It’s not every day that you hike a trail and find yourself nearly face-to-face with its namesake animal. But such was the case on Deer Mountain. (Better than coming face-to-face with a bear on Bear Peak, I suppose…) There were four of them, and they couldn’t have been more than 15 feet (4.5 m) away. I’m pretty sure that was my closest deer encounter ever. They weren’t super concerned – although they watched us closely as we walked past. Clearly they’re pretty used to people.
I hiked Deer Mountain on a beautiful Sunday in early December with Chelsea. While I enjoy climbing mountains, I tend to prefer hiking to lakes. Chelsea, on the other hand, tackles summits pretty frequently, so this was a good opportunity for me to stand on one of the summits that had been on my to-do list for quite some time.
Deer Mountain isn’t a tall summit. It’s also not a difficult one to reach, making it a pretty good option if you’re in Rocky and hoping for some great views without too much effort. Even in winter, it’s still doable with just microspikes.
The main route up Deer Mountain departs from Deer Ridge Junction, the intersection of US Highways 34 and 36. The parking area is a couple of large pullouts, which are often completely overflowing. Given how inundated the park had been recently, I figured we’d need an early start. As it turns out, we could’ve slept in an extra hour. There were only two cars when we arrived, and I don’t think it ever completely filled. On the plus side, we ended up passing both other parties and being the first ones to the summit!
After a gradual but steady climb, the trail curves around a high point and begins to descend slightly. This makes it seem like you’ve missed the summit, but you haven’t. The trail to the actual summit is ahead and is marked with a sign. From this junction, it’s just a short distance and a few stairs up to the rocky high point.
The weather at the summit was very unseasonable on this particular day; sunshine and just a light wind. We scoped out a spot with some shelter from the cool breeze and spent quite a while relaxing and refueling while enjoying the scenery. Trees block the view to the north, but views in the other three directions are fairly unobstructed. The highlight is Longs Peak – which tends to be the highlight of most views in Rocky. It’s just such an enormous mountain. We could also see the burn scar from the East Troublesome Fire, which burned through the park in October 2020.
And I guess I don’t really have much else to say about this one. It was pretty straightforward, and a nice not-too-challenging summit. So many people get so intense about all the Colorado 14ers that it’s sometimes easy to forget there are thousands of lower peaks that are worthwhile destinations as well. I’d say Deer Mountain is definitely one of them!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: trailhead parking is located at Deer Ridge Junction (US Highways 34 and 36) on the east side of Rocky
- Fees and passes: there is a $25/car daily or $35/car weekly entrance fee to RMNP; Interagency Passes are accepted. From May-Oct, if you arrive after 9:00am you will also need a timed entry permit to access this trailhead
- Hiking: roundtrip distance is 7.4 miles (11.9 km) with about 2400 feet (730 m) of elevation gain
- Where to stay: there are 5 campgrounds in the park (3 near this trail, all of which require reservations in the summer) 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 are no backcountry sites on this trail
- Other: if you encounter deer as we did, be sure to give them plenty of space and never walk between a mama and her babies; deer attacks are uncommon but they do occur