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.   

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

Looking for a family friendly summit hike in Rocky Mountain National Park? There is something very rewarding about reaching the summit of a mountain, but with young kids it’s hard to spend the time, energy and face the technical challenges of hiking up many of the prominent peaks.

Good news! You don’t have to hike all day to experience wonderful panoramic views and gain that awesome feeling of accomplishment. A three-mile hike up Deer Mountain offers both. The hike is located at Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of the Beaver Meadows entrance.

Hiking with a baby in the mountains

There isn’t a parking lot near Deer Mountain. Cars park right off the street making parking limited.

Parking near Deer Mountain is limited

Gear for hiking with young children and babies
I carried our 4 month old in an Ergobaby carrier and my husband carried our 2 1/2-year-old in a Deuter kid comfort carrier. With the added weight, we were happy to take extra breaks to enjoy the inspiring mountain vistas.

Great views on the way up Deer Mountain in RMNP

As we approached the summit, we hiked through melting snow which is pretty common in May –  especially this year.  I was thankful for my waterproof hiking boots, but we still got wet and muddy. Keeping a pair of flip-flops in the car to change into post hike would be helpful.

Deer Mountain Summit near Estes Park Colorado

Trekking poles were also helpful. You gain 1,093 ft of elevation.

Hiking Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in May

Standing at 10,013′ we made it to the summit. This was our youngest daughter’s first summit hike. Both girls were ready for a snack at this point, but we were worried about dark clouds looming in the distance and decided to start our descent. We probably should have started this hike earlier in the day because storms are more common in the afternoon. Deer Mountain, good spring summit hike for families in Rocky Mountains

On the way down, we had to be cautious in a few areas where slippery rocks were covered in slushy snow (especially with our precious cargo).

Hiking in snow

Luck was on our side, the weather cleared and we enjoyed the 3 mile return trip under blue skies.

Hiking Deer Mountain