is a tributary of the South Platte River
, approximately 40 mi (64 km) long, in north central Colorado
in the United States
. The creek drains a canyon, called Clear Creek Canyon
in the Rocky Mountains
directly west of Denver
, descending through a long gorge to emerge on the Colorado Eastern Plains
where it joins the South Platte. The creek is famous as the location of the most intense early mining
activity during the Colorado Gold Rush
. Mountain man Jim Baker
had a cabin on the creek from 1873 until his death in 1898. The creek provided the route of the Colorado Central Railroad
, and later for the United States Highway 6
and Interstate 70
as they ascend to the Continental Divide
west of Denver.
The creek rises at the continental divide near Loveland Pass
in the Front Range
, northwest of Grays Peak
in western Clear Creek County
. It descends eastward through Clear Creek Canyon past the towns of Silver Plume
, and Idaho Springs
, all of which were founded as mining camps in the 1859 gold rush. Within the canyon it receives numerous smaller tributary creeks that descend from the rugged mountains on either side.
At the mouth of the canyon, the creek passes through the town of Golden, and in particular past the Coors brewery facility. East of the foothills, it flows through the northwest part of the Denver Metropolitan Area, passing through north Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, then roughly along the route of Interstate 76. Along this section it is largely a somewhat ignored urban stream, with an undeveloped floodplain. It passes under Interstate 25 between its junction with Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 36 (the Boulder Turnpike). It joins the South Platte from the west in southeast Thornton, near the junction of Interstate 76 and State Highway 224.
Clear Creek was originally named Cannonball Creek as early as 1820, called so by the French hunters of the expedition of Stephen H. Long, after the river rocks in its bed. In the 1830s it became known as Vasquez Fork, also Vasquez River, after the fur trader Louis Vasquez who had his fort at the mouth of the river and trapped along it. It gained its present name from the gold rushers in 1859.