A Winter Hike up Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike up Deer Mountain is 6.2 miles round-trip and gains just over 1,200 feet of elevation.

Deer Mountain is a special place for our family—it’s the first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park that we brought our daughter Cecy along with us on back in May of 2015 when she was just six months old.  It’s since been known in our family as “Cecy’s Mountain,” reinforced by the fact that you can catch great views of it from one of our favorite places for breakfast/hot chocolate, the Trailhead Restaurant.

Deer Mountain trailhead
Deer Mountain trailhead with our daughter Cecy in 2015

Along with having great views and being one of the more moderate summit hikes in the park, Deer Mountain is also one of the best year-round options due to it’s proximity to the park entrance (less icy roads to contend with) and the fact that the snow tends to blow off/melt out earlier here than in some of the other popular trailhead areas, such as Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge. It’s roughly 6.2 miles round-trip and gains just over 1,200 feet of elevation.

On our most recent trip to Estes Park in late December of 2019, both of our girls came down with a bit of a cold, so we were hesitant to spend quite as much time outside in the chilly air as we typically would with them. We instead focused on taking in the scenery, looking for wildlife, and undertaking an adventure in finding the best chili in Estes Park. But it’s just about impossible for me to be in the mountains and not get out for at least one hike, so after a few days, Kelly was gracious enough to let me slip away for a few hours to try to tackle a familiar hike, but with a new twist—Deer Mountain in Winter/Snow conditions.

Deer Mountain trailhead in snow

The park had a small base amount snow on the ground when we had arrived earlier in the week and had just received and extra 4-8 inches of snow two days before my attempt, so I didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes the popularity of Rocky Mountain National Park can be overwhelming, but in this instance, I was thankful that more die-hard hikers had already been out the day prior to help pack down the trail.  I arrived at the trailhead around 9:00am to beautiful sunshine and remarkably calm winds, which made the 14 degree temperature seem tolerable.

It’s been my experience in prior years that for many hikes, traction devices such as yak tracks and a set of trekking poles are more efficient than dealing with snow shoes (unless you are going higher in elevation or deeper in the wooded areas to low-traffic trails), and I was glad to find that the conditions again matched the gear I had brought with me for my hike. I downloaded the GPS map of the area with the AllTrails app as a back-up to make sure I kept on the right path. This came in handy even in the first quarter mile of trail, as the trailhead area had seen a fair amount of aimless footprint tracks from people just pulling off for a quick walk to explore the area, making it a little tricky to discern the main path.

Hiking in the snow in Rocky Mountain National Park

That quickly changed, however, as even though I was the first person at the trailhead that morning, an easy to follow, packed trail emerged for the remainder of my adventure.

Trail up to Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in the snow.

One of the memories that always sticks in my mind about Deer Mountain is the long stretch of flat ground, and even a small descent, in the final mile of the hike before the summit push. The snow was quite a bit deeper in this area, and if I accidentally wandered off the trail just a bit, it was easy to post-hole into the soft powder that was just off the main path. Here I spotted tracks from several animals that had also been out playing in the snow.

The final stretch to the summit was substantially steeper, and the trekking poles became a bit more of a necessity for balance in the snow, but it felt quite safe and made for a fun push to the top. 

Hike to summit in Rocky Mountain National Park in snow.

The summit views were beautiful as always. I try to bring an apple or some sort of snack to eat at the destination of any hike, so I slow down for a minute and just soak it all in rather than simply turning around to complete the return journey. Even though the temperature was well below freezing, the hike up the mountain left me quite warm…but that heat quickly dissipated as I had my snack and wandered around to take some pictures from the top.

Views from summit of Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter.

So without too much time wasted, I bundled back up and started down the trail again. Though I had been alone for the entire hike up and perhaps the first mile and half on the way back down, I did encounter several pairs of hikers on my return journey.  Most asked about the trail conditions and were as delighted as I was to learn that the path was well-packed and easy to track all the way to the summit.

Winter views from Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I got back to my car at around 11:30 am, satisfied with having completed my first “winter summit” and ready to pick up some chili on the way home. We recommend Deer Mountain as an early summer hike, or really an “anytime” hike in the peak season, but now can feel confident suggesting to friends who want to take on a “safer” winter challenge as well.   

9 Hikes with Amazing Views Near Estes Park, Colorado


Through all the things my eyes have seen
The best by far is you

-Andrew McMahon

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 2nd birthday, so I’m feeling extra sentimental about everything… even this post about hikes with amazing views. I asked my husband which hikes near Estes Park, Colorado he thinks of when I say, ‘wide open views’ and he responded, ‘with kids, or without?’ I attempted to break them into two categories, but as you can see there are several hikes that overlap.

Kid-Friendly Hikes with A+ Views

Lily Lake Ridge

View from Lily Lake Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park
Evelyn got her middle name from this lake

Lily Lake is approximately six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. (Lily Ridge shouldn’t be confused with Lily Mountain which can be accessed a quarter mile closer to town.) We hiked up Lily Ridge in late November when Lily Lake was covered in ice. The ridge provided views of the surrounding snow covered mountains including Longs Peak. The hike around the lake is .8 miles. The ridge adds another .4 miles and 100 feet of elevation.

More Articles about Lily Lake

Lily Lake Loop on a Snowy Spring Morning

Relaxing Stroll on Lily Lake

Ute Trail

Hiking on the Ute Trail off of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Ute Trail is located right off of Trail Ridge Road, a scenic highway that connects Estes Park to Grand Lake. This hike through the alpine tundra begins at 11,430 ft. of elevation. It is basically flat, so our girls hiked it mostly on their own. I wrote about our adventure here, The Most Underrated Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park – Following the Historic Ute Trail

Gem Lake

Hiking up to Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
We found out we were pregnant with Evy right after a hike to Gem Lake. I felt extra tired!

The hike to Gem Lake starts at the Lumpy Ridge trailhead and goes through unique rock formations like Paul Bunyan’s boot. This is a moderately strenuous hike because of the steep steps that lead up to the lake. Gem Lake is small and shallow. It is framed by a rocky, sand beach on one side and sheer rock formations on the other side. The views you see along the way are expansive. The hike is 1.8 miles each way. You can read more here, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake.

Deer Mountain

Deer Mountain, good spring summit hike for families in Rocky Mountains
Deer Mountain was Evy’s first summit hike

There is something very rewarding about making it to the summit of a mountain. The trailhead for this summit hike is located off of Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Beaver Meadows entrance. The summit is at 10,013 ft. of elevation. The hike is 3 miles each way.

More Articles About Deer Mountain

Deer Mountain – A Family Friendly Summit Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain – A Great Hiking and Horseback Riding Destination in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wild Basin from Finch Lake Trailhead

Finch Lake trailhead to calypso cascades to wild basin trailhead

Warning – I think Eric considered this hike harder than his 17 mile trek over the Continental Divide because he was carrying a preschooler on his back. A lot of this hike was uphill, so it was a good challenge for us. The Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is located 19 miles south of Estes Park. Most hikes we enjoy in this area begin at the Wild Basin trailhead. We wanted to try something new, so we began at the Finch Lake trailhead and we were rewarded with panoramic views. Instead of going up further to Finch Lake we headed downhill towards the Wild Basin trailhead and got to stop at some of our favorite waterfalls along the way. I wrote all about it here, Sweeping Mountain Views and Waterfalls – Our New Favorite Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin.

Advanced Level Hiking with Inspiring Views

Lily Mountain

Lily Mountain at sunrise
Eric took this picture on Lily Mountain at sunrise. I have it framed in Evy’s room.

Lily Mountain is a fun, quick summit hike with excellent 360 degree views from the top. Dogs are allowed on the trail because it is part of the Roosevelt National Forest. The trail begins relatively flat. You cross through a landside area at approximately .3 miles. After you cross, the trail climbs up steadily with a few good lookouts of the Estes Valley. The last couple hundred feet are a class 2 scramble to the summit. When Cecy was a baby we took her on this hike, but Eric generously offered to stay back with her while I hiked up the last portion. The hike is 1.8 miles each way.

Estes Cone

summit of estes cone in rocky mountain national park

We hiked to Estes Cone from the Longs Peak trailhead. It can be difficult to find parking spots during the summer, but in early October we had no issues. This was another hike that we brought our daughter on in her baby carrier, but Eric let me hike the last .7 miles on my own because we felt the trail was becoming too steep. The summit is rewarding with amazing views of Longs Peak and surrounding mountains. The hike is 3.3 miles each way. Read more about it here, Hike to Estes Cone.

Twin Sisters Peaks

View from Twin Sisters Peaks
Twin Sisters, my first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Look at those views!

Climbing up Twin Sisters Peaks was my very first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. My husband took me on an adventurous long-weekend trip a few months after we got married. Three years later we hiked the same trail with our baby. It’s amazing how a few years can change things! Part of the trail was wiped out from a large landslide and we learned carrying a baby up to 11,413 feet of elevation was much harder than we expected. I wouldn’t recommend bringing little ones on this hike. For us, it’s a special hike that we get to do when we have kind family members willing to babysit. This hike is 7 miles round trip. I give more details here, Twin Sisters Peaks.

Hallett

Summit of Hallet on a clear day
Summit of Hallet on a clear day. It’s on my 19 in 2019 list.

Standing at Bear Lake, I point up to Hallett Peak and I tell my girls, ‘Your mommy has climbed that.’ This year I’m going to climb it again, it’s on my list!

Evelyn Lily, we love you so much! Happy birthday to our sweet, tough, funny and smart little girl! I wish you a life time of reaching high and enjoying all of the amazing views.

Estes Park, Colorado is a family friendly vacation destination
We love Evy!

Deer Mountain – A Great Hiking and Horseback Riding Destination in Rocky Mountain National Park

family hike up deer mountain

We just got back from another wonderful family vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first day we decided to hike up Deer Mountain which is one of our favorite hikes because of the amazing views.  Unfortunately, this time the views were pretty hazy from forest fires in nearby Grand Lake, Colorado.

Hazy Skies from Forest Fires in Grand Lake CO

The mountain hike was still beautiful with wildflowers in full bloom. I’m trying to learn more about the different species we see on the trails. Here is a link to some of the most common flowers in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Wildflowers in Bloom in Rocky Mountain National Park

According to Rockymountaintrails.com, this hike starts at 8,940 ft in elevation at the Deer Ridge Junction. It’s 6.2 miles round trip and gains 1,210 ft of elevation.

For us, that’s a pretty tough hike with the kids in their carriers. Our girls are 3 and 1 years old, so longer hikes are a great way to help them grow in patience. I’m really proud of them! It is fun for me to look back on times we’ve hiked this before. Check out past posts:

Deer Mountain – A Family Friendly Summit Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cecy’s First Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Horseback Riding Deer Mountain

Later in the week I got a fresh perspective of Deer Mountain by taking a 2 hour horseback riding tour with National Park Gateway Stables.

Horseback Riding Rocky Mountain National Park

The ride ‘follows the Fall River to the base of Deer Mountain and Aspen Glen area into Lil Horseshoe Park and Hidden Meadows.’ You can learn more about the tours on their website. They even have pony rides for ages 2-7.

Horses Rocky Mountains

Tips for hiking with kids in rocky mountain national park:

There isn’t a parking lot, ranger station, or toilet available near Deer Ridge Junction, so plan ahead if you can. On trips we keep a potty like this one in our car for our 3-year-old.

We pack snacks, drinks, sing songs and play games to keep the girls entertained during longer hikes.

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Thank you for following along on our adventures!

Rocky Mountain National Park Art

We’ve been admiring the work of Erik Stensland’s for years. He is a talented  photographer who captures the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve strolled through his galleries in Estes Park and Grand Lake countless times trying to decide on our favorite piece. We’ve endlessly flipped through his award-winning book, Wild Light which was given to us as a gift. And now we have finally decided on a print for our home!

With hundreds of breathtaking images to choose from it was hard to narrow down. We ultimately chose ‘The Oasis‘ and had it printed on the Plaque on Plaque format so it stands out on our wall. Taken in a peaceful setting in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park, this picture inspires calm serenity. I can sit and look at it, imaging that I am sitting by the mountain lake in a moment of peaceful solitude.

You can see this image and hundreds of other amazing shots online at imagesorrmnp.com or at Stensland’s galleries when you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. They are located at: 203 Park Lane in Estes Park, CO and in Studio 8369 at 1117 Grand Avenue in Grand Lake, CO.

Pro Tip – If you are planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this Spring and want to take your own great photographs, Erik gives great advice on his website. He suggests taking pictures 15 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset to get the best lighting. You can basically put your camera down for the rest of the day and just take in the beauty around you.

One of our favorite early season hikes is Deer Mountain which I wrote about here and you can’t go wrong with a short stroll around Lily Lake or Sprague Lake.

The Oasis, Backcountry in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photography by ImagesofRMNP