||3.5 miles roundtrip
||Strenuous climbing, 1400 feet of elevation gain
||Spring, Summer, Fall
- Impressive natural stone arch
- Views of Boulder and the Denver skyline on a clear day
- Scenic pine forest and meadows next to the Flatirons
Boulder is often acclaimed for its hiking opportunities, and the trip to Royal Arch is exemplary of the beauty you'll find in the Boulder Open Space. Don't be fooled by the short 3.5 mile distance though, this trek is surprisingly difficult and has over 1400 feet of elevation gain. Your effort will be rewarded with a natural arch at the end and some great views throughout.
The trail starts with an uphill climb on the Chautauqua Trail. During this initial push, you'll always have an excuse to take a breather to savor the best view of Boulder's famous reddish, toothy rock formations known as the Flatirons, as pictured below.
Boulder's famous Flatirons from the Chautauqua Trail
You'll soon leave the meadow behind and enter the pine forest above Boulder. Continue going straight through the next two intersections to stay on the Chautauqua Trail. At the third intersection, follow signs for the Flatirons Loop. Sections of the trail will cross fields of rock, as pictured in the first image below. These fields of rocks reveal amazing views to the east of the flat plains north of Denver, as shown in the second picture below.
A field of rocks on the side of the mountain
The view to the east from the rock field
Stay on the Flatirons Loop as you pass the access trail for the First and Second Flatiron. After some downhill, the trail merges with the Royal Arch Trail. From this point on, the trail is much steeper and rockier -- if you're not used to the altitude, you'll definitely start feeling the effects soon. Not long after starting the Royal Arch Trail, you'll cross the creek pictured below before starting a stair-like climb.
A pleasant creek before starting a difficult climb
The most difficult part of the trail is the fact that after the steep climb, you'll reach a pass and have to descend and before climbing up again. After all that effort, you'll reach the prize at the end, Royal Arch as pictured below.
Royal Arch is your reward for your effort
On the other side of the arch, you'll have magnificent views of the area east of Boulder and two reservoirs, as pictured below.
Looking through Royal Arch to the north, you can see a unique side profile of the Flatirons, as pictured below.
A side view of the Flatirons from Royal Arch
Take your time descending the steep rocks on your way back. To change it up a little, you can take the Bluebell Mesa Trail on the return trip. Stay to the right at the intersection with the Flatirons Loop, then make a sharp left heading uphill at the following complicated junction. Once on the Bluebell Mesa Trail, you'll enjoy a gentle downhill through picturesque pines, as seen in the first picture below. You'll also pass by a few nice picnic spots, as shown in the second picture below.
Ponderosa pine forest on Bluebell Mesa
One of a couple of picnic tables along the Bluebell Mesa Trail
Just before the Bluebell Mesa Trail meets the Chautauqua Trail, you'll have some splendid views of Boulder, as pictured below.
Boulder as seen from the Bluebell Mesa Trail
Try this hike next time you're in Boulder, and enjoy all of the beautiful scenery you'll encounter along the way! Connect with me using the social media links below and share your adventures!
Dogs must be on leash near the trailhead, but further along the trail, dogs are allowed off leash if they have a Voice and Sight Tag. The route to Royal Arch is difficult and not suitable for most children; there are a ton of other kid-friendly options starting from Chautauqua Trailhead or the nearby Enchanted Mesa Trailhead. Spring, summer, and fall are the best time to visit, since winter snow and ice may make the steep Royal Arch Trail dangerous. This is an extremely popular trailhead, so expect to see many people no matter when you come -- even on weekdays.
From Denver, take U.S. Highway 36 west to Boulder. Once in Boulder, take the exit for Baseline Road, then turn left. Continue straight, then turn left into the parking area for Chautauqua Park.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Parking is free on weekdays, but you have to pay per hour on weekends and holidays. This is a popular trailhead, so you may have difficulty finding a space. You may have to park on nearby streets.
There are flush toilets near the trailhead.