North Clear Creek Falls

Rio Grande National Forest / Creede / Lake City, Colorado, USA

About North Clear Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: roadside (if road open); 1 mile round trip (if road closed)
Suggested Time: 15 minutes (if road open); 1 hour (if road closed)

Date first visited: 2017-04-17
Date last visited: 2017-04-17

Waterfall Latitude: 37.84942
Waterfall Longitude: -107.15026

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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 in the Rio Grande National Forest.

Indeed, I anticipated visiting this 100ft gushing waterfall, which was directly 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).

North_Clear_Creek_Falls_046_04172017 - North Clear Creek Falls and a faint rainbow at its base
North Clear Creek Falls and a faint rainbow at its base

As you can see from the photo above, the effort to make it to the falls was richly rewarding as I even got to witness this waterfall with some faint rainbows at its base.

By the way, that claim seen on the National Park Service website that the Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park being the highest mountain pass in the lower 48 states can’t be true.

After all, we had to drive through two different passes in the Gunnison National Forest that exceeded Tioga Pass (which was just under 10,000ft in elevation).

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.

North_Clear_Creek_Falls_007_04172017 - Walking the closed road towards the North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site, which was in a very wide and flat meadow or valley
Walking the closed road towards the North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site, which was in a very wide and flat meadow or valley

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 during our mid-April 2017 visit.

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.

North_Clear_Creek_Falls_042_04172017 - Wide look at the North Clear Creek Falls showing more of the underlying cliffs that gave rise to the waterfall
Wide look at the North Clear Creek Falls showing more of the underlying cliffs that gave rise to the waterfall

This suggested 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.

Authorities

North Clear Creek Falls resides in the Rio Grande National Forest between the town of Creede and Lake City in Hinsdale County, Colorado. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

North_Clear_Creek_Falls_003_04172017 - Fortunately, it was only a half-mile walk to get to the North Clear Creek Falls so I didn't mind walking the closed road to the observation site
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_011_04172017 - Walking over some patches of snow that was melting off the pavement as I made my way to the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_016_04172017 - Walking over another large patch of snow on the way to the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_017_04172017 - I guess we now know which governing entity was overseeing the care and maintenance of the amenities at North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_018_04172017 - Looking ahead towards the snow-covered parking lot for North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_020_04172017 - Approaching the restroom facility and the overlook with the interpretive signs fronting the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_021_04172017 - Looking upstream from the North Clear Creek Falls towards some wide open bushy plains or something
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_022_04172017 - Looking towards the four interpretive signs at the parking lot for North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_029_04172017 - My first glimpse at the impressive North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_032_04172017 - Portrait view of the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_038_04172017 - I explored a little further downstream to see how else to experience this place, and I got this more distant look at the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_043_04172017 - Profile view of North Clear Creek Falls with rainbow starting to appear at its base
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_050_04172017 - Looking across the North Clear Creek Falls from the observation deck
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_056_04172017 - Somewhat long exposed look at the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_062_04172017 - Another look across the profile of the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_065_04172017 - Under more normal circumstances later in the season, I'm sure this restroom facility will get a lot of use at the North Clear Creek Falls
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_067_04172017 - Walking back on the paved road between Hwy 149 from the North Clear Creek Observation Site after getting my fill
North_Clear_Creek_Falls_068_04172017 - Approaching the parked car to end this excursion to the North Clear Creek Falls

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The nearest towns to North Clear Creek Falls 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.

North_Clear_Creek_Falls_005_04172017 - Context of the Hwy 149 and the turnoff for the North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site
Context of the Hwy 149 and the turnoff for the North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site

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).

North_Clear_Creek_Falls_002_04172017 - The road to the North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site was closed so I had to walk that road to the waterfall
The road to the North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site was closed so I had to walk that road to the waterfall

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.

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

Trip Planning Resources


Tagged with: rio grande national forest, creede, colorado, waterfall, lake city, slumguillion peak



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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