Friday, November 23, 2007

Royal Arch: Boulder's Stair-Master

Distance: 3 miles round trip
Elevation: 5,680 to 6,950 ft
Elevation gain: 1,270 ft
Dogs: Off leash with Boulder Voice and Sight tag
Bathroom at the Trailhead: Yes
Other trails in the area: Gregory CanyonGreen MountainBear Peak,
South Boulder PeakMallory Cave, Mt. Sanitas
Tags: #Boulder, #osmp, #hiking, #coloradooutdoors, #boosttraining, #gearguide
Books: Hiking Guide to Boulder

The last few rocky steps to Royal Arch in Boulder, CO 
Come spring, I head to Boulder, CO and all the trails that ascend along the flatirons. There is no better training for summer hiking than a trail with lots of elevation gain. Royal Arch may be short, but with all the "stairs" it packs a punch. I typically make it to the arch in 50 minutes or less and gratefully suck wind while admiring the expansive views of the plains and nearby rock formations.

Starting out on Chautauqua Road
The first part of the trail is light dirt and rocks in a dark Ponderosa Pine forest
The trail quickly begins to climb up a series of rock steps
The trail itself starts out at Chautauqua and ascends along a flat road to the official trailhead. The Royal Arch Trail quickly becomes narrow and rocky as it switchbacks up the hillside deep in the shade of the rocks, pines, and thick riparian foliage. Most of the trail is large stone steps that are a challenge for short-legged folks and will make you wish you had spent more time on a StairMaster. After the 2013 flood, the trail was rerouted.

The flatirons are visible through the trees
View through the trees from the false summit looking at the rocks ahead
Standing on the false summit and looking down the sharp decent
Three quarters of the way up is a false summit. There are impressive views of the plains here and a nice log to sit and rest on. The trail descends sharply for 150 ft or so before angling upwards again. After more steps, more logs, and more lactic acid build-up, one will finally see the arch. It is actually quite large, and the rocks on the other side provide raptor-like perches for the downing of trail munchies. You can't see the Royal Arch from the road, nor can you see it from NCAR although it seems very close when viewed from the rocks surrounding the arch.

At the bottom of the descent
On the south side of the arch looking back through it
The view from the rock pile on the south side of the arch. The pink building on the hill is NCAR
This trail can get crowded and parking can be in short supply.  I go after work when the days starting getting longer. Don't forget to bring hiking poles, which can provide stability on the return trip and help prevent quad burn out.

Looking north through the arch itself


erin said...

Your photos are amazing! My fiance and I were engaged at the Royal Arch in August. Since then I have been searching for a photo that captured the beauty of the arch, that he and I can frame and put on our wall to remember the day. Would it be possible to have a copy of the photo file emailed to me? Thank you in advance. - Erin

sylvia murphy said...


Click on the image and you will see a much larger version. Save and print this yourself. I give you permission to do this for this photograph.


Anonymous said...

My friend Susan is encouraging me to move to Colorado. She knows that I love the sun and I love to hike. She sent me a ticket for my birthday so that i could come visist her and her husband- they really wanted to show me the beauty of Colorado. Well on Tuesday, April 27 (2010) she took me hiking in Boulder and we hiked the Royal Arches at Chautaugua. I'm absolutely in love with Colorado. Thank you for the beautiful pictures (I showed my roommate back here in Olympia, WA) and she too is drawn by the beauty.


Charlie@Seattle Trekker said...

I hiked this trail this summer...It was wonderful, the views are quite amazing.

sylvia murphy said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Planning a trip out there at end of this a safe hike in winter?

sylvia murphy said...


The trail is mostly in the trees, so if there has been any snow, it will persist in the nooks and crannies.

Right now everything is dry.

For winter hiking in CO, it is always recommended to have some sort of traction device (e.g. yaktrak or microspikes. That way you can put them on if needed.