North Clear Creek Falls

Rio Grande National Forest / near Creede / near Lake City / Mineral County, Colorado, USA

Rating: 3     Difficulty: 1.5
North Clear Creek Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

North Clear Creek Falls was a waterfall that I wound up going a bit out of the way for even though it was said to be a pretty easy-to-visit drive-to waterfall. Indeed, as you can see from the photo above that the effort to make it to the falls was richly rewarding as I got to witness this 100ft or so gushing waterfall produce some faint rainbows at its base. The pretty healthy flow of North Clear Creek was fed by the meltwaters of the high altitude mountains of the San Juan Mountain Range near Slumguillion Pass (around 11,500ft) and Spring Creek Pass (around 10,500ft). By the way, that claim seen on the National Park Service website that the Tioga Pass at just under 10,000ft being the highest mountain pass in the lower 48 states was obviously incorrect given the existence of these neighboring mountain passes in the Gunnison National Forest (note that the falls sat in the Rio Grande National Forest). In any case, this waterfall's vertical drop was the result of some volcanic eruptions and ash flows that were also responsible for the creation of the underlying Nelson Mountain Tuff layer as well as the San Juan Mountains. This was evident in the vertical headwalls of Willow Canyon hinting at this region's violent past.

As for visiting this waterfall, as luck would have it (or not), the last half-mile of forest road to reach the parking lot was closed due to snow. So instead of it being an easy drive-to waterfall, I wound up walking that stretch resulting in a roughly one-mile round trip hike on mostly pavement. The walk along the partially snow-covered road allowed me to observe that the plateau on which I was on seemed to be wide and expansive, suggesting that perhaps this area had a lake or an ocean at one point in its past. Beyond the parking lot and interpretive signs, a very short dirt trail led to fenced overlooks on the rim of Willow Canyon providing plenty of angles to view the North Clear Creek Falls. Overall, this excursion took me a little under an hour, and the difficulty score was bumped up due to the increased walking distance. Under more normal circumstances, the difficulty ought to be minimal since it was essentially a roadside attraction.






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PHOTO JOURNAL

During the long drive from the Gunnison area towards North Clear Creek Falls, we crossed a pair of high altitude mountain passes. The Windy Point Overlook was one roadside stop along this Hwy 149During the long drive from the Gunnison area towards North Clear Creek Falls, we crossed a pair of high altitude mountain passes. The Windy Point Overlook was one roadside stop along this Hwy 149
The Forest Service Road 510 was closed due to snowThe Forest Service Road 510 was closed due to snow

Fortunately, it was only a half-mile walk to get to the North Clear Creek FallsFortunately, it was only a half-mile walk to get to the North Clear Creek Falls

Looking along the Hwy 149 where we parked the car given the route 510 road closureLooking along the Hwy 149 where we parked the car given the route 510 road closure

Walking over some patches of snow that was melting off the pavementWalking over some patches of snow that was melting off the pavement

I guess we now know which governing entity was overseeing the care and maintenance of the amenities at North Clear Creek FallsI guess we now know which governing entity was overseeing the care and maintenance of the amenities at North Clear Creek Falls

Looking ahead towards the snow-covered parking lot for North Clear Creek Falls Observation SiteLooking ahead towards the snow-covered parking lot for North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site

Looking upstream from the North Clear Creek Falls towards some wide open bushy plains or somethingLooking upstream from the North Clear Creek Falls towards some wide open bushy plains or something

Looking towards the four interpretive signs at the car parkLooking towards the four interpretive signs at the car park

My first glimpse at the impressive North Clear Creek FallsMy first glimpse at the falls

More distant look at the North Clear Creek FallsMore distant look at the falls

Profile view of North Clear Creek Falls with rainbow starting to appear at its baseProfile view of North Clear Creek Falls with rainbow starting to appear at its base

Somewhat long exposed look at the North Clear Creek FallsSomewhat long exposed look at the North Clear Creek Falls

Under more normal circumstances later in the season, I'm sure this restroom facility will get a lot of useUnder more normal circumstances later in the season, I'm sure this restroom facility will get a lot of use

Walking back on the paved road between Hwy 149 and the North Clear Creek Observation SiteWalking back on the paved road between Hwy 149 and the North Clear Creek Observation Site

Approaching the parked car to end this excursionApproaching the parked car to end this excursion


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Checking out the impressive falls from a few different angles along the viewing area


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The nearest towns that I'm aware of to the North Clear Creek Falls were Lake City to the north and Creede to the south. Both towns were along the Hwy 149. Lake City was about 25 miles (45 minutes drive) to the north along the highway and Creede was about 27 miles (36 minutes drive) to the east. The turnoff onto Road 510 was just under 15 miles south of Slumguillion Pass. The road leaves Hwy 149 to the east (left if going south), but like I said earlier, if the gate is closed, they you'll have to walk this stretch like I did.

For additional context, North Clear Creek Falls was about 161 miles to the northeast of Ouray and about 190 miles (a little over 4 hour's drive) northeast of Telluride (though it was far less distance as the crow flies).

Ouray was also 71 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Durango, 97 miles (about 2 hours drive) southeast of Grand Junction, 301 miles (under 6 hours drive) southwest of Denver, 150 miles (about 3 hours drive) east of Moab, Utah, and 286 miles (over 5 hours drive) northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.


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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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