Seeing the Sights on Boulder’s Royal Arch Trail

Boulder, Colorado comes across as an outdoorsy place. It has the famous Flatiron boulders as a backdrop, the Boulder Creek that flows through downtown, and the Rocky Mountains as a backyard. No wonder it’s so hard for Boulderites to stay inside.

Another plus about Boulder is the proximity to hiking. A great network of trails is to be found just outside the city. One of the best-loved of these trails is Royal Arch in Chautauqua Park. A few things to keep an eye out for on this quintessential Colorado hike:

Other People

This is a busy, well-populated trail. Especially on a sunny weekend, you’ll run into plenty of fellow enthusiasts. The first clue as to how many people you’ll find is the Chautauqua parking lot. You’ll see rows and rows of cars, with an over-representation of Subarus (it’s a Colorado thing). Judging by the bumper stickers and license plates, Boulderites, Denverites, and tourists from everywhere all have the same good idea of hiking around Chautauqua Park.

Trail traffic makes for a less serene hike, but it has its perks. It makes for good people-watching, and you get a great idea of the latest in outdoor fashion. You can also brush up on your trail etiquette, as most people you pass will greet you with a winded “hello!”

Trail Runners

Trail runners do count as other people, but they’re also a breed apart. Spotting a fast, lean trail runner is like catching a glimpse of local Boulder wildlife. Gazelle-like, they bound along the trails. Perfectly streamlined, they wear and carry almost nothing. I tried to get a photo for this post, but they just move too fast.

Note: trail runners are on a mission – hiker greeting etiquette does not apply.


Some might object that dogs have their own category here rather than counting as people. In Boulder, dogs are not a breed apart. They seem to have human status around town. On the trail, the dog-watching is as good as the people-watching. You’ll see an impressive spread of outdoorsy and fit pets, and you’ll get a great idea of this season’s trends in dog accessories.

Note: dogs are hiking too – hiker greeting etiquette does apply.

Photo by Karl Uschold

Rock Formations

The Royal Arch trail is a geological treat. Start your hike in Chautauqua Park with a few stops to behold Boulder’s iconic Flatirons up-close. The park’s maps and signage will lead you to the bottom of 1st Flatiron, 2nd Flatiron, and 3rd Flatiron. Rock climbing skill and equipment will lead you to the top of them.

For non-climbers, the rock formations serve as great scenery and photo ops. The climax, of course, is Royal Arch itself. After 1,417 feet of total elevation gain, its awesomeness is well-earned. The arch is over 20 feet wide sandstone, sculpted by a happy combination of mechanical, wind, and water erosion. For even more formations, romp around the surrounding area, where there’s another outcropping that juts out just like Disney’s Pride Rock.

A Bird’s Eye View of Boulder

Toward the top of the trail, a sweeping view of Boulder will open up, framed by the nearby Flatirons. On a really clear day, you can see all the way out to Denver. Have your camera ready in for this impressive panorama.

Cynthia Ord (8 Posts)

Cynthia is based in her hometown of Denver, Colorado. When she’s not at work at an adventure travel company, she’s out exploring the peaks of the Rocky Mountains by foot, bicycle, snowshoe or ski. On the side, she is a staff writer and editor at The Travel Word and tinkers with her own site, Cynthia is also an ambassador and contributor for Mountain Reservations. Connect to Cynthia Ord: Google+ | LinkedIn

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