Hike to Sky Pond and Lake of Glass in Rocky Mountain National Park
Drive time from downtown Denver: 2 hours, 15 minutes
The majority of people who visit a national park never even get out of their cars, and that holds true at Rocky Mountain National Park, where the picturesque Trail Ridge Road turns into a parking lot, particularly on warm-weather weekends. For those who do venture out into the fresh air, the rewards are many: abundant wildlife, sweeping vistas of iconic 14,259-foot Longs Peak and the rest of the Never Summer Range, waterfalls, and Bear Lake.
Take a day to hike from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and you likely will encounter elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep grazing in larger herds along the way, as well as beautiful Alberta Falls and Timberline Falls. This first portion of the trail is very popular, but most folks stop here and head back. The real payoff comes if you keep going toward the calm, emerald green (and aptly named) Lake of Glass at 4.15 miles in, and in another quarter of a mile, the even larger Sky Pond, surrounded by meadows and smaller ponds. En route, you’ll get expansive views of the glacial valleys below and the chance to pop in and out of dense pine forest. Bring a lunch and watch your stress melt away in this calm, quiet setting, surrounded by craggy peaks that top out at over 12,000 feet. Note: At close to 9 miles round-trip, with a bit of a scramble past the falls and plenty of steep climbing, this is an intermediate-to-strenuous hike and not for the faint of lungs, starting at 9,210 feet and gaining 1,677 feet in elevation along the way.
On the drive back through Estes Park, swing through You Need Pie!, which turns out to be true: This cute little bakery not only serves up an ever-changing roster of fresh fruit and cream pies daily (fingers crossed that you’re there when they have the blackberry peach or the chocolate peanut butter), but also offers a full diner menu, including breakfast all day.