When we planned out trip to Estes Park, Colorado, hiking to the summit of a mountain was on the list of adventures. After searching for the perfect hike to attempt with both kids (11 yrs and 2 yrs) in tow. We landed on Deer Mountain. It was indeed the perfect mountain for our kid friendly mountain hiking adventure.
Distance: 3 miles up and down (6 miles total)
Time to go: Best time to go would be May to September. Our trek took place at the end of September.
Dog Friendly: No, dogs are not allowed on any trails. Dogs are allowed in Campgrounds and roads only.
Fees: Vehicle Pass ($30-$35 depending on duration) or the America the Beautiful Pass. Fee info can be found on the Rocky Mountain National Parks page.
Fall River Visitor’s Center
Upon entering the park from the Estes Park side, check out the Fall River Visitor’s Center. There are displays throughout the building, a gift shop, and much information about the park. A great first stop, especially to grab a map and Junior Ranger guide. Our kids filled out their booklets and earned a Junior Ranger badge to take home.
We had meant to get an early jump on this trail, but early starts aren’t always in the cards when traveling with kids. Plus ,we wanted to grab breakfast at Brunch & Company in the Stanley Hotel. It was delicious!
Try to get to this trailhead early, parking was a nightmare and resulted in turning around a few times in our rental car and a very tight parallel parking job on the side of the road. Thankfully, Scott is a parallel parking master. Glad I wasn’t driving!
The trailhead is located where Fall River Road (Hwy 34) and Park Entrance Road (Hwy 36) meet. If entering from the Estes Park side, you’ll run right into it at the intersection.
Trailhead Loop or Out & Back
There are options here for this hike. Deer Mountain can be hiked as a loop with a spur or as an out and back. Given that we wanted to see more of the park that day and were carrying a toddler in a pack, we did just an out and back hike. This cut our distance and allowed more time to see other parts of the park. If you choose to the do the loop, your total distance will be 10.5 miles. There are other turnoffs on the loop, so be sure to follow signage.
Slight Incline Start
The trail starts with a deceiving slight incline, giving hikers the illusion of an easy hike. The beginning of the trail features a pleasant grassy approach with trees disbursed within it. Watch for signs of animal, we spotted a few spots of scat and some holes from critters along the trail.
Switchbacks for days, folks. Switchbacks for days. The switchbacks are also steep, the switchbacks needed switchbacks. I think they seemed worse to me because I had a toddler on my back. Sandy (10) and Scott had no problems with the switchbacks. They were very patient while waiting for me to tote Killian up the mountain.
Take your time on the switchbacks and watch your footing. Most of the trail is packed well, but there are some spots that have jagged rocks protruding out of the trail and some root systems as well. The more difficult terrain is mostly at the turning points. Be courteous of other hikers going the opposite direction. In general, other hikers were very pleasant and gave encouraging words for this mom carrying a wee tot. Such a great community!
One bonus for Scott and Sandy’s patience while waiting for me and Killian, was the viewing points. At some of the switchback turnarounds, there are short spur overlooks. Take a moment to catch your breath, just have it taken away again with the stunning views.
Near the end of the trail, hikers will come to a stone staircase. This is it folks, the final ascent! The steps are steep and are slightly covered in sand. Watch your step and climb.
Summit & Plaque – 10,013
Upon reaching the top, the view is absolutely breathtaking. Miles and miles of overview of the park and Estes Park. Continue on past the neat view of Estes Park to find the Summit Marker at the peak of Deer Mountain. It will be a bronze colored circle embedded in the rock. It was so cool to have the kids find and be able to touch the marker. A great feeling of accomplishment that they (mostly Sandy) climbed a mountain.
Say “hello” to the chunky chipmunks at the summit and try not to feed them. Sandy accidentally dropped a bit of trail mix, it was snatched up before she could grab it. It was no mystery as to how these mountain dwelling chipmunks became “chunky munkies”, snacking clumsy hiker snacks.
Safety Tip: Keep children close, the drop is substantial. We kept Killian within a couple feet of us at all times and in hand when anywhere near the edge.
Ascending the mountain incites a great deal of awe, but comes with great toil in the effort of climbing. The descent grants allowance for truly appreciating the beauty of the mountain trail and the nature surrounding it.
Step aside in narrow areas to allow hikers keep their momentum up on their climb. This curtesy is much appreciated by moms & dads carrying junior explorers on their backs.
Bonus: Killian (2) fell asleep on the way down, so it was a much quieter situation. That helps with the serenity of the trail.