Hiking Deer Mountain isn’t the most popular activity in Rocky Mountain National Park – but it is one of my personal favorite trails.
This trail promises a breathtaking journey through the heart of nature, offering a feast for your senses with its spectacular mountain views and panoramic vistas. The 6-mile round trip hike is a perfect choice for hikers of all levels, especially those who are looking to acclimatize themselves to the altitude of the park, as it features a moderate difficulty level and approximately 1,200 feet of elevation gain.
Conveniently located near the park entrance, the trailhead is easy to reach and the well-marked path ensures you won’t get lost on your way to the summit. As you make your ascent, the path treats you to stunning views of the surrounding peaks, culminating in a truly unforgettable panorama from the top. From here, you’ll be able to marvel at the majestic sight of the Continental Divide, Longs Peak, the Mummy Range, and the charming town of Estes Park. Whether you’re new to the area or a seasoned hiker, hiking Deer Mountain offers a rewarding adventure in the pristine beauty of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Deer Mountain Hike | Fast Facts
Hiking Deer Mountain: The Guide
From the Beaver Meadows Entrance Center:
Continue driving along US-36 W for approximately 4.3 miles. Look for pull-off parking spots on your right as you approach the trailhead, which is also on your right.
There is limited parking at this trailhead. I recommend arriving early or trying to take the shuttle during the summer season.
The well-marked 3-mile trail begins in a stand of mature ponderosa pine, heading eastward before reaching a fork at roughly one-tenth of a mile. Proceed straight at this junction, leaving the trail to Little Horseshoe Park and Aspenglen Campground to your left.
The first mile meanders through open valley, offering spectacular views of Little Horseshoe Park, the Mummy Range, Moraine Park, Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, and the mountains along the Continental Divide. Keep an eye out for wildlife, such as deer, elk, chipmunks, and marmots, as you traverse the picturesque landscape.
After the first mile, the trail enters a steep forested area, featuring eight switchbacks to ease the climb. This section can be more strenuous and monotonous but provides a rewarding ascent to the summit. Upon reaching the third mile, enjoy a slight downhill slope through a serene aspen forest before tackling the final two-tenths of a mile, comprised of steep stone steps that lead you to your total elevation gain of around 1,000 feet.
As you approach the summit, the trail flattens out briefly and even loses about a hundred feet before reaching the summit trail junction. Turn right at the 2.9-mile mark to continue your ascent, where you’ll gain an additional 150 feet over the last two-tenths of a mile.
Once atop Deer Mountain, you’ll be greeted with almost 360-degree views, offering a breathtaking panorama of Estes Park, Moraine Park, Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, the Mummy Range, and the mountains along the Continental Divide. With its varying terrain and stunning vistas, the Deer Mountain trail is a rewarding hike suitable for the entire family.
Make sure you descend before afternoon thunderstorms become an issue – they are common during the summer months.
This map shows the Deer Mountain hike in red. Never depend 100% on a digital map (phones break and run out of battery). I highly recommend printing out a paper map and using your digital copy as a backup.
Below is the National Weather Service forecast for the Deer Mountain Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Scroll through the entire page to see current conditions and a detailed extended forecast for the next seven days. It is important to check conditions several times leading up to the day of your hike. Make note of the high and low temperatures, precipitation, wind, and any risk of storms.
Note: In summer, thunderstorms are common during the afternoon. Start early, before 9 am, to ensure you are finished by 1 pm when lightning becomes more likely.
Looking for hiking gear to help you tackle Deer Mountain? We have you covered; here are some of our favorite hiking boots, backpacks, navigation devices, and other gear for those visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.
Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots
Power through ascents and stay comfortable on your way back down in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support.
Backpack: Osprey Talon 22
Osprey is known for the quality of its bags and backpacks and the Talon 22 is no exception. The Talon 22 is my standard choice for day hikes, with enough space for the ten essentials and some extra food and water, along with helpful accessories like a place to stash your trek poles and climbing helmet for class 3 and 4 routes. I highly recommend it for day hikes and 14ers too.
Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain.
Always Pack the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.
1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything.
3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life.
4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills or life straw.
5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.
7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.
8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit with matches and a tinder for starting a fire.
9. First Aid Kit
For day hikes you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness.
10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will be very happy you brought it with you. Nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.
Satellite Messenger/SOS Device: Garmin InReach Mini
When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Many areas in the National Park do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives.
I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, which also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features.
Camping near Deer Mountain is somewhat difficult to secure, especially during the busy summer season. Campgrounds within the National Park require reservations and fill far in advance, and there are limited dispersed camping opportunities. Here are some options to check out near the Deer Mountain Hike.
Camping near Deer Mountain:
- Moraine Park Campground
- Glacier Basin Campground
- Aspenglen Campground
- Timber Creek Campground
- Longs Peak Campground
- Meeker Park Campground
There are also some dispersed camping opportunities, more so on the west side of the park outside of Grand Lake. The east side is busier and there are less dispersed camping areas around.
Lodging near Deer Mountain:
Not a fan of camping? Here are some great motels and hotels in Estes Park and Grand Lake for those visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.
- KInnikinnik Motor Lodge – Estes Park
- Hotel Estes – Estes Park
- 4 Seasons Inn on Fall River – Estes Park
- Alpine Trail Ridge Inn – Estes Park
- Gateway Inn – Grand Lake
- Grand Lake Lodge – Grand Lake
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Estes Park and Grand Lake just outside the park. They’re a perfect solution for staying the night before or after hiking Deer Mountain.
Note: As a Booking.com affiliate I receive a small commission if you book a room using the links above – but your price remains the same. Thanks for supporting The Next Summit.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a spectacular destination, boasting awe-inspiring landscapes, a diverse array of wildlife, and countless opportunities for outdoor adventure. To ensure that we preserve this natural wonder for future generations, it’s essential to practice Leave No Trace principles during our visits. In this blog post, we’ll share some key tips to help you minimize your impact while enjoying all that the park has to offer.
Plan Ahead and Prepare: Research the park’s rules and regulations, trail conditions, and weather forecasts before embarking on your adventure. Ensure you have the right equipment, clothing, and food to minimize waste and reduce your reliance on park facilities.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stay on designated trails and avoid creating new paths, as this can damage fragile ecosystems. When camping, use established sites or camp at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams, and trails to protect water quality and minimize disturbance to wildlife.
Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter to prevent pollution and the spread of disease. Use designated bathroom facilities or, when not available, dig a “cathole” at least 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources. Cover and disguise the hole when finished.
Leave What You Find: Respect the park’s natural and cultural heritage by leaving rocks, plants, and other natural features undisturbed. Do not build structures, dig trenches, or remove any historical artifacts.
Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camp stove for cooking instead of making a fire, as this helps prevent damage to the environment and reduces the risk of wildfires. If you must build a fire, do so in established fire rings or use a fire pan to contain it.
Respect Wildlife: Observe animals from a distance and never feed them, as this can harm their health and alter their natural behaviors. Store food and trash securely to prevent wildlife from accessing it, and give animals plenty of space to avoid disturbing their natural activities.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect the experience of fellow park-goers by keeping noise levels low, yielding to other hikers on trails, and following posted rules and guidelines.
Hiking in the mountains can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Here are seven safety tips for mountain hiking:
Plan and prepare: Research the trail, its difficulty, and weather conditions before you start. Obtain a detailed map, and familiarize yourself with the route. Make a realistic plan for your hike, considering your fitness level and daylight hours. Let someone know your plans and estimated return time.
Dress appropriately: Wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the terrain and weather conditions. Dress in layers, as temperatures can change rapidly in the mountains. Choose moisture-wicking fabrics, sturdy and comfortable hiking boots, and don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Carry essential gear: Always bring the “Ten Essentials” for outdoor activities, which include a map, compass, extra clothing, rain gear, a flashlight or headlamp, first-aid kit, firestarter, knife or multitool, extra food, and water. A fully charged phone and a portable charger are also helpful.
Stay on designated trails: Follow marked trails and avoid shortcuts, which can lead to erosion and harm the environment. Staying on the path reduces your risk of getting lost or encountering dangerous terrain.
Know your limits: Be aware of your physical limitations and do not push yourself too hard. Take breaks, stay hydrated, and maintain a comfortable pace. Turn back if you’re not feeling well or if the weather conditions worsen.
Be aware of wildlife: Understand the types of wildlife that inhabit the area you are hiking in and learn how to react in case of an encounter. Keep a safe distance from animals, store food properly to avoid attracting them, and never feed them. If you encounter a potentially dangerous animal, follow established guidelines for how to respond.
- Take time to acclimatize to the altitude: If you are visiting from lower elevations (below 7,500 feet), it is a good idea to take your first day or two in the park easy. Your body will gradually adjust to the altitude over time and reduce your risk of developing altitude sickness. If you are prone to this issue, talk to your doctor before your trip about medication options.
Deer Mountain, located in Rocky Mountain National Park, is a prominent peak that offers visitors breathtaking views and a relatively moderate hiking experience. The mountain reaches an elevation of 10,013 feet (3,052 meters) and is situated in the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. Here are some interesting facts and information about Deer Mountain’s history, geology, and more:
Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, and Deer Mountain has been a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts since the early days of the park. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program active during the Great Depression, constructed the Deer Mountain Trail in the 1930s. This trail remains one of the primary routes to the summit and serves as a testament to the enduring efforts of the CCC.
Deer Mountain is composed primarily of Precambrian granitic rocks, which are around 1.4 billion years old. These rocks were formed as molten material cooled and crystallized deep within the Earth’s crust, and were later exposed by uplift and erosion. The mountain is part of the Front Range, which was formed during the Laramide Orogeny, a mountain-building event that occurred between 70 and 40 million years ago. This event resulted in the uplift of the modern Rocky Mountains and the formation of the characteristic peaks and valleys we see today.
Flora and Fauna:
Deer Mountain is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. As you ascend the mountain, you’ll pass through montane forests dominated by ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir, eventually transitioning to subalpine forests of spruce, fir, and lodgepole pine. Wildlife in the area includes elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and a variety of bird species, such as Steller’s jays and Clark’s nutcrackers. Remember to observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them to protect their well-being and preserve their natural behaviors.
Hiking and Recreation:
The Deer Mountain Trail is a popular route to the summit, spanning approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) one way and gaining around 1,080 feet (329 meters) in elevation. This moderately strenuous hike provides panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and the Continental Divide. The trailhead is located near the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, making it easily accessible for park visitors. Hiking the trail typically takes between 3 to 5 hours round trip, depending on your pace and the time spent at the summit.
Check out these photos we took during a hike up Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Here are some additional resources about the Deer Mountain Hike: