Trail Snapshot:Royal Arch Trail in Chautauqua Park
- Hike Distance: 3.5 mile RT
- Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
- Duration: 2-3hrs
- Trail Type: Out & Back
- Elevation Gain: Approx. 1400′
- Seasons: All Year
- Dogs: Allowed on Leash
- Hike Trail Map: Click for a Trail Map of Royal Arch Area
- Denver Drive Time: 40 min
- Directions: Click for Google Map
- Town Nearest Hike: Boulder, Colorado
- Beauty: Rock Formations, Bluebell Canyon, Raptors, Natural Spring
- Activities: Hiking, Rock Climbing
If you talk with someone who has hiked the trail up to Boulder’s Royal Arch, they will tell you two things: 1) The Royal Arch, though not as grand as some of the arches in Utah’s backcountry, is really a beautiful sight, and 2) That the hike is a real challenge.
While the trail is relatively short – 3.5 miles round trip – the hike up through Bluebell Canyon to Royal Arch has a lot of uphill and downhill, making the elevation gain around 1400′ over the course of the trip. Because the trail has a lot of rock steps and is heavily used, the latter half of the hike requires some negotiation. It’s still a good trail, just don’t expect a walk in the park.
Trail Network to Royal Arch
Beginning at the Chautauqua Park Trailhead, take the Bluebell Road Trail through the meadows and up to the Bluebell Shelter (see trail map here). You’ll come to a junction near the Bluebell Shelter, and will see signs pointing you to the Royal Arch Trail.
The higher you hike, the more stairs you’ll encounter. It’s nothing like hiking the Incline in Colorado Springs, but it’s still a real workout. If you hike to the Royal Arch on the weekend, this is where you’ll begin to experience the trail congestion. In fact, I’d have to say that this was the most overcrowded trail I’ve hiked in Colorado. A lot of hikers had stopped to rest, huffing and puffing trailside. Others gathered right in the middle of the trail. I overheard several people deliberating whether or not to keep going, and watched others turn around without making it to the top. So, our first and most important tip would be to hike to Royal Arch early in the morning by getting on the trail before 8AM, or hiking the Royal Arch trail on a weekday.
After pushing up to Royal Arch, be sure to walk around it and go through it. The views of Boulder are incredible. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Denver. I’d recommend taking a picnic or at least a snack, and kick back for a while. There is supposedly a way to make this hike more of a loop by taking a trail down the backside of the arch, but it’s an unmarked trail and one hiker who took it warned against it. So, we recommend taking the marked Royal Arch trail back down to the shelter. From there, you have some trail options.
On my way back, I decided to take the Bluebell Mesa trail down to the Chautauqua trail, which led me home to the trailhead and ranger cottage. I’d highly recommend this route back. It takes you through a stand of pines on a mesa above the meadows of Chautauqua Park. You can pick up the Bluebell Mesa trail near the Bluebell Shelter soon after you exit the canyon.
Tips & Resources for Hiking to Royal Arch in Boulder :
- Leave Fido At Home: I love dogs; in fact, I took our Dog, Francine, on the hike up to Royal Arch. But it was so congested that it made it difficult for her and I to navigate the trail together. Other dog owners with long leashes nearly tripped several hikers along the trail. If you want to bring your dog on this hike, I’d recommend going early or going on a weekday.
- Bring Snacks and Water: It probably goes without saying, but be sure to bring food and water to refill your tank. This hike demands it.
- Bring Trekking Poles: The trail up to Royal Arch can be hard on the knees–especially the descent–so bring trekking poles if you have them. The trail is heavily shaded, so my guess is that it will ice up in the winter. Just another reason to bring something that will help you get traction.
- Take Time at the Top: Build time into your hike to rest and maybe have a picnic under the Royal Arch.
- Keep and Eye on the Weather: Talking to one of the rangers, he shared that storms can come up quickly along the Flatirons, which will catch hikers unawares. Because you are hiking through a densely wooded canyon and are so close to the mountain, it makes it difficult to really judge the skies. But the Flatirons area is like a lot of other mountain hikes, storms typically roll in during the early afternoon.
- Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
- Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
- After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder, Colorado
Map & Driving Directions
Click for Driving Directions