Royal Arch Trail Guide: Find Solitude in the City
The Royal Arch Trail is the crown jewel of Boulder’s Flatirons. With sweeping views, rugged terrain, and a sandstone arch, it’s not to be missed. Check out our Royal Arch Trail guide for more information on this great hike!
A hop, step, or jump away from Boulder, Colorado, the Royal Arch Trail offers hikers a quick and easy escape to a dramatically different world of a sandstone arch, sweeping views, and solitude (given the right time of day) not easily found within the confines of the city. Departing straight from the iconic Chautauqua Park, the trail travels through a mixed pine forest, up a narrow gulch to a high rocky notch with spectacular views of the Flatirons, then beside a spring-fed stream to the end destination of Royal Arch. It is surely a hike not to be missed.
While the main attraction of the trail is indeed the Royal Arch, any hikes leaving from Chautauqua Park are well worth the effort and offer instant and up-close views of the spectacular Flatirons. Rest assured that you can turn around at any point on the Royal Arch Trail if it becomes too much, and still have gotten your money’s worth.
If you choose to hike the entire length, the Royal Arch is certainly the highlight and your pot of gold reward at the end of the trail’s rainbow — a sandstone formation not unlike those found in neighboring Utah but certainly unique to the Flatirons. The same tectonic forces that created the Rocky Mountains helped to compress this layer of sandstone, which was then sculpted by water, wind, and erosion into the now 20’ arch.
This trail has become one of the most popular in the area, so we recommend hiking it early in the morning, on a weekday, or being prepared for company.
Royal Arch Trail overview
From the Chautauqua Trailhead (1) near the ranger cottage, head southwest on a wide trail, hiking slightly uphill and into the Chautauqua meadows. At a three-way junction (2), take the leftmost option; as the grade steepens, you’ll contour the slope and soon meet up with another junction (3), where you’ll bear right onto Bluebell Mesa. Follow the trail as it cuts to the left (4) and soon reach a shelter with restrooms (5) and the starting point for the Royal Arch Trail. Keep in mind that there are many ways to arrive at this point; be sure to study a map before heading out.
Here is where the trail soon begins to earn its “stair master” reputation: cross a wooden bridge and meander through a forest to Bluebell Creek (6), where you’ll begin to climb southwest up the rocky and increasingly technical terrain, eventually reaching a false summit (Sentinel Pass) just south of the Third Flatiron and boasting expansive 360-degree views (7). You’ll then scramble downhill a bit, leveling out before heading uphill once more on your final climb to the arch (8).
Royal Arch is impossible to miss, and will be a welcome relief to your StairMaster® daze. This marks the end of the trail, and the only way down is the way you climbed up.
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Here are some of the most common items that reviewers mention about Royal Arch Trail:
“Started home at 5:30am to avoid heat and traffic; probably wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if crowded, so going as early as possible is mandatory. Worth it in the end!” – Molly H., AllTrails
“There are restrooms at the base and at the halfway point. There is also a large parking lot but sometimes it is full and you may need to park in surrounding neighborhoods.” – Katherine F., Yelp
“It’s difficult because of the incline all the way up. It’s rocky, so you have to watch where you step. Just when I was almost tired enough to give up, I got to the arch and forgot how difficult the hike was. Once I got to the top, I wanted all my friends to come back and do it again. The views are amazing.” – Taylor T., AllTrails
“The panorama view is second to none, with the university to your left and downtown off in the distance to your right. What’s directly ahead, you ask? Flatland/farmland as far as the eye can see!” – Eric. B., Yelp
“The arch itself is gorgeous…. Pictures most definitely don’t do it justice. It’s large & beautiful. You can climb on the rocks to the other side and sit and enjoy the gorgeous view or even eat some snacks/lunch.” – Linli F.
“Good hiking boots/sneakers are helpful here. Some of the rocks were wet, too, but I found them fairly easy to maneuver. Bring your hydration pack. The start of the hike is in the sun, but you quickly disappear into the forest, and the hardest parts of the hike are shaded. Still, it’s quite a workout, so you’ll need the water.” – Maria E.
Directions and parking
Park at the Chautauqua trailhead, or see also the trail map for Access Points (street parking) if you wish to approach Royal Arch via a slightly different route than the one suggested here (see trail map for other approach trails). NOTE: The Chautauqua trailhead can be very busy, see the City of Boulder’s website for details. The City of Boulder offers a free shuttle to the Chautauqua trailhead; for more information, visit ParktoPark.org.
We recommend carrying a pack with food, water, and a headlamp, and bringing a cell phone as a safety measure in case of emergency. Weather in the Flatirons can change in an instant, and we suggest you plan for any and every sort of adventure, bringing rain gear and extra layers. Additionally, the trail is rocky and technical — a sturdy trail shoe will make your life much easier.
Hours: parking available from 5am – 11pm
Difficulty: moderate – difficult
Distance/elevation gain: 3.4 miles round trip, 1400 feet gain
Time: 2-3 hours
Trail type: Out & Back
Pet friendly: Dogs allowed, off-leash with Boulder off-leash tag
Parking pass/entry fee: on weekends during the summer, see the City of Boulder’s website for details.
Maps: click for trail map
Flora and fauna: If you’re lucky – and be careful! – you might see a black bear or mountain lion, as they certainly inhabit the area. Mule deer and coyotes also call these mountains home, and given the right time of year, you might see prolific and beautiful wildflowers.