Deer Mountain Trail
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: Review website as they are in flux
Distance: 6 miles
It was a cold New Year’s day, but I really wanted to start the new year by getting outside. I checked the forecast all week, and even on New Year’s Day, it was expected to be warmer in Estes Park than in Denver. This is unusual, but was also encouraging as I loaded up my car with my backpack, micro-spikes, and multiple layers of clothing!
The drive to Rocky Mountain National Park was a bit slow with construction and a long line at the entrance as only one ranger was working the gate and the automated park pass lane closed. Thankfully, he moved cars along rather quickly. Soon I reached the trailhead located on the Northeast side of park to which I don’t visit often.
The intermittent snow-packed and dirt path climbs for the first two miles, so despite the windy conditions which didn’t make it into the forecast, I only donned five layers…short sleeves, long sleeves, ski sweater, fleece vest, and windbreaker. I left my puffy jacket in my pack.
As I climbed the trail, I turned to the west to enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding granite peaks and mountain valleys. It didn’t take long to make another stop to shed two outer layers of clothing and strap on my micro-spikes as the path turned mostly snowy.
Soon, I was following switchbacks through the spruce and fir forests as the trail steepened. After about two and a quarter miles, the trail levels off in the shadow of the trees. It was time to add on the two layers I shed plus my puffy! This portion of the hike was very quiet and peaceful.
Finally, I reached a trail junction which indicated I had 0.2 miles to reach the summit. I was rewarded with lovely views of the valleys below and surrounding mountains. Strong winds encouraged me to head back down the mountain as I cooled off quickly.
Generally, I hike in the morning, but today I waited until the afternoon, and I found the landscape under the falling light to be beautiful. As I drove out of the park, I was blessed to see the setting sun and a large herd of elk. As it turned dark, the full moon rose from the horizon through the clouds. I can’t even describe how spectacular the giant, light orange ball looked over the farmland. Truly amazing!
This trail is perfect for a winter hike, and I’m glad I was able ring in 2018 out on a trail. ETB