Royal Arch Trail: Nicki stands in the center of the Royal Arch, one of the best hikes near boulder

Royal Arch Trail: Amazing Hike from Chautauqua Park

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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Check out my Royal Arch hiking reel on Instagram.

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.

Royal Arch Trail: A trail sign showing the way
A trail sign showing the way

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.

Click here to see the Royal Arch Trail Map on AllTrails.

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.

A view of the royal arch just before walking up the last of the stairs
A view of the royal arch just before walking up the last of the stairs

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.

The Royal Arch Trail elevation sits at 6964 feet high, with an elevation gain from Chautauqua Park of 1469 feet.

Royal Arch Trail: This is the view of the flatirons from the bluebell road trail near the shelter
View of the Flatirons from Bluebell Road

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.

The Chautauqua Parking Lot
The parking lot in Chautauqua Park next to the start of the trail

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.

Looking for how to get to the Royal Arch Trail? Keep reading blow!

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.

Royal Arch Trail: Chautauqua Park where you will begin the hike
A view of the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park

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.

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.

First follow the Bluebell road up from chautauqua park
Follow the Bluebell Hiking Trail to reach the Royal Arch Trail

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.

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.

Lydia and Nicki stand in front of the royal arch at the very top of the hike
Nicki and Lydia pose at the 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.

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.

There are lots of stairs to go up and down along the trail
There are many stairs along the trail

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:

Nicki looks out over the edge of a cliff at the top of the hike overlooking Boulder.
Nicki looks out over Boulder at the peak

Check out my blog post about the best hiking gear for beginners.

The entire hike may take you 2.5-3 hours, so don’t forget these things:

Royal Arch Trail: there are a lot of rocks and stairs along the way
Lots of rocks along the trail
  • 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.
Royal Arch Trail: Lydia and I going back down
Going back down the mountain with my friend Lydia

Yes, dogs are allowed on the Royal Arch Trail, but only on a leash.

No. It would be nearly impossible for bikes to reach the summit of the Royal Arch.

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.

Royal Arch Trail: Nicki walks along the trail through the forest.
Nicki walks along the Royal Arch trail

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Nick plays on the rocks near the royal arch at the peak of the hike
Nick plays on the rocks up top


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