Clear Creek rises along the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass, just south of the Eisenhower Tunnel. It then tumbles eastward, paralleling Interstate 70 until it is east of Idaho Springs; there it curves northward, away from the highway, and descends through its spectacular canyon in the Front Range foothills, flowing onto the Colorado Piedmont at Golden. From this historic town, Clear Creek snakes eastward to join the South Platte River north of Denver.
The South Fork of Clear Creek rises along Guanella Pass, which connects the Mt. Evans massif with the Continental Divide (to its west). This tributary then descends northward, entering the main channel at Georgetown. The West Fork of Clear Creek rises along the Continental Divide west of Berthoud Pass and tumbles to the ESE, entering the main channel just west of Dumont. Fall River rises along the Continental Divide northeast of Berthoud Pass and drops to the southeast, merging with Clear Creek west of Idaho Springs. Finally, the North Fork rises along the Continental Divide near James Peak and descends to the southeast, joining Clear Creek within its granite-walled canyon.
Local naturalists know Clear Creek for its whitewater rapids, which attract dippers, for its spectacular canyon through the foothills and especially for the rich aquatic ecosystems along upper sections of its major tributaries. There, beaver ponds slow the drainage and thick stands of willow attract a host of subalpine birds and mammals. White-tailed ptarmigan are especially common at Guanella Pass and moose may be encountered along upper stretches of the western and northern forks. As many travelers know, bighorn sheep are often observed along the main valley of Clear Creek, especially on the north side of Interstate 70 near Dumont and Georgetown.