Friday, June 11, 2010

Harmonica Arch, Lost Creek Wilderness, Colorado

Harmonica Arch is a large rock arch located in Lost Creek Wilderness which is a part of Pike National Forest. If you have never been to the Lost Creek Wilderness you are definitely missing out! This is one of the most unique and stunning national forests that I have been to; with huge boulders, odd rock formations, and a lush undergrowth full of wildflowers and bright green grass.  It encompasses 120,000 acreas west of Colorado Springs with over 130 miles of hiking trails.  Lost Creek earned it's name from the river's numerous disappearances into underground caves and large rock formations, only to reappear further downstream. 

There is not much literature about Harmonica Arch and how to hike there, and it would, in fact, be very difficult to find without these directions along the way to reach the arch.

Getting there: The hike starts from the Goose Creek Trailhead in the Lost Creek Wilderness, west of Colorado Springs. I recommend clicking your trip tick on your vehicle for these directions, or use your GPS, the roads are not well marked. To get to the trailhead from my home in the Golden area, west of Denver, take C-470 east to highway 285 west. Stay on 285 for 21 miles to Pine junction. At the intersection in Pine Junction, take a left onto 126 also called Pine Valley Road, South and take this for just under 22 miles.

Next you will make a right turn onto Wigwam Road. This is an easy road to miss, the Cheesman Trailhead is just before the turnoff (which also has the last pit toilet for a long while) and there is a brown national forest sign indicating the right turn. Wigwam road is dirt, but cars can make it up easily; at two miles exactly from the turnoff make a right turn onto 211/Goose Creek road. There is no sign and the road is not marked, it's at the top of a hill and there are large mailboxes past the road as a visual guide. 
Continue down this road following the signs to the left toward Goose Creek Campground/trailhead when the road splits. After 6.3 miles from the turn onto 211 there is another right turn, you will turn onto same named Goose Creek Road.  The turn is unmarked and it's easy to miss, note the mileage on your trip and keep an eye out for the turn. Someone has etched an arrow with "Goose Creek" on the back of a stop sign to signal you to turn. After about 3 miles you will see the Goose Creek Campground on your left in the valley next to the river. Continue up the road another 2 miles for the right turn onto road 558 which dead ends at the Trailhead, there is a sign at this turn indicating the trailhead. The trailhead has no bathrooms or facilities; the closest are at the campground.  The google maps directions helped us to reach the campground, but near the end, the directions are confusing and the "turns" they indicate are just curves in the road.

The Journey: It was a hot day and we decided to hike this trail in the late afternoon when the clouds had rolled in at 3:30 in the afternoon.  From the trailhead the trail descends through the Hayman burn area with very lush green undergrowth to Lost Creek below. After the first bridge crossing there is a trail intersection, take a right turn and continue on the Goose Creek trail alongside the river. Shortly you will leave the burn area behind, and you will walk through lush forest to the second bridge crossing. Instead of crossing the second bridge, take the trail to the left before the bridge crossing. It is not a marked trail, but was very easy to see and follow. This trail will take you along the riverside with some ups and downs along the way, there is ample shade and the dogs were able to drink from the river when they needed it. Eventually the trail comes out of the forest and the large rock formations that Lost Creek Wilderness is known for, are in front of you. Observant hikers may see the harmonica arch on the rocks in the distance next to the large "finger" rock which you can see in the photo above; the views are awe inspiring, with the rushing river, large rocks and tall mountains, it's a photographers paradise.   

The trail continues along the river and does run through some backpacking campsites, but continues on the other side of the sites. There are several social trails that dead end into campsites or the river which caused us some confusion as we tried to stay on the main trail.  The trail splits again at about 1.7 miles; take the trail split to the right, down the hill toward the river. (See photo on the right, my husband is coming from this trail.) The trail to the left/straight continues into a narrow canyon, if you find yourself here, turn around and go back to the trail split, heading down to the river and continue on this trail along the river until you are beneath the large rock formation with the arch.
Next the trail will  turn left and continue up the steep mountainside, gaining 800 feet from the river to the arch. Because of the large boulders in front of the arch, it is reached from the south side by climbing up the mountain to the backside of the rock formation and coming down to the arch. Continue up the steep mountainside and follow the numerous cairns to reach the backside of the mountain; it was a long difficult climb with some class 2 scrambling. Eventually, the trail comes out onto the rock that you could see behind the arch on your hike in. At this point in the hike we were reminded of  hiking Arches National Park in Utah, as we walked out on the rock.  The Harmonica Arch takes some searching to find, hikers will have to climb over a ravine and do some class two scrambling around boulders to come out on top of the Arch.  The arch's GPS location is 39 degrees 11.46 N and 105 degrees 23.69 W.  There is a steep drop off in front of the arch, so it's more safely reached from above.

Just making it to the rock provides incredible views of Lost Creek in the valley below, Pikes Peak and the surrounding unique rock formations. The rock is very steep in many places and drops off into the canyon below, so use caution when walking out on the rock. 

Josh and I enjoyed the views and rested from the strenuous hike on the top while exploring the area and then slowly made our way down back down the mountain. We had forgotten our hiking poles, which would have come in handy on the climb up, but found some sturdy sticks on the rocks and used them to help us get down the steep mountainside.

We made it back to our car by 7:10 and drove the short 5 minutes back to our campsite.  Here is the google map that guided us there; you can click it to input your own address.
If you have hiked this trail or have any questions, please leave a comment! 
  Here are some more photos for you to enjoy:


  1. Great pictures! How did the dogs do, especially on the rock surface? Could they make it all the way to the arch with you?

  2. Thanks! The dogs didn't have any problems at all; and didn't seem scared of the steep rock faces either. There was one section where we had to point them in the correct direction, but other than that, they did fine :)

  3. I used to hike there 40 years ago as a child. A friend of our family "discovered" it scouting around for the USGS. Nearby there is an amazing overhang of quartz points and an enormous deposit of red flowstone. It's a fantastic area.

  4. Oh, I can't wait to go back and check that quartz deposit out! It is a very cool area, I think people don't frequent it as much after the Hayman fire.

  5. Note to dog owners: ALL WILDERNESS AREAS require dogs to be under control at all times. The areas that require your dog to be on a leash at all times include: Cache La Poudre, Comanche Peak, Collegiate Peaks, Eagles Nest, Fossil Ridge, Holy Cross, Hunter-Fryingpan, Indian Peaks, La Garita, Lizard Head, Lost Creek, Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Mt. Evans, Mt. Massive, Mt. Sneffels, Neota, Powderhorn, Ptarmigan Peak, Raggeds, Rawah, and Uncompahgre. Check with the Forest Service Ranger Districts in each wilderness area if you have questions or for more detailed information.

  6. Didn't quite make it all the way to the arch due to a lack of direction and the steep drop offs and ravine, but this was a fantastic hike none-the-less. I definitely plan to go back and make it all the way to the arch. The trail was uniquely marked with stacks of rocks which exhibited so much character!!! How did you know how to conquer the rock face? Had you previously received directions or did you just do a bit of exploring to find it?