This week’s feature photo shows me on my own horse instead of riding Alan’s mare! Not only am I riding my own horse, but Alan took a photo and actually shared it with me! After our challenging ride of a couple of weeks ago, we opted for a trail reported to be moderate. The Deer Mountain Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park was technical enough in places to be interesting, but never stressful.
A warm-up ride a few days earlier
We rode the horses for 9 miles on “our” mountain a few days before we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Deer Mountain Trail. I rode Sadie on that outing, and we did some tough bushwacking up and down a steep incline.
We have access to National Forest from a neighbor’s property. Another neighbor told us there were trails that would take us quite a distance; however, we struggled to find a defined trail. Thus, we ended up doing “The Man From Snowy River” scene.
Sadie handled herself well. I missed riding my guy and I thought Sadie had responded enough to my tune-up that Alan would not have to fight her so much. He commented on the back half of the Deer Mountain Trail that it was the most relaxed ride home he thought he had ever experienced with her.
East & West Deer Mountain Trail
As usual, I did my normal due diligence. COTREX listed the Deer Mountain Trail as horse-friendly. AllTrails reviews indicated that, while it was an uphill climb, it was a moderate, not difficult trail. There is an East and a West Deer Mountain Trail. We planned to do them both, but it is always a variable as to where we can park the horse trailer in RMNP. Our route totally depended on our initial landing spot…
Since the Deer Mountain trailhead is not in the Bear Lake Corridor, we wouldn’t need a timed entry pass if we arrived in the park before 9 AM. There were no lines at the park entrance, most likely due to school being back in session. We headed to the area where we hoped to park. Just as we were pulling into the circle parking area, a man was getting out of his car. He had parked in what would be the best spot for our truck and trailer. There were other spots available for his car, and he kindly moved.
We passed two park rangers on the way in, and a National Forest truck drove around the circle after we parked. We figured if we were not supposed to park there, someone would have told us. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable and allowable parking in RMNP. Happily, there were no tickets on our windshield upon our return, so I guess we didn’t break any rules.
To get there, take Highway 36 to Upper Beaver Meadows Road. It is a somewhat rough road and not really wide enough for two cars, much less a large truck and trailer. Follow that road all the way back to the circle. You will pass a nice picnic area and not-so-nice pit toilet on the way. There is a pit toilet at the circle parking as well.
The beginning of the trail that was marked in COTREX did not line up with the trail that was our connector route to the Deer Mountain Trail. Additionally, my Garmin twice bumped against something and went into PAUSE mode, causing me to miss some of the trail tracking. With the help of COTREX, I recreated it. In the image below, the RED lines are areas where we were not on COTREX trails. The BLUE line is where we cut across the field (more on that later.) The PINK line is the most technical part of the trail. (Also more on that later…)
Our total ride time was somewhere around 4 1/2 hours. Note the little green trail right before the pink section (going clockwise.) That is the trail up to the summit, but no horses allowed. There was a hitching rack on the eastern side of that summit trail. It is .2 miles to the summit (in cowboy boots) with an elevation gain of roughly 15 flights of stairs. This is what you will see…
The Deer Mountain Trailhead is right at the junction of Highways 34 and 36. From where we parked the trailer to the trailhead was 2.65 miles. It is 3 miles from there on the West trail to the summit. It is roughly the same distance if you start on the east side. Our total ride distance, as best I could recreate, was 10.6 miles.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this trail is rated as moderate. The West trail begins as a wide, dirt path with a steady but very manageable incline. Towards the top, it does get rockier and steeper, but not very technical. After a snack at the summit, we headed down the East trail, which is marked “To Estes Park.”
The East trail is definitely more technical than the West. I often assess trails in terms of, “Would I rather go UP this trail or DOWN this trail?” I really don’t have an answer in this particular case. The hardest part of the East Deer Mountain Trail is the multiple 180-degree switchbacks (the pink section.) The descent is quite noticeable, and the horse must bend considerably to make the turn. Perhaps going up would afford more control than having to turn while negotiating a significant downward slope. Our horses did fine but suffice it to say, I was not taking photographs…
Notwithstanding a slight increase in difficulty, the East trail is really interesting and beautiful. The rock formations are amazing, as are the views.
As we were descending the mountain we encountered a large herd of elk, with a very impressive bull in charge! This photo will perhaps provide some perspective on the switchbacks and the extent of the downward slope. Many of the switchbacks were much tighter turns than this top left photo depicts.
Once we traversed the East Deer Mountain Trail, we took the Buck Creek trail. It winds around some buildings and homes in the park, most of which probably belong to the National Park Service. The section of the trail I marked in blue is where we rode across an open meadow. It was in the sun, in the early afternoon, and it was hot! We tried to follow the trail that was south of where we rode, but there was a marshy area with a small creek that prevented us from reaching that trail. The skinny pedestrian bridge was not an option for us. The grass was so tall we couldn’t see the footing, so we steered clear.
There are a couple of other trail options in this area that we could access if we parked in the same place. However, they are primarily in the meadow area and would be better enjoyed on a day when the sun would be welcomed. We thoroughly enjoyed this ride, basking in the beauty of the remarkable place we live.