Boulder, CO: Royal Arch

This popular loop through Boulder's Chautauqua Park tops out at a stunning rock arch framing views of Front Range foothills and the plains.

Chautauqua Park is the crown jewel of Boulder's local trail network and the Royal Arch hike is an ideal sampler for fit (or resilient) first-timers. Starting from the Ranger Cottage, begin hiking up the Chautauqua Trail and turn off onto the Bluebell Mesa Trail before the path disappears into the woods.

About 1.1 miles in, the gradual grade ticks up to not-so-gradual, as the trail begins a two-tiered, 0.7-mile climb up to Royal Arch. Slogging up a series of rock steps, this stretch will leave your lungs hurting on the way up, and then take a toll on your knees on the way down. The view from the top is worth it, though: Royal Arch, a rock edifice perched between drainages, offers various overlooks up and down the Front Range. After backtracking downhill for a bit, the route turns back uphill on a detour that traces one of Chautauqua's signature Flatirons before returning to the Ranger Cottage.

-Mapped by Mark Harrison

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5.9



Location: 39.9988153, -105.2829172

Chautauqua Trail Trailhead: Head southwest up the wide trail on a steady climbing grade. Boulder's iconic Flatirons frame the foothill landscape in front of you, while behind you the town itself stretches out into the plains.


Location: 39.9956715, -105.2862887

Turn left @ 3-way junction onto the Bluebell Mesa Trail. Continue hiking around the ridge with fantastic views of Boulder and the plains stretching out to the east.


Location: 39.9955708, -105.2842449

Bear right @ Y-junction. The trail to the left can also be used to synch up with the Bluebell Shelter at Waypoint 5.


Location: 39.9926118, -105.2876459

Follow the trail as it cuts to the left.


Location: 39.991087, -105.2873603

Bluebell Shelter: Restrooms are available at the shelter. From here, continue west on the signed Royal Arch trail (it's about 0.9 mile to the summit from here). Ahead, the trail continues through a mix of deciduous and conifer forest, and winds along 2 wooden boardwalks.


Location: 39.9893033, -105.2886263

Continue straight @ 3-way on the Royal Arch Trail. From here, the trail picks up a steep, 0.7-mile climb up rugged boulder steps to Royal Arch. There's a brief respite from this climb at Waypoint 7. The route backtracks here on the return trip and bears left heading towards the 2nd and 3rd Flatirons.


Location: 39.9844821, -105.2914868

Take a break from the climb amidst a collection of giant boulders perched over views of the Front Range. From here, the trail continues down a short-but-steep rock scramble, before leveling out and then beginning a steep climb to Royal Arch.


Location: 39.9818617, -105.2915579

The hike tops out at a magnificent rock arch, which frames views of the Front Range and surrounding plains. Look back the way you came for another excellent view of the Flatirons. Explore the area a bit to find more astonishing overlooks, but use caution scrambling amongst the rocks. From here, descend back down to Waypoint 6 and bear left at that Y-junction.


Location: 39.9895869, -105.2903362

The trail encounters a modest-sized boulder often used by local climbers for bouldering. The route is a bit misleading here: Hug the right side of the boulder, and climb up a series of rock steps to continue.


Location: 39.9894903, -105.2905548

Continue straight @ 3-way junction bypassing the access trail to the second Flatiron.


Location: 39.991713, -105.289376

Continue straight @ 4-way junction.


Location: 39.992779, -105.289259

Continue straight @ 4-way junction on the Chautaqua Trail. From here, continue a leisurely, even-footed descent back to the trailhead and Ranger Cottage.

Through the Arch

Location: 39.9818391, -105.2916048

© Mark Harrison

Chautauqua Ranger Cottage

Location: 39.9988153, -105.2826168

© Mark Harrison

Into the Woods

Location: 39.9924679, -105.2876848

Chautauqua offers visitors a taste of deciduous forest foliage at the foot of the Rockies. © Mark Harrison


Location: 39.9910089, -105.2881019

A pair of wooden boardwalks keep hikers off an erosion sensitive stretch of the trail. © Mark Harrison

Get to Steppin'

Location: 39.9858755, -105.2912468

The boulder-staircase climb up to Royal Arch. © Mark Harrison

Royal Arch

Location: 39.9820467, -105.2916102

© Mark Harrison

Through the Scree

Location: 39.9895006, -105.2900371

© Mark Harrison

Chalk Rock

Location: 39.9895848, -105.2903335

The trail hugs the far (right) side of this rock, continuing up a set of rock steps. © Mark Harrison

Flatiron Access

Location: 39.9894821, -105.2905507

A side trail offers climbers access to the second Flatiron. © Mark Harrison

Flatiron from Below

Location: 39.9895232, -105.2910094

The base of the second Flatiron. © Mark Harrison

A Second Scree

Location: 39.9906514, -105.29008

The trail traverses another scree field on the return trip, offering up views of Boulder and the plains through a break in the trees. © Mark Harrison

Chautauqua Trail

Location: 39.9948023, -105.2870625

© Mark Harrison

Boulder Views

Location: 39.9964215, -105.2858824

© Mark Harrison