Trailhead: Deer Mountain Trailhead
Distance: 6.2 miles (moderate)
For a weekend that was all about recreating a perfect trip from the past, we (surprisingly) decided to do a brand new hike - Deer Mountain. I have driven past this trailhead countless times, had snowball fights in its first dozen yards, and pulled quite a few u-turns in the parking area, but never really felt like I wanted to hike it. This year, I knew I wanted to do a bit of a longer hike, and with some pretty serious avalanche danger prohibiting me from hiking to some new alpine lakes, I had to look elsewhere in the park.
This is now one of my favorite trails in the park.
There's 1,210 ft of elevation gain on this hike and it does not play around. Right from the get-go there's a steep uphill section that quickly turns unprepared groups around. It eventually levels out into a beautiful series of switchbacks, but this first section is pretty rough (especially after just doing Gem Lake the day before).
For a pretty chilly weekend (the night before I woke up shivering despite having a 15 degree bag layered with a 40 degree bag, but more on that later), it was warm along that first section. We finally left the meadow and entered trees and reveled in the shade. I had to take off my pullover here, too.
This hike is really beautiful, and reminded us a lot of other trails we've done in the past. It felt like every time we turned a corner we were saying "OH! This looks like such and such trail!" and then remembering our favorite (or least favorite) parts of those trails. It was a fun way to make the miles pass by and made me super happy because Logan loved talking about the hikes we've done in the past.
The trail eventually tops out and works its way to the other side of the mountain, this was my favorite section of the entire trail and I think it has a lot to do with the bare trees and good bushes.
There's a little bit over half a mile towards the end that's downhill. Not a significant grade, but enough to make Logan and I look at each other knowing that we would hate that section on the way back. But we finally made it to the last two tenths of the trail, which happen to have almost 200 feet of elevation gain in them. AKA: hard as hell. We worked our way up the stone stairs with lots of words of encouragement from the people coming down, and were greeted with the best panoramic views I have seen in RMNP.
We sat at the top for about 20 minutes. We ate our snacks and I spilled my entire water bottle INTO my backpack, not ruining anything just ensuring I'd have a wet back on the way down. We were hoping the weather would hold out long enough for us to hammock back at our tent, so we decided to head down. I realized, then, that I hadn't taken any pictures of Logan while we were hiking, so there's lots of him coming up!
This was a great hike - it was so rewarding at the top and just long enough that even though it gets crowded it really doesn't feel like it. If you're looking for a longer hike, but don't want to deal with late spring (or early fall) snow, this is a good option!