Deer Mountain Trail

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Today we’re sharing some photographs and info about our hike to the top of Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you want even more info when planning a visit, leave us a comment, check out this post about winter camping in the park, or pick up this hiking guide (it’s super detailed and our favorite).



Fortunately for us, Rocky Mountain National Park is a relatively short drive from our house. Easy access to the park is one of the primary reasons why we purchase our annual National Parks Pass.

On the east side of the park, the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park is always the busiest, but it also has a fast access lane if you have an annual pass (it’s on the right side and lets you zoom ahead of cars waiting to pay to enter).

Our favorite east side entrance is Fall River. The lines are shorter, and traffic within the park near this entrance is less congested.

Thinking about traffic within and outside of the park is starting to become a real issue, especially since the park receives over 4 million visitors in a given year!

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The whole park is their playground!

On this particular morning, before heading to the trailhead, we parked at the West Alluvial Fan Trailhead off of Old Fall River Road. The rocky alluvial fans are a great and relatively safe place to let kids play and get out some energy after the car ride. As you can see from the photos above, the area is relatively open and free of vegetation, so you can easily keep an eye on your kids.

While the boys and I lounged, Calder biked up Old Fall River Road. Later in the fall season, they close the road to cars but allow bikers to use it. C biked up the road for quite a while until he hit snow.

Timing Your Hike

For a while, we made it a point to arrive at trailheads relatively early (say by 8 or 9am). At that point parking lots were starting to fill up, and we always felt lucky if we got a spot.

BUT we also started to notice that as we would finish our hikes around mid-morning or early-afternoon, the lots were beginning to open up slightly as the other early hikers were leaving. I say “slightly” because RMNP is a popular place, so spaces don’t remain open for long, but at least there’s some movement.

On this particular day, we decided to take the morning easy and then we drove over to the trailhead around noon and easily snagged a spot.

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Deer Mountain Trail

This was definitely one of our longer day hikes as a family. It’s six miles roundtrip. But you can see from the photos, that we still kept the packing extremely light. Want to know more about how we prepare for a short hike with two kids in tow? Read this post and the accompanying comments.

Deer Mountain’s elevation is 10,013 ft, so it’s definitely not the highest peak in the park, but it provides a vigorous short hike. Total elevation gain during the hike is just over 1,000 ft. It’s a relatively steady climb up switchbacks for the majority of the hike. Then the trail levels out and even declines slightly before you take a sharp right towards a trail of rocky steps leading you to the summit. It’s grueling at the end, but the view at the top is all the reward you need.

If you’re heading out, these two sites provide more precise trail information (one & two).

This is definitely one of those trails that convinces you that the guidebooks all have the mileage wrong. One the way down, a number of different parties asked if they were almost at the top, and we had to let them down easy that they still had a LONG way to go. The switchbacks are deceiving like that.

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Deer Mountain w/ Kids

On this hike we brought both of our frame packs with the knowledge that we’d have to carry the kids on the way up. Fortunately for us, they both took the opportunity to nap.

After snacks and hot chocolate at the summit, Alex had the energy to hike/run/gallop the 3 miles back to the car. Luc stayed in the pack for most of the hike, and then we let him out to run about for the last 0.5 mile or so.

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Wildlife (PSA)

It’s always important to be careful and aware when hiking, especially during the changing seasons.

Many people go to RMNP during the fall to hear the elk bugle. We didn’t hear any calls on this particular day, but we were lucky enough to see some elk near the bottom of the trail on our way down.

We also saw a few chipmunks at the summit. They eagerly approached us hoping for a snack, but we were careful to keep all treats away. And we hope you’ll do the same. Feeding the wildlife, no matter how cute, is not good for them or for future visitors to the park.


Last week I encouraged you to get outside, especially with kids, to enjoy the best that fall has to offer. Granted, it’s getting a bit late in the season to enjoy the foliage, but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring. Watch the weather, dress appropriately, and enjoy the fresh air. You won’t regret it.

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2 thoughts on “Deer Mountain Trail

  1. Hi, Katie! Yet another great article I really enjoyed! This trail looks like it has something to offer to anyone on it, so I hope more people will be motivated to choose it as a place to spend some quality time with their family. I was wondering, will you consider fall to be the best time of the year for this hike?

    • Thanks, Nigel!

      Good question about time of year. I’ve only hiked the trail during the early fall, but that’s because it is one of our favorite times to hike in the park. From my experience in RMNP snow starts falling by mid-fall, and then hiking can be hit-or-miss if you aren’t prepared. The trails get so much traffic that a day or so after snow, it’s packed down and slick, so a good pair of crampons or snowshoes are essential. But then that same trail may be completely free of snow a week later due to warm weather and strong sun. Some sections of this trail are steep enough that I’m sure you’ll need those crampons if you hike it in winter (we’ve done some winter hiking in the park and have loved it, especially on a blue-sky day!). If hiking this one in the summer, just watch out for the afternoon thunderstorms.

      Happy hiking, and we’d love to hear about how you like the trail!

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