts through the gorge on top of Icy Brook
Walking across Loch Vale
Pat climbing to Timberline Falls… this section was steeper than it looks, powdery, and slippery; it’s the hardest part of the hike
Ice ripples on Lake of Glass
The Sharkstooth
Sky Pond and The Sharkstooth
Back to Loch Vale

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: the Sky Pond trail leaves from Glacier Gorge trailhead along Bear Lake Road; parking fills before dawn in the summer and by 8:00am in the winter. You can also start from Bear Lake, which has more parking (but also fills by 7:00am in the summer and 9:00am in the winter) – add 0.2 miles (0.3 km) roundtrip to all distances from there
  • Fees and passes: there is a $25/car daily or $35/car weekly entrance fee to RMNP; America the Beautiful passes are accepted. From May-October 2022 you will also need to purchase a timed entry permit in advance to access this trailhead
  • Hiking: roundtrip distance is 7.8 miles (12.6 km) via the winter route or 9.8 miles (15.8 km) via the summer route with about 1750 feet (535 m) of elevation gain
  • Where to stay: there are 5 campgrounds in the park (only 1 is open in winter) and dozens of lodging options just outside in Estes Park; while backpacking (permit required) is also an option for many parts of the park, there is only 1 backcountry site along this trail and the permit is extremely competitive
  • Other: I really can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is to properly pack and prepare for this hike in the winter. If anything happens, you’re a long way back in the mountains with no phone service and unpredictable winter weather. At minimum, you’ll need food and water, lots of layers (I was wearing 3 on top and 2 on bottom), hat, gloves, warm socks, neck gaiter, microspikes and snowshoes, waterproof winter boots, gaiters, and the Ten Essentials
  • For additional information on winter hiking safety, visit this post

54 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: winter at Sky Pond… again”

  1. That looks stunning! Like everyone else, I’m fascinated by the ice ripples – I’ve never seen that before. And how nice to have icy frozen lakes – they almost always get covered with snow here so I’ve rarely seen the ice underneath. Very cool – literally!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just wow, What a place and well worth a visit again and again in winter. I have a hike that I like to keep doing, all year round but at least once a year. Its an easy walk but I love it, its just one I keep going back to and one I don’t over do so it keeps it special.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Incredible hike and winter landscape. I’ve never seen ice ripples before, and what a shot that is!!! The ice patterns on Sky Like are fascinating. You must have felt utterly exhausted. Making it a yearly ritual is a glorious idea. Just imagine 10-15 years from now the collection of photos and memories you’ll have gathered.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing these fantastic photos and tips! I particularly enjoyed the ice ripples on Lake of Glass.

    Does anyone know how late into the spring the Loch and upper lakes stay frozen? Are the warning signs obvious when the ice is no longer stable enough to support the weight of a hiker? Heading that way next week and want to make sure I don’t unknowingly venture onto unstable ice – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it really depends on the weather. I know it’s warming up some now and is supposed to be warm this weekend, so I personally probably wouldn’t walk on the lakes anymore. At least, not the low ones. The higher elevation ones might still be okay.

      I’m far from an expert, but we always assess by looking at how thick the ice is. Usually you can see it is many inches thick, in which case we feel okay to walk on it. 3” is enough to support a human, I’ve been told. If we can’t tell or the ice looks thinner, we avoid it. Also, be sure to avoid edges of the lake, walking near rocks, and walking near where water flows in and out of the lakes… those are places where ice does not freeze very solidly and would be more likely to break beneath you.

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    1. I always complain when I wake up early and it’s cold and dark as well… but it was worth it for this hike. Fortunately, we own enough clothing now to stay warm, even when it’s cold and windy. It makes a huge difference.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It must be really hard hiking in the snow … but wow, the scenery is breathtaking beautiful! That photo of the ice ripples on Lake of Glass is totally out of this world!
    PS: I was wondering what the “10 Essentials” were … and I’m happy to say we always have that in our backpacks as well (thanks for sharing).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Holy moly! The scenes are stunning. Granted, I would be very apprehensive trying to walk on Loch Vale (the ice looks very precarious!), but the texture of it, along with the Lake of Glass’s, is truly out of this world. Such a beautiful experience to hike in the wintertime!

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    1. Ice on frozen lakes is so neat! These particular lakes freeze many inches, if not feet, thick in the winter so walking across them is safe. But now that spring is approaching, I wouldn’t walk across them anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

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