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Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: Deer Mountain Trail
Hiking Deer Mountain Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a must see travel destination. Located just northwest of Denver, the park has 359 miles of hiking trails and numerous 14,000 foot peaks. One of those trails, Deer Mountain, is located near Estes Park. This is a moderate to strenuous hike, depending on if you do the out and back trail or the entire loop. Either way, you'll be treated to 360 degree views of Rocky Mountain National Park, including Longs Peak and the Mummy Range. With an elevation gain of 1000 - 1700 feet and a peak elevation of only 10,000 feet, this hike is suitable for children and most family members. Enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park and the Deer Mountain Trail.
Getting To the Deer Mountain Trail Head
The Deer Mountain Trail head is located at Deer Ridge Junction near the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park or roughly at the intersection of Routes 34 and 36. It's an easy drive from Estes Park if you're staying there. Parking is located at the side of the road and can fill up quickly so it's best to arrive early.
What to Bring
For either hike, make sure you bring plenty of water. Camelbak back packs work well since they hold both water and supplies and allow you to keep your hands free while hiking. If you decide to do the entire Deer Mountain Loop, bring at least a gallon of water per person as this hike is 4-5 hours and about 10 miles long. Also bring high energy snacks such as trail mix, dried fruit, and protein bars. If you're inclined, the summit is a great place for a picnic lunch.
Make sure you bring a hat, a windbreaker in case of inclement weather, and wear sturdy shoes (no sandals). The weather can change very quickly in the mountains so be prepared for sudden rain storms and even snow.
A camera is also a must have on this trail. As you can see from the photos below, the views are amazing!
Enjoying the Hike
The hike begins as a moderate incline through an open grassy meadow interspersed with Aspen. The trail is well-marked and sandy. You're likely to see others either on their way down or hiking up with you. In this early section of the hike, you'll see striking views of Long's Peak, perhaps snow-capped or shrouded with clouds. It's absolutely amazing.
As you progress, the trail becomes narrower, more densely packed with trees, and a bit steeper. Long straight-aways give way to a series of switch-backs and the hiking becomes a bit more strenuous. Stop and enjoy the peacefully shady nooks and crannies hidden in the rocks to catch your breath before moving on.
Later, the switch-backs end and the trail opens up again. Soon, you'll come to a turn-off on the right. This turn leads to the summit. It's a rocky, steep climb of about a third of a mile but it's well worth the effort. The views from the summit are spectacular. You're sure to see other hikers here who will be willing to take a picture of your entire party. This is a great place to stop for a water and food break.
From here, you can either go back down the way you came or continue on to do the entire loop around the mountain. The hike up to the summit and back is about 6 miles. When I did this hike, we decided to do the entire loop but it was longer than we expected based on the National Park Service map. Our GPS clocked the route as 10.8 miles compared to the distance of 8 miles on the map. The beginning of the loop also isn't as well marked as the hike up to the summit so be careful to stay on the path. Unfortunately, we had a dubious trail marker...horse droppings! But they helped us keep on track.
The loop isn't too strenuous with many gentle ups and downs as you traverse your way around Deer Mountain but the length of this hike happening directly after the steep uphill climb to the summit may tire you out. Take it easy, drink plenty of water, and rest frequently.
This part of the trail is also much less used than the out-and-back hike to the summit and you're unlikely to see many other hikers. We saw only two other groups hiking the entire way. You'll be treated to views of Estes Park, the Mummy Range and amazing vistas of the park. The terrain features frequent changes from grassy areas covered with large boulders to Aspen groves, rocky swtich-backs. If you have a full 5 hours and enough energy, this is a great hike.
When you're done, reward yourself with a great dinner and a cool drink in Estes park. There are several excellent restaurants right in downtown Estes Park. I really enjoyed having a Mexican dinner after this hike.
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