Hiking Deer Mountain with Toddlers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Games include ‘tortoise and the hare’ where we take turns who is in the lead and who is going slow paying attention to details (or getting distracted by wildflowers). We also play ‘bear’ where one parent goes ahead with a child and hides behind a tree or rock to jump out and surprise the other parent and sibling.
I can feel the frustration coming out in my writing when I look back at the last time we made it to Fern Falls with a Fussy Baby.
This time around, I hope I can express my delight with this waterfall hike. We ventured out on May 25th, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Although the Rocky Mountain National Park filled up with visitors over the holiday, we lucked out with great parking* close to the Fern Falls trailhead.
A highlight of this lower elevation* hike is the nearly constant view of the Big Thompson River. Most of the hike is very child friendly as long as you watch out for little ones wandering too close to the river, or getting too adventurous on the amazing rock formations.
We started the hike with the hopes of making it to Arch Rocks (1.2 miles) or The Pool (1.7 miles) if we were lucky, but the girls were doing so awesome we decided to hike to Fern Falls which is 2.6 miles each way. That’s a little far for our kids to hike on their own, so we carried them a lot of the way in a deuter kids carrier and an ergo baby carrier.
The distance from The Pool to Fern Falls is a little under a mile, but you gain 400 feet of elevation quickly. I was out of breath but had to remind myself that I was carrying a 16-month-old toddler.
The hike up was totally worth it. Everyone was in a great mood and the waterfall was impressive.
Fern Falls lives up to its name, the surrounding area is lush and damp. We didn’t stop long because mosquitoes were swarming the area.
*Fern Lake trailhead has a small non-paved parking area. The road leading to the trailhead becomes narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trailhead.
*Fern Falls trailhead begins at 8,150 ft of elevation so when I say ‘lower elevation’ I mean low compared to many places in RMNP, but high for those of us from non-mountain regions. Remember to take it easy and drink lots of water!