Trailhead (8,954 Feet)
December 29th, 2007
6.0 Miles Roundtrip
Greenhouseguy and KeithK
Deer Mountain is in Rocky Mountain National Park about three miles west of Estes Park. To get there from Estes Park, head west on Hwy. 36 to the Beaver Meadows Entrance. The Deer Mountain Trailhead is at Deer Junction about four miles west of the entrance. Since it is in the park, there is an entrance fee of $20 per carload per day or $35 for a season pass to RMNP. A season pass to all of the National Parks is $80.
Keith and I stopped in Estes Park for snacks and drinks, and proceeded to the park entrance to pay the admission fee. Five minutes later, we were at the trailhead. There were plenty of parking places along the road.
The Deer Mountain Trailhead
Although we started fairly late (9:00), we were the only people on the trail. The snow cover on the lower part of the trail was sparse, so we started out with our snowshoes stowed on our backpacks. We didn’t make it far before we had to shoe up. The trail was covered and there were no tracks visible, so we had to guess where the trail was. After hiking for a short distance, we passed a sign that indicated that we were headed in the right direction.
The trail started in a grove of widely-spaced pine trees. There were a few drifts, but much of the snow had blown off of this windy area.
The lower part of the Deer Mountain Trail
Farther down the Deer Mountain Trail
The pine grove opened up into a small meadow, where a herd of elk was grazing on the exposed grass and shrubs. We gave them a wide berth to avoid distracting them.
Another view of the elk
The plump elk were slightly annoyed by our presence. The trail was not readily visible through this section, so I used my GPS to estimate where it should be. After about a mile, I still hadn’t found the real trail. When we arrived at the point where the trail switchbacks up the side of the mountain, I just bushwhacked straight up the side; I knew that I would have to cross the trail at one of the switchbacks. When I found the trail, it became apparent that we had been traveling parallel to it about 100 feet to the south. Once we found the trail, we never lost it again.
Keith heading for the first switchback
The first switchback looped around a grove of Aspens. The views are supposed to be incredible from this part of the trail; Longs Peak is about 8.5 miles to the southwest, and the Continental Divide is just a few miles to the west. Unfortunately, our visibility was severely limited due to the light snow that was falling.
The view from the first switchback
The first switchback took us into the trees. It took a little effort to follow the trail where the snow was deep, but there were plenty of clues.
Following the trail into the forest
Once we entered the forest, the trail was easier to follow. Although there were no prints in the fresh snow, the packed trench was pretty obvious. The trail became much more enjoyable after I was relieved of the navigational burden.
The packed trail through the forest
The trees on the lower part of the trail were mostly Ponderosa Pine and Aspen, but the trees on the upper part of the trail were primarily Douglasfir and Lodgepole Pine. I saw some squirrels gathering pine seeds, and there were plenty of rabbit tracks in the snow. When we came out on the east side of the broad saddle, we saw the first (and only) hiker of the day. Amanda was a solo hiker, trying out some new snowshoes that she got for Christmas. We chatted for a minute, and then she went ahead of us on the trail. After a few minutes, we reached the last section of the trail.
The trail to Deer Mountain’s summit
The sign for the trail to the summit was at the 2.75-mile mark. We turned sharply to the right, and headed for the top. The slope of the trail, which had been gradual for the entire hike, suddenly became much steeper. This short and relatively steep section of the trail was a quarter of a mile long. A pile of stones marked Deer Mountain’s summit.
Deer Mountain’s summit
The rocky summit was sparsely covered with gnarled and twisted Limber Pines and Douglasfir trees.
A gnarled specimen of Douglasfir, stunted by high winds
KeithK (in orange) and Greenhouseguy (in black) on the summit of Deer Mountain
The summit view was pretty disappointing. The wind was nearly still and very little snow was falling, but visibility was still quite poor. The weather report had called for pretty cold temperatures and high winds, but we were fortunate. It was about 15° on the summit, and the gusts came nowhere near the predicted 40 m.p.h. Temperatures hovered near 20° for most of the hike.
The view from the summit
The views were less than spectacular, it was chilly, and I had tickets to the Mammoth lacrosse game, so I didn’t want to linger on the summit. We took a short break to rest and hydrate, then we headed back down. The trail was packed and easy to follow.
Following the trench back to the trailhead
When we got closer to the trailhead, there were several social trails made by hikers and snowshoers who apparently did not venture very far. One last sign pointed us in the right direction.
The last sign of the Deer Mountain Trail
Rocky Mountain National Park has a reputation as a snowshoer’s paradise, and the Deer Mountain Trail lives up to that reputation. The scenery was excellent, the views are ordinarily spectacular, and the wildlife viewing was a nice bonus. The Class 1 trail is easy enough for novices, but enjoyable enough for more experienced hikers. Snowshoers who are looking for some winter fun in the Front Range should keep this trail in mind.