I debated with myself about whether to share this hike with all of you, because this wasn’t exactly a typical excursion. Reaching Harmonica Arch required quite a lot of navigation. We climbed very steep hills… and then had to hike back down them, which was extremely slippery. We walked across large rock slabs that were tilted at very awkward angles. We scrambled over some rocks. There was some exposure. And we also had to sift through a meshwork of social trails to figure out which one was the correct one.
In the end, I decided to go ahead and write about it. But before I share the details and photos, I want to add a bit of a disclaimer: this is not a hike for beginners. If you’re not comfortable with navigation, this is not a good hike for you. If you don’t know how to read a topo map, this is not a good hike for you. If you’re wary of heights, this is not a good hike for you. If you decide to go to Harmonica Arch, please make sure you’ve researched and prepared properly to avoid becoming lost or injured.
Harmonica Arch is located in the Lost Creek Wilderness, which is a really unique area of Colorado. If you’re looking for alpine lakes and sheer mountain ridges, you won’t find them here. But if pine forests and unique rock formations is your thing, Lost Creek Wilderness is the place to be. Unfortunately, there was a large wildfire in the area many years ago and it hasn’t recovered well. It was a long drive in on a dirt road to get to the Goose Creek Trailhead, and most of the drive was through wide open areas full of burned trees with very little new growth.
My friend Kaylyn and I began our hike on the Goose Creek Trail which is well established and signed. After crossing the creek on a very sketchy bridge, we looped around into unburned forest where we would remain for the rest of our hike. We followed this trail for about a mile (1.6 km); just before a less sketchy bridge, we veered off onto a trail that remained on the same side of the creek.
This is not an official trail. It’s not maintained by the Forest Service and it’s not on most trail maps (hence the importance of having strong navigational skills). AllTrails reports that the trail is closed, although there is absolutely no signage or any indication of this anywhere, and other sources do not indicate a closure. I think the “closure” was maybe more of an attempt to dissuade ill-prepared hikers from attempting to reach the arch.
Although it’s not official, it’s a decently established social trail and we didn’t have too much trouble following it. But because it’s not maintained, there are a lot of bushes encroaching on the trail. I recommend wearing sunglasses; without them, you may end up with a tree branch in your eyeball.
The most challenging part of following this social trail is the other social trails that branch off at various points (this area is popular for climbers and hunters; there are numerous trails). There is absolutely no signage and it was difficult at times to figure out which trail was the correct one. We took a couple wrong turns before realizing our mistake and backtracking. To reach the correct trail, continue along Goose Creek until you can see Harmonica Arch and the adjacent very obvious – and rather phallic – rock directly above you. It’s at this point that you should begin to follow the trail that leads up the hill.
And so up we went. Steeply. It was a calf burner. But as we climbed, we eventually began to see cairns marking the route, which made it much easier to stay on the trail. About 800 vertical feet (243 m) later, we emerged from the forest onto a giant rock slab. At this point, there are no more cairns and you can’t see the arch or the phallic rock so you really just have to know where to go. Head diagonally to the left; you’ll walk through kind of a bowl-shaped area and then climb up the opposite side.
Once you reach the edge of that rock slab, make your way across to the next giant rock slab and curve to the right. When you reach a line of large boulders, walk alongside them; you’re now above and just to the right of the arch. Go around the end of the boulders. This is the high point and the phallic rock will now be very obvious. Turn left and follow the rock slab down; it’s tilted at an awkward angle and isn’t easy to walk on. This part would be extremely dangerous if the rocks were wet or icy.
There was no one else at the arch, so Kaylyn and I scoped out a fairly flat picnic rock out of the wind and enjoyed the view while we ate a snack. To the southeast, we could see all the way down the Goose Creek drainage and out to Pikes Peak. We also walked over to the arch to the extent possible, but it was too steep and exposed to climb all the way up to it.
All too soon, it was time to head back to the car. It was going to be somewhat of a slow descent given how steep some sections of the trail were. As difficult as it had been to climb up, going down was actually harder. In some places it was like walking on a steep ramp covered with marbles.
Once back down to Goose Creek, though, it was a straightforward hike along the water back to the car.
Overall, this was one of the more challenging hikes I’ve done in Colorado due to the steep off-trail sections and the route-finding required. But it was also really neat. You don’t generally hear ‘Colorado’ and ‘arch’ in the same sentence… but this state – and the Lost Creek Wilderness – continues to surprise me.
The Important Stuff
- Getting there: Goose Creek Trailhead is located off Goose Creek Road, a long dirt road southwest of Deckers. There were a couple steep sections, but it was well maintained. We drove a Camry and made it just fine
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: for us, it was 6.5 miles (10.5 km) round trip with about 1300 feet (400 m) of elevation gain; exact stats will vary depending on the route you take from Goose Creek up to the arch
- Where to stay: we saw a few people dispersed camping along Goose Creek Road, but this is also easily done as a day hike from Denver, Colorado Springs, or anywhere in between
- Other: just to reiterate what I said above… please do your research and prepare before you head out to avoid getting disoriented or lost on one of the many social trails that meander through the area