Information about the river Ill and the Canal du Rhône au Rhin (north branch)

Navigation in Strasbourg is a tale of two waterways, plus the basins of the port of Strasbourg. For convenience, they need to be considered as a single regional network. The network is formed by the river Ill, a tributary of the Rhine, navigable over a length of nearly 13km from the junction with the Canal de la Marne au Rhin (PK 312) at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, through the city and the Alsace plain to Ostwald. After the cross-Strasbourg link (4.5km long) with its two arms flowing round the historic centre, the river connects with the northern branch of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, which retains this name despite being severed from the main canal (see separate entry). The canal, managed by VNF, extends from the western end of the Dusuzeau basin of the port of Strasbourg through to Rhinau lock, where it connects with the Rhine. This Freycinet canal effectively continues the through routes, whether via the Ill or the basins of the port of Strasbourg, making a continuous waterway that is 39.3 km long via the Ill, just 600m longer if starting from the Bassin des Remparts in the port of Strasbourg. See the detailed map on the next page.

An additional system inherited from the old canal, and a worthwhile excursion for private boats, is the link from the Rhine to Colmar, using a 1960s connecting canal, a length of the old northern branch of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, and the Colmar branch of that branch, a route that is 23 km long.

These two waterways are at present connected only by the Rhine, but the author has contributed to the project to restore the canal in the disused section, 23km long with 12 locks (one new), so that Colmar could be reached by hire boats. This is the dotted red line in the regional location map, right. Pending completion of this project, the Colmar access route is described separately, with its own PK starting from the Rhine, and breaking down into three sections: first the 6km Neuf-Brisach link canal, built as part of the upper Rhine development works, then a 3km length of the former canal maintained for navigation, finally the original branch of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, 13km long.

In short, there are two ‘regional’ systems based on the same original canal, but severed until further notice, much to the consternation of the mayor of Colmar and the Chamber of Commerce, who rightly see great potential for developing waterway tourism with the rest of Alsace and Lorraine.

The ‘dead end’ section of the river Ill upstream of the cross-Strasbourg link is 8.3km long, leading to factories and a large gravel pit that formerly made use of barge transport. This section also gave access to the now disused Canal de la Bruch.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 5,10m
  • Max Height: 3,50m
  • Max Draught: 1,80m

Local Waterway Links

Navigation on the cross-Strasbourg link is not encouraged by the Strasbourg Port Authority. This is a pity, because it is possibly the most attractive urban waterway in France. In practice, private boats are allowed to cruise through the Petite-France, but downstream only, thus using Lock A in the opposite direction to the incessant traffic of trip-boats, which systematically do the ring clockwise. The navigable length of the river is shown on the detailed plan of Strasbourg on the next page. Navigation on the Canal du Rhône au Rhin is straightforward, except when crossing the river Ill in flood.

There are two locks on the river Ill, A and B, one on each of the alternative routes through Strasbourg. The first is on the Ill in the heart of the Petite France district, while the second is on the Canal des Faux Remparts The latter is used by the Strasbourg trip-boats to make the round cruise through the city. A third lock (C) gives access to the 400m long ‘dead end’ section of the river north of the level junction with the Canal de la Marne au Rhin. It is used only by waterway maintenance vessels. Lock dimensions are 34.85m by 5.32m. Trip-boats have priority at the locks.
On the Canal du Rhône au Rhin from the port of Strasbourg to Rhinau there are 12 locks, plus a flood lock (normally open) at the crossing of the Ill flood diversion canal (PK 17). The lock connecting with the Rhine at Rhinau is 40 m by 6.00m. The others are 38.80m long and 5.10m wide.
The Colmar branch has 3 locks. The new lock on the Neuf-Breisach link canal measures 40 by 6.00m. The second lock (38.80 by 5.10m) is on the former through route of the canal, while the third (38.85 by 5.30m) is at the crossing of the river Ill near Colmar.

The maximum authorised draught is 1.80m, but silting has occurred on the upper reaches of the river Ill towards Ostwald, and caution is required when heading upstream on the river from the junction with the Canal du Rhône au Rhin.
Headroom The least headroom on the cross-Strasbourg link is 3.90m, reduced to 3.50m above highest navigable water level. On the upper reaches, headroom is reduced to 3.15m (2.60m above highest navigable water level). On the Canal du Rhône au Rhin the fixed bridges offer a minimum headroom of 3.70m.
Towpath There is no towpath along the river Ill, but attractive riverside walks have been developed throughout the navig­able ring in Strasbourg. There is a good towpath along the canal, paved to serve as a cycle route.

VNF – Direction territoriale Strasbourg

Click to enlarge

River Ill and Canal Rhône-Rhin North

PK 0.0    Illkirch-Graffenstaden weir, limit of navigation (for small craft only)
PK 0.7    Quay r/b
PK 0.8    Motorway bridge (A35)
PK 1.6    Château de l’Île spa l/b (no mooring)
PK 1.8    Ostwald former quay l/b
PK 4.4    Gelatine factory and quay r/b, entrance to Gerig lake l/b
PK 5.3    Elsau former quay r/b
PK 5.5    U/s tip of island, navigation in r/b arm
PK 5.9    D/s tip of island, bridge (tramway, line B)
PK 6.1    Railway bridge
PK 6.3    Confluence of river Bruche, l/b
PK 6.4    Junction with Canal de la Bruche, l/b (disused)
PK 6.5    Footbridge (Illhof)
PK 7.4    Bridge (Montagne Verte, tramway lines B & C)
PK 7.8    Road bridge (motorway access ramp)
PK 7.9    Motorway bridges (A35)
PK 8.2    Railway bridge (l’Heyritz)

Canal des Faux Remparts
(for reference, available only to official trip boats)
PK 0.0    Junction with river Ill  (below the Barrage Vauban)
PK 0.1    Lock B (drop 1.90m), bridge (de l’Abattoir)
PK 0.25   Bridge (National), tramway lines B & C
PK 0.35   Bridge (Kuss)
PK 0.5    Bridge (de Saverne), tramway line F
PK 0.7    Bridge (du Marché)
PK 0.8    Bridge (de Paris), tramway lines A & D
PK 1.0    Bridge (du Faubourg de Pierre)
PK 1.2    Bridge (de la Fonderie)
PK 1.5    Bridge (du Théâtre), tramway lines B & C
PK 1.6    Footbridge (passerelle des Juifs)
PK 1.7    Bridge (de la Poste)
PK 1.8    Bridge (passerelle des Faux Remparts)
PK 1.9    Bridge (St Étienne)

Strasbourg turn left, while on the other (north) side of the canal are La Robertsau weir and lock C of the river Ill, for works craft only.

PK 12.6    Private footbridge (European Parliament)
PK 12.1    Footbridge (Passerelle de l’Orangerie)
PK 11.8    Bridge (Pont de la Dordogne)
PK 11.3    Bridge (Pont de la Forêt Noire)
PK 11.1    Bridge (Pont d’Auvergne), river Aar (not navigable) l/b
PK 11.0    Bridge (Pont Royal), tramway lines C & E
PK 10.8    Junction with Canal des Faux Remparts, l/b
PK 10.7    Bridge (Pont Saint-Guillaume)
PK 10.5    Footbridge (Passerelle de l’Abreuvoir)
PK 10.4    Bridge (Pont Sainte-Madeleine)
PK 10.0    Bridge (Pont Saint-Nicolas), tramway lines A & D
PK 10.2    Bridge (Pont du Corbeau)
PK 9.7    Bridge (Pont Saint-Thomas)
PK 9.5    Bridge (Pont Saint-Martin)
PK 9.4    Lock A (drop 1.90m)
PK 9.3    Swing bridge (Faisan)
PK 9.1    Junction with Canal des Faux Remparts, l/b, Quartier des Moulins, take l/b channel, bridge  (Ponts Couverts)
PK 9.0    Barrage Vauban (part of former fortifications), 13 arches, navigation through l/b arch
PK 8.8    Bridge (Pont des Frères-Matthis)
PK 8.5    Bridge (Pont Louis Pasteur)
PK 8.4     Canal du Rhône au Rhin  leaves Ill, r/b
PK 8.3     Canal du Rhône au Rhin  enters Ill, r/b

The following route description starts with the alternative (and ‘normal’) route south from the Canal de la Marne au Rhin via the basins of the port of Strasbourg and the first 1.5 km of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, branche nord. The official distances of the canal (from the original junction in Mulhouse) are continued for convenience.

Port of Strasbourg
PK 137.5     Junction with Canal de la Marne au Rhin , northern end of Bassin des Remparts
PK 136.1    Bridge over Bassin des Remparts (pont d’Anvers)
PK 135.9     Junction with Bassin Vauban  r/b, connection to Rhine via Écluses Sud
PK 135.4    Bassin Dusuzeau, junction with Bassin de la Citadelle r/b, port de plaisance Koejac l/b.
PK 135.0    Bridge (pont du Danube)
PK 134.7    Bridge (pont Winston Churchill)
PK 134.4    Footbridge
PK 134.0    Footbridge, entrance to Bassin de l’Hôpital r/b

Canal du Rhône au Rhin, branche nord
PK 134.0     Junction with Dusuzeau basin of port of Strasbourg
PK 133.9    Bridge (d’Austerlitz)
PK 133.8    Bridge (de la Bourse), tramway lines A & D
PK 133.5    Lock 86, automatic, bridge (Porte de l’Hôpital), Strasbourg centre 800m north, good moorings u/s l/b between the bridges
PK 133.0    Basin r/b (Bassin de l’Hôpital), boat harbour (Plaisance Club Strasbourg), visitor moorings 6 boats, water, electricity, showers
PK 132.6    Flood gate (Heyritz), bridge and footbridge
PK 132.5    Junction with the river Ill, l/b (route through the centre of Strasbourg)
PK 132.4    Railway bridge
PK 132.3    Expressway bridge (D1004)
PK 132.2    Rail and road bridges, private moorings at Marinest yacht club, water, electricity, slipway, repairs
PK 132.0    Lock 85, automatic, lift bridge, quay u/s r/b
PK 130.9    Pipeline crossing and overhead power lines
PK 129.5    Lock 84, bridge
PK 129.2    Bridge (D468)
PK 128.9    Footbridge
PK 128.5    Main road bridge (D1083), limited moorings on stone quay l/b, Illkirch-Graffenstaden l/b
PK 127.5    Bridge (Lixenbuhl), tramway line A
PK 126.6    Bridge
PK 125.4    Lock 83, bridge
PK 124.2    Basin (Illkirch-Graffenstaden)
PK 123.7    Expressway bridge (N353)
PK 123.1    Conveyor bridge
PK 122.3    Eschau bridge, quay d/s r/b, village l/b
PK 121.6    Lock 82, bridge
PK 120.3    Plobsheim bridge, quay d/s r/b, no services, village 400m r/b
PK 119.0    Quay r/b, Notre Dame-du-Chêne chapel
PK 118.1    Lock 81, bridge, aqueduct u/s
PK 117.7    Bridge (D788)
PK 115.8    Erstein-Krafft bridge, quay and village d/s r/b, moorings for 5 boats, water
PK 115.5    Flood lock 80
PK 115.4    Crossing of Ill flood diversion canal on the level, junction with Erstein branch

The restoration of this branch was proposed in a 2006 study, but not approved.

PK 114.8    Lock 79, bridge
PK 113.8    Erstein bridge, sugar refinery quay d/s l/b and conveyor bridges, town 3 km l/b
PK 111.8    Lock 78, bridge
PK 111.3    Gerstheim quay r/b, no services, village 1200m r/b
PK 110.2    Bridge
PK 109.0    Lock 77
PK 108.3    Obenheim bridge, village 1 km r/b
PK 105.8    Boofzheim quay and Le Boat hire base r/b.
PK 105.7    Lock 76, bridge (D5)
PK 103.4    Lock 75, VHF 18, bridge
PK 102.5    Junction with currently disused section of the canal towards Colmar l/b

Pending restoration of the connecting length to Colmar, the route here continues, to connect with the Rhine at Rhinau. The PK are continued accordingly.

Friesenheim-Rhinau link canal
PK 100.2    Bridge (D468), Friesenheim 1 km north
PK 99.3    Crossing of river Ischert on the level, quays d/s
PK 98.2    Lock (Rhin), bridge, VHF 18
PK 97.7    Entrance to river Rhine  d/s of Rhinau locks (Rhine PK 258)
See under the Rhine for the connection to the Colmar route, 32 km and two locks further south.
From the Rhine to Colmar

Neuf-Brisach junction canal and Colmar branch (Canal de Colmar)
Distances are given cumulatively from the Rhine to Colmar for convenience, since neither of the intermediate junctions offers a choice of route at present.

PK 0.0    Entrance to link canal from the Rhine d/s of Vogelgrün locks (Rhine PK 226)
PK 0.3    Lock (Écluse du Rhin), VHF 8, bridge
PK 1.9    Footbridge
PK 2.1    Bridge
PK 2.2    Rail and road bridges, Biesheim 1.5 km l/b
PK 2.7    Weir r/b (river Giessen leaves canal)
PK 2.8    Bridge (Bœbbels)
PK 5.0    Bridge (D468)
PK 6.0    Kunheim bridge, village r/b
PK 6.1     Junction with former main route of Canal du Rhône au Rhin, southbound
(PK 59.3), moorings for 16 boats.

In addition to the Artzenheim-Friesenheim section, the author’s study in 1999 recommended restoration of the canal soutbound to Neuf-Brisach, a distance of 6 km with four locks, where there is a large basin ideal for development as a port de plaisance.

PK 7.9    Lock 63, bridge (D9)
PK 9.3    Junction with former main route of Canal du Rhône au Rhin, northbound

(PK 56.1), bridge, navigation north towards Strasbourg projected (restoration partially completed in 2007-2009), sharp left turn on branch west towards Colmar

PK 9.7      Bridge
PK 11.1    Footbridge
PK 11.3    Pipeline crossing
PK 12.2    Bridge
PK 13.1    Bridge
PK 14.0    Bridge (D9), Muntzenheim 600m south
PK 15.0    Bridge
PK 15.6    Aqueduct
PK 16.3    Bridge, Wickerschwihr 500m north
PK 17.1    Bridge
PK 18.1    Bridge
PK 18.8    Bridge
PK 19.5    Bridge
PK 20.4    Lock (Ill) with flood gate, bridge d/s
PK 20.6    Crossing of river Ill, weir on north side, navigation enters the river Lauch

Beware of the cross-current.

PK 20.7    Motorway bridge (A35)
PK 20.8    Footbridge
PK 21.5    Footbridge
PK 22.4    Turning basin, industrial quays d/s l/b
PK 22.7    Colmar basin (head of navigation) port de plaisance, 60 berths, night €9-38, fuel, water, electricity, showers, crane 18t, pump-out, repairs, town centre 1 km

Colmar is a very picturesque town, with its half-timbered houses and the winding streams of the river Ill. These make a delightful boat excursion, less than 1 km from the port de plaisance.