- Distances: 6 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 1,083 feet
- To get there: Take the fall river entrance station road to the T- junction. Turn left and park next to the road. The trail head is on the north side of the road.
My bare legs are being pelted relentlessly with rain that turns razor sharp in the strong winds carrying it. My skin is red and tingling from the cold and from the needle-like drops falling from the clouds. We are coming down Deer Mountain and are caught in the type of Rocky Mountain storm people talk about: sudden, cold, and fierce. We are hurrying toward the car, watching a cloud cloak the mountains and drop into Beaver Meadows below us. I am glad we headed down when we did.
From the top of the 10,000 foot peak we were afforded clear views of all of Estes Park, Beaver Meadows, and the string of mountains dividing the east and west sides of RMNP. Today, I am tired and I don’t attempt to name them all. After climbing the last 0.2 miles of the trail up steep stone steps, I am just enjoying them. I am not testing myself, for once. The ascent up Deer Mountain is my favorite kind of uphill trek: slow and steady. I’ve climbed some peaks thinking constantly that the makers of the trail were cruel, crazy people. Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone takes you straight uphill; so uphill that you might fall backwards if you don’t balance yourself before stopping for breath. Ypsilon in RMNP, like many of them as I understand it, draws you through trail-free boulder fields and rolling back hills to its summit
“Some switchbacks would be nice!” I am thinking in grumpy moments on these types of peaks.
I have a love/hate relationship with these types of hikes, but Deer Mountain gives me all the switchbacks I could ever ask for. This makes things consistent, easy enough, and I appreciate the forgiving trail on a day when I have to work an 8 hour shift after the hike. I am still out of breath when we reach the top of the mountain but the switchbacks make things easy and enjoyable, like riding a bike with training wheels.
This trail is one of the few trails I have been on here so far where we meet a steady flow of hikers going up and down. The top is slightly crowded with people marveling at the views, lying in the sun, eating lunch. The mountain is a good choice for June, as it is snow-free, but I would guess it’s notable views and fairly easy ascent that make it a destination for the masses. Sometimes when I’m hiking I secretly hope for a quiet trail, no human encounters along the way. But there is always a little bit of guilt that settles into me with this. National Parks are supposed to be accessible, used, loved, I always end up thinking. Not to say I don’t enjoy solitude on a mountain top or in front of a waterfall (I think most hikers do), but at the same time it’s good to see so many people out using the park. Even on the crowded top of Deer Mountain, though, we are able to find a quiet corner of the rocks to enjoy the mountain in faux-solitude.
Source for hiking details: Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen.