We present a short synthesis of the Pleistocene distribution dynamics and phylogeographic recolonization hypotheses for two temperate European mammal species, the red deer (Cervus elaphus) and the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), for which high-resolution patterns of fossil evidence and genetic data sets are available. Such data are critical to an understanding of the role of hypothesized glacial refugia. Both species show a similar pattern: a relatively wide distribution in the southern part of Central Europe 60,000–25,000 years ago, and a strong restriction to areas in southern Europe for nearly 10,000 years during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and the early Late Glacial (25,000–14,700 years ago). With the beginning of Greenland Interstadial 1 (Bølling/Allerød warming, c. 14,700–11,600 years ago) a sudden range expansion into Central Europe is visible, but the colonization of most of Central Europe, including the northern European Lowlands, only began in the early Holocene. In a European context, regions where the species were distributed during the LGM and early Late Glacial are most relevant as potential origins of recolonization processes, because during these c. 10,000 years distribution ranges were smaller than at any other time in the Late Quaternary. As far as the present distribution of temperate species and their genetic lineages is concerned, so-called ‘cryptic refugia’ are important only if the species are actually confirmed there during the LGM, as otherwise they could not possibly have contributed to the recolonization that eventually resulted in the present distribution ranges.