The Liao He originates as two stems in the west: the Laoha He in southeastern Inner Mongolia, the Xinkai He (dry in its upper reaches except after thunderstorms) further north, and the Hulin He (which almost never reaches the main stem of the river) in the extreme northwest of Liaoning. The eastern stem of the river is known as the Dongliao He and rises in low mountains in central Liaoning. The two stems of the river meet near the junction of Liaoning, Jilin and Inner Mongolia and flow across a vast plain to the Bohai Gulf. There are two major tributaries of the river received on this plain: the Hun He and the Taizi He, both of which flow down from the Qianshan range.
Several major cities are located on the Hun He (which translates as "the muddy river"), including the provincial capital, Shenyang and Fushun. Anshan is located in the far southeast of the basin, and Yingkou near the mouth.
The Liao He drains an area of over 232,000 square kilometres, but its mean discharge is quite small at only about 500 cubic metres per second - about one-twentieth that of the Pearl River.