royal arch red rock formation in boulder's flatirons chautauqua park red rock arch with ponderosa pine in foreground

Royal Arch Trail

The hike up to Royal Arch in Boulder's Chautauqua Park is a serious workout, but the beauty of Bluebell canyon and the view of Royal Arch make it worth the journey. Our most important tip for making this an enjoyable hike is to go when it's not so crowded, during the early morning or on weekdays. Scroll down to get all the details you need for this hike in Boulder, Colorado: trail map link, driving directions, weather forecast, and more tips.

Trail Snapshot: Royal Arch Trail in Chautauqua Park

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.

royal arch trail chautauqua park

The Hike 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.

Soon, you'll enter Bluebell Canyon. The Royal Arch trail will descend before beginning its climb to the top. This section of the hike is especially alive and enchanting during the early morning hours. Bluebell Canyon is home to raptors and is seasonally protected when the birds are hatching. The trail is still accessible during those times, but signs are posted to keep the canyon drainage clear of hikers.

flatirons through bluebell canyon on 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.

 

royal arch rock formation in the flatirons near boulder colorado

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.

 

chautauqua park meadows on way back from royal arch

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

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man painting red rocks at trading post trail in red rocks park near denver with red rocks in background hikes 30 minutes from denver


Red Rocks Trail at Settlers Park in Boulder

A giant underground sandstone formation runs from Ft. Collins all the way through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Here at Red Rocks Trail in Boulder, the rock juts out of the ground to transform the landscape. It makes for an inspiring short hike. Explore the hike snapshot and detailed trail profile below to get a feel for this great hike near Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Red Rocks Trail at Settlers Park

The trails of Red Rocks at Settlers Park in Boulder interconnect to form more of a labyrinth than a straightforward hike. But there is a way around all that---literally. Pull up the Boulder Open Space & Parks Map and follow the outer perimeter trail to form an approximately 1 mile loop around the sandstone red rock formations that jut out of the ground in the center of the park.
redrocks_trails_boulder_southview

You can add an additional .8 mile to your hike by taking the Anemone trail to the west, rising another 400ft where it tops out on a hill to give you views of the City of Boulder, the Red Rocks Park, and the Colorado Front Range. Even with the Anemone trail spur, it's a short hike, so you might want to add one of the Mt. Sanitas hiking trail options to your adventure. The Mt. Sanitas trail is just North of the Centennial Trailhead.

redrocks_trails_boulder_trail

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Red Rocks Trail at Settlers Park :

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Mt. Sanitas Hike Near Boulder

If you are visiting Boulder, this is a great Colorado hike. Mt. Sanitas gives you several trail options ranging from an easy stroll along a meandering brook to a demanding trail up the mountainside. Explore the trail profile below for all the info you need on this hike near Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Mt. Sanitas Hike in Boulder

Mt. Sanitas offers three different hike options, ranging from the more difficult climb up the mountain, to an easy walk through a peaceful valley. Sanitas is Latin for "health", and this hike may either get you in better shape (the 3.1 mile loop), or restore your sanity (the easier options). If you are visiting Boulder, this is a great Colorado hike.

3 Hike Options at Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado

1 - The Mt. Sanitas Loop - 3.1 Mile Loop - Medium+

mt sanitas loop labeled
This is the classic hike at Boulder's Mt. Sanitas, and it's the most difficult of the three hike options because it involves a series of log and rock steps that will leave your quads and knees either thanking your for the workout or aching for a couple days afterwards. Because of this, we would give it a Medium+ difficulty rating. The prize of this Front Range Hike are the views at the top. You'll be able to look down into Boulder and get some great views of Colorado's Front Range.

2 - Mt. Sanitas Valley Hike - 2 Mile Out-and-Back - Easy

Mt. Sanitas Valley Hike Near Boulder

Here's the easiest option; 1 mile straight up the valley and back. The two words that best describe the Sanitas Valley trail: idyllic and busy. Dogs run about and jump in the creek that runs along the beginning of the path, runners fly by, and families talk and stroll together. The trail rises gently at first, then goes into more of an incline. We took our stroller; it worked fine, but was tough pushing the kids up the last 1/4 mile uphill. We turned around just after the Dakota Ridge Trail junction, making it a 2 mile out-and-back hike.

3 - Dakota Ridge Trail at Mt. Sanitas - 2 Mile Loop - Easy to Medium

Mt. Sanitas Dakota Ridge Route
You'll find side trails running East/West off of the Sanitas Valley trail which will take you up onto the Dakota ridge, a hogback that boxes in the Sanitas Valley. You can make this an out-and-back hike, or turn it into a loop by hiking back through the valley (see photo above and the Mt. Sanitas Trail Map for the route).

Tips & Resources for Hiking Mt. Sanitas in Boulder:

  • Parking: This is kind of a no-brainer, but get to the trailhead early. I think we arrived around 8am on a Saturday and grabbed the last parking spot. However, we noticed that many people were walking to the trailhead from town, so there are other parking options.
  • No Shade: Bring your sunscreen; the trail is mostly exposed.
  • Lots of People: If you are looking for solitude, I'd recommend trying another hike. The Mt. Sanitas trail is essentially in Boulder, and its great location means that it's quite busy.
  • Trail Map for Mt. Sanitas Trail: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee

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Rattlesnake Gulch Trail at Eldorado State Park

The Rattlesnake Gulch trail takes you up the sides of Eldorado Canyon, one of Colorado's historic State Parks. This lollipop trail takes you past the ruins of the Crags Hotel, then on to gain views of the Continental Divide. Scroll down to look over the trail snapshot, then explore the trail details and tips below for this rewarding hike in Eldorado Canyon State Park.

Trail Snapshot: Rattlesnake Gulch Trail at Eldorado Canyon

If your legs are ready to gain some quick elevation to some rewarding views, the Rattlesnake Gulch trail will give you just that. This trail starts at the west trailhead of the Fowler Trail about 1/2 a mile into Eldorado Canyon. The hike first takes you about 1.2 miles to the site of the Crags Hotel. The hotel was built in 1908 and visitors could reach it by taking an incline railroad and by an old wagon trail. In 1912, the hotel burnt to the ground, and just a few ruins remain. The parks department has put up interpretive signs to give you an idea of what the site was like in the early 1900's.

If you continue past the Crags Hotel site, you can add on an additional 1.4 miles by hiking the Rattlesnake Gulch Loop. A spur along the trail takes you to the Continental Divide overlook, where you can look out to the plains and towards a few peaks to the west. If you don't want to hike the entire loop, but you want to catch the view from the overlook, take the trail to the right after the hotel site and hike about 10 more minutes. See the map link above for the exact location of the spur that leads to the overlook.

The picture above is looking northeast towards the Cadillac Rock area. If you take a pair of binoculars, scan the formation for rock-climbers. Eldorado Canyon makes for some great Denver area hiking. It's one of those places with so many unique features, that you'll find yourself drawn back there time and time again.

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail at Eldorado State Park:

  • Exact Trail Length: Exact trail lengths are approximate until we can GPS this one. We've noticed discrepancies on maps and reports. So, be sure to add some buffer time on to this hike.
  • Parking: Parking fills up fast at Eldorado Canyon. So, we suggest you go early in the day, or as the crowds are filtering out of the park in the late afternoon. As well, you'll find weekdays less crowed. Eldorado Canyon is open from sunrise to sunset year round.
  • Directions: Use the driving directions on this page. They will lead you to the nearest parking area to the Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead.
  • Fee: There is an $8 parking fee per car or you can use your Colorado State Parks Annual Pass
  • Trail Map for Eldorado Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Boxcar Coffee Roasters in Boulder

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Canyon Loop Trail - Betasso Preserve, Boulder

This hike at Betasso Preserve near Boulder, Colorado makes for a perfect evening escape to watch the sunset over the town below. You'll cross through meadows dotted with wildflowers then under stands of Ponderosa pine that eventually open up to views to east. Explore the hiking trail profiles and map link below for details.

Trail Snapshot: Canyon Loop Trail at Betasso Preserve

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Canyon Loop at Betasso Preserve :

  • Easier Approach: Make your hike at Betasso Preserve a bit easier by starting from the East Trailhead
  • Mountain Bikers: Each month the direction of travel required for Mountain Bikers is switched. Check the sign at the trailhead. Additionally, biking is not allowed on Wed. & Sat.
  • Hikers: Check the sign at the trailhead as well and try to hike the opposite direction of the bike traffic.
  • Trail Map for Betasso Preserve: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder

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Streamside Trail Bridge in Eldorado Canyon State Park

Eldorado Canyon State Park Hikes

Eldorado Canyon State Park is a hiking and climbing Mecca tucked into the Front Range near Boulder and Denver, Colorado. In this hiking profile of Eldorado Canyon, we quickly give you the 4 main trails and some tips for your time in the canyon. Explore the full trail profile below to get all the details.

Trail Snapshot: Hiking In Eldorado Canyon

Eldorado Canyon is an oasis just about 45 minutes from Denver. Kids will love hiking over rocks along the streamside trail, peering into caves, and gazing up at the climbers on the towering canyon walls. The park features one of the best picnic areas in the state with shallow areas of boulder creek which quickly fill with kids. Close attention is needed in any situation involving water and children. South Boulder Creek can be swift, especially after rains and during the early melts. During these times, the canyon gushes and roars. The sounds are as great as the views.

Fishing at Eldorado Canyon State Park could potentially yield you fish that are eight inches to an average about eight inches to about twenty inches long. For a more detailed guide on fishing here, check out the one at Colorado Parks and Wildlife here.

There is no camping at Eldorado Canyon State Park, although there are nearby areas to do so.

boulder creek flowing below orange cliff faces of eldorado canyon

4 Trail Options in Eldorado Canyon State Park

#1 - The Streamside Trail is the shortest (.5 mile one way) and follows close to the sides of the creek and canyon walls.
#2 - The Fowler Trail takes you .7 miles (one way) and provides great views of the canyon.
#3 - The Rattlesnake Gulch Trail is more difficult, traveling 1.4 miles up to the ruins of the Crags Hotel that burned to in 1912. Another trail goes from the hotel another .8 mile loop and features a view of Colorado's continental divide.
#4 - The Eldorado Canyon Trail is the longest, 3.5 miles (one way), eventually intersecting with the Walker Ranch Loop Trail.

Tips & Resources for Hiking Eldorado State Park:

  • Go On a Weekday: Eldorado Canyon is a climbing mecca and can reach capacity on the weekends.
  • Picnic: There is a great picnic area at the back of Eldorado Canyon, so pack a lunch or dinner for after the hike.
  • Driving Note: Take care in driving through the town of Eldorado Springs, there are many bikers, pedestrians, and pot holes!
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder, Colorado
  • Trail Map for Eldorado Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Climbing in Eldorado Canyon
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions

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