Royal Arch Trail Reading Time: 13 minutes
The Royal Arch Trail is easily one of the best hikes near Boulder Colorado. It’s easy to reach the trailhead, the parking is plentiful, and the views from the top make the somewhat difficult ascent totally worth it. Once I reached the arch I kept asking myself “How have I never done this hike before?” As one of the best hikes in Boulder, it is shocking that it was my first time, but it definitely won’t be my last time. If you’re looking for one of the best hiking trails in Boulder Colorado, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for further details about the Royal Arch Trail near Boulder.
This is an out-and-back trail, not a loop.
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Royal Arch Hike: Boulder Hiking Trail
The Royal Arch Trail can be found in the Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks (OSMP), starting in Chautauqua Park. This trail has been in existence for just over 100 years in Boulder. A photographer and hiking guide named “Rocky Mountain Joe” Sturtevant created the first trail up to the Royal Arch in 1898. Just over 20 years after that, the city of Boulder purchased the land, and a group of Boy Scouts assisted E.M. Greenman, Eben G. Fine, and the Boulder Rotarians to build the first official trail. Unfortunately, the flood of 2013 destroyed several parts of the trail. After 6 weeks of rebuilding, the Royal Arch Trail was back in action, just slightly altered.
Must Hike Score:
This hike is incredible. It can be difficult and challenging in parts, but the views up top make it completely worth it. If you only have time for one hike in Boulder, this is definitely a contender. Do not miss this amazing hiking trail in Boulder CO.
Where is Royal Arch Trail?
The Royal Arch Trail sits on the side of Green Mountain and is easily reachable via Chautauqua Park. The trail is just a short drive from downtown Boulder and easily walkable from the University of Colorado Boulder. Chautauqua Park sits along the south side of Baseline Road, just before the road starts zig-zagging up into the Rocky Mountains.
Driving directions to Chautauqua Park
From Denver, take Highway 36 west. Get off at the Baseline Road exit. Follow Baseline west for about 5 minutes, crossing over Broadway Avenue. You’ll find the park on the left/south side of Baseline Road.
How High is the Royal Arch Trail?
The Royal Arch Trail elevation sits at 6964 feet high, with an elevation gain from Chautauqua Park of 1469 feet.
Where to park for Royal Arch?
Chautauqua Parking Lot
There is a ton of Royal Arch Trail parking. When you turn into the entrance of Chautauqua Park from Baseline Road, you’ll immediately see a small parking lot to the right. There is also parking all around the entire park loop. You need to pay for parking. You’ll need to follow the instructions on the posted sign in order to pay the parking fee.
Tip: If you turn left onto 12th Street from Baseline Road (when going west), the road will curve up to the right and lead you to another couple of small dirt parking lots (one on the right, and one on the left a little further up). If you are able to secure a spot here, the parking is free.
There are several parking spaces along Baseline Road where you can park. Between Labor Day and Memorial Day (early September – late May) the parking is free. However, the opposite is true. From Memorial Day to Labor Day (May – September) you’ll need to pay for parking here.
You can also park in the residential neighborhoods on the north side of Baseline Road. On the streets closer to Chautauqua Park, the same parking fees exist and you’ll need to pay. However, if you are willing to park just a couple blocks away, the parking is free.
Where Does Royal Arch Trail Start?
Looking for how to get to the Royal Arch Trail? Keep reading blow!
Chautauqua Park Trailhead
The Royal Arch Trail begins in Chautauqua Park. Do not follow the trails that go directly towards the Flatirons. You’ll need to follow the Bluebell Hiking Trail to the left, which parallels the parking lot. Keep the mountains to your right.
Directions to Trailhead for Royal Arch
Follow the Bluebell Hiking Trail up to the left, with the mountains to your right. You’ll see several well-marked trail signs leading you to the Bluebell shelter. At one point you’ll reach a fork in the trail along the Bluebell Hiking Trail. But you can go either way to reach the Bluebell Shelter. The Bluebell Road Trail is just a loop. Once you reach the Bluebell Shetler, the official Royal Arch Trail begins. Follow those signs.
Route Description for Royal Arch Trail
Bluebell Hiking Trail
The first part of this trail is very easy. You will begin by walking up the Bluebell Hiking Trail which looks like the photo below. The trail is wide with even terrain and small pebbles. The trail will look like this all the way until you reach the Bluebell shelter, which is about 15 minutes.
From the Bluebell Shelter
As you move further away from the Bluebell Shelter, the trail begins to narrow more, and you’ll enter more of a covered-forest area, rather than the open-sky feel of the Bluebell Hiking Trail. Everything around you will become very green (if it’s summer or spring) and covered in wildflowers.
After some time, the trail starts to become quite steep. You’ll need to walk up some stone stairs and the ascent is quite steep. You will reach one peak, then go down a bit before you start to go up again for the final push before you reach the Royal Arch.
Arriving at the Royal Arch
You will be able to see the Royal Arch above you for the last several minutes before reaching its base. The very last push up to the arch involves walking up several steep rock stairs, which you can see in the photo below. Once you reach the arch, you can pass through it and find a great place to sit on a boulder on the other side. From there you will have incredible views looking down on Boulder and of the Flatirons next door.
How Long Does it Take to Hike Royal Arch?
The total length of the Royal Arch hike roundtrip is 3.4 miles out and back along the same trail. This trail took us about 3 hours in total. However, we did spend quite a bit of time up top enjoying the views and eating snacks. If you aren’t interested in stopping to admire views, then it’s probably possible to complete the entire out-and-back hike in just over 2 hours. The Royal Arch Trail time really depends on you. How fast you want to move and how long you want to stay up top.
How Hard is the Royal Arch Trail?
So what is the Royal Arch Trail difficulty? This is a challenging hike but totally doable. I hike often and I felt great along the trail. The stairs, rocks, and steep ascents didn’t bother me much. I hiked with my friend Lydia (also a travel blogger) who also hikes quite a bit but was not used to the altitude. She needed to go just a bit slower but also was able to complete the hike without a problem.
We saw many dogs and children on the hike. Before you go, you should know that there are lots of stairs and rocks you’ll need to climb up and over. If you have knee issues, then you might want to bring some hiking poles and take it easy.
What to Wear when Hiking to the Royal Arch
The Royal Arch Trail in Boulder has a lot of varying terrain, so you should dress accordingly to protect your ankles and knees along the trail, and your face from the sun. Here are a few suggestions:
- Simple athletic shoes/hiking boots
- shorts/pants – I love Kuhl hiking pants
- Athletic top that wicks away sweat
- Light jacket if you go early in the morning or in the evening (I LOVE the Cotopaxi windbreaker)
- Fleece in the winter or early spring.
- Hat- my favorite is from Cotopaxi
What to Bring when Hiking the Royal Arch Trail
The entire hike may take you 2.5-3 hours, so don’t forget these things:
- Water bottle
- Water bottle sleeve to easily carry your bottle without hands
- Sunscreen SPF
- Hip bag (for keys and things)
- SPF Chapstick
- Step counter watch
- Your phone to take photos
Tips Resources for Hiking to Royal Arch in Boulder
- Fewer people in the morning. The afternoon will give you shade in the tree sections.
- Park in the Chautauqua parking lot.
- Free parking at the top of 12th street, or in the residential areas.
- Free parking on Baseline Road between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
- Remember to bring water and SPF.
- Many great photo opportunities around. They get better as you get higher.
- Dogs are allowed in the area, but only on a leash.
- Stand aside and let other hikers pass if they approach behind you quickly.
- Uphill hikers always have the right-of-way; stand aside for them.
- Take your trash with you. Leave no trace.
- Don’t forget to carry out your dog’s poo bags.
Are dogs allowed on the Royal Arch Trail?
Yes, dogs are allowed on the Royal Arch Trail, but only on a leash.
Are bikers allowed on the Royal Arch Trail?
No. It would be nearly impossible for bikes to reach the summit of the Royal Arch.
Looking for a Longer Hike? Royal Arch Trail Add-ons:
There are a ton of trails that begin at Chautauqua Park, so I will mention just a couple below. You can find a whole list on AllTrails here.
You can take the Chautauqua Trail from the parking lot and head directly towards the mountains along the trail right in the center of the meadow. The trail is a 2.8-mile out-and-back hike.
First & Second Flatirons Loop
This hike is a 2.7-mile out-and-back loop. it is a challenging route up to the Flatirons. The loop is made of the Bluebell Hiking Trail on one side, and the Chautauqua Trail on the other side. These two trails meet at a junction where the Flatirons trail begins and will take you to the summit.
Where to Eat & Drink After Hiking the Royal Arch Trail
Chautauqua Dining Hall
If you’re enjoying your time inside Chautauqua Park, then stay for lunch at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. There is a great wrap-around outdoor balcony patio where you can enjoy your lunch with a view. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Alpine Modern Cafe
This cafe is just down the street on the corner of 9th St and College Ave. It is clean, modern, and sleek with a great outdoor patio where you can sip on a post-hike cappuccino.
Where to Stay in Boulder near the Royal Arch Trail
Colorado Chautauqua Cottages
Description: The cottages are located inside the Chautauqua Park, just near the base to many hikes as well as the Chautauqua Dining Hall. There is a summer concert series in the park as well. The cottages include a living room and a front porch. There is free wifi, parking, and breakfast for an additional charge.
Price: A cottage runs about $350/night in the summer months, and $200- $250 in the winter.
Description: This is a historic hotel in downtown Boulder, one of the town’s oldest. It’s located just one block off of Pearl Street. It is a 40-minute walk to Chautauqua Park, but you can also take the HOP (bus) counterclockwise to the stop on 9th/College (where Alpine Modern cafe is). From there it is a 10-15 minute walk to the park. There is a restaurant and bar on-site, though there are several around in the area as well.
Price: Rooms range in price from $250-$400 in the summer, and around $100 less in the winter.
St Julien Hotel & Spa
Description: This beautiful hotel and spa is located on the corner of Walnut and 9th. It’s just a couple of blocks away from the Pearl Street walking mall. It’s a 25-minute walk to Chautauqua Park, or 15 minutes on the HOP between busing and walking. This is a luxury hotel with a swimming pool, valet parking, bar/lounge, fitness center, and bicycle rentals.
Price: Rooms range from $300- $500/night. In the winter you can find deals for around $250/night.
Final Thoughts on Royal Arch Trail
The Royal Arch Trail is easily one of the best trails near Boulder CO. It is easy to reach and there are a ton of other trails nearby. You could easily spend one entire week hiking the trails around Chautauqua Park. The summit of the Royal Arch will give you an amazing payout with incredible views of the city down below. I highly recommend doing this hike!
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