Boulder – Royal Arch

Hiking Royal Arch

The Royal Arch hike in Chautauqua Park had been on my to-do list for a while as a short, but strenuous hike. It was one of the first hikes I did after we moved to Boulder in 2019 and I wanted to do it again in order to cover it for this blog.

The Hike

At 3.2 miles long with over 1,100 ft elevation gain (according to AllTrails it’s about 1,400 ft elevation gain), this hike meanders through some of the highlights of Chautauqua Park. The route is well marked by posts with signs guiding you along the way.


Note: According to the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) Department, from May 17 until autumn there will be extensive closures of the Royal Arch Trail for maintenance. “Starting as early as Monday, May 17, the City of Boulder will implement closures along the Royal Arch Trail to conduct extensive maintenance to reroute the popular trail around areas prone to significant erosion…To help protect visitors and OSMP trail crews, the city will close the Royal Arch Trail from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The city is planning to transition to a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a week closure along the trail beginning in early June. This long-term closure of the Royal Arch Trail is expected to continue into the fall.”

You can also check the status of the trail at this interactive OSMP Trail Map.

Starting Out

The hike starts out at the Chautauqua Park parking lot. You first take Bluebell Road for 0.4 miles, passing lovely views of the iconic Flatirons.

Chautauqua Park

This part of the hike is easy, with a mild uphill.

Where to Turn

At mile 0.4 you reach a trail junction with the Mesa Trail that has an outhouse. Keep right.

Soon you get to a junction.

Bluebell Road turnoff

You can go either way. The path is 0.1 miles in either direction to connect with the Bluebell Shelter and the turnoff point for the Royal Arch Trail. For simplicity, I recommend keeping left.

Royal Arch Trail

Just beyond the Bluebell Shelter, you reach the junction for Royal Arch Trail. The entrance to the the trail is well marked.

Royal Arch Trail turnoff

Along the 0.2 mile section until the next junction there are a couple spots with benches for a picnic in the forest –

After 0.2 miles, you reach a junction. Follow the sign, turning left, to continue along Royal Arch Trail.

This is where you get to the most strenuous part of the trail. Much of the remaining 0.8 miles to Royal Arch is a constant incline. You cover about 100 ft of elevation gain every 0.1 miles. A friend of mine dubbed this “Boulder’s Stairmaster”, and I have to agree!

When I went in late April there were still long patches of ice and snow beyond this point. I wore my microspikes from here on in.

Sentinel Pass

At about 1.4 miles in, you reach a false summit at Sentinel Pass.

From this point you have to scramble down some boulders to continue along the trail –

The trail goes down about 100 ft in elevation before turning uphill for another 300 ft in elevation gain before reaching the summit.

Royal Arch

The geological feature of Royal Arch is a great destination for a hike. It’s hard to get a good photo of it with a regular camera or smart phone camera. To really get it’s scale you either need to use a wide-angle lens or take a panorama photo.

Views at Royal Arch

From Royal Arch looking back North there are beautiful views of the Flatirons –

And this is the view from the Royal Arch of Boulder down below –

It’s a great spot to sit down and enjoy a well-earned snack break after the challenging uphill climb.

The Return Journey

Going back was definitely a lot easier and less time-consuming. I enjoyed the fragrant smell of pine trees as I made my way downhill.

Since it was a warm day, the snow was becoming slightly mushy and would have been slippery if I hadn’t been wearing my microspikes.

By the time I reached the Bluebell Road, getting close to the parking lot, around 10 or 11 am, the trails were getting quite busy.

Recommended as a Strenuous Hike

The Royal Arch Trail is an iconic Boulder hike in the historic Chautauqua Park to a beautiful geological feature. At 3.2 miles with 1,400 ft elevation gain, it is a strenuous hike. It is a great option for anyone who wants to see some highlights of Boulder and Chautauqua Park, while also getting in a great workout.

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