le Canal latéral à la Loire

The Loire Lateral Canal

Le Canal latéral à la Loire

Quietly crossing beautiful regions of France, the Loire lateral canal is a crossroad of the vast waterway network of central France. It was built to avoid navigation of the unruly Loire River and increase freight capacity. Today, it is an easy and pretty canal used both by commercial and pleasure boats.

The waterway connects le Canal du Centre to le Canal de Briare.

Navigation on the Loire Lateral Canal starts at Digoin and ends at Briare.

Construction began in 1822 and ended in 1838.

The Loire Lateral Canal is 196.10 kilometres long (121.85 miles) with a total of 196.10 kilometres of navigable waterway.

There is a total of 37 locks, with an average of 1 lock every 5.3 kilometres (3.29 miles).

The highest point on the Loire Lateral Canal is 236.00 metres (774′ 3″ ft) above sea level and the lowest point is at 136.00 metres (446′ 2″ ft) above sea level.

From Digoin to Briare

The water draft is 1.80 metres (5′ 11″ ft) and the air draft is 3.50 metres (11′ 6″ ft).

General lock size

There are "Freycinet" lock types.
Lock length 39.00 metres (127′ 11″ ft)
Lock width 5.20 metres (17′ 1″ ft)

Features and structures to discover

Pont-canal de Briare

Spanning 662 metres, the canal bridge crosses the river Loire

Geographical positions from ///fire.surcharge.transparent to ///wearying.with.mixtape

Pont-canal de Digoin

A 243 meter long canal bridge crossing the Loire

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Pont-canal du Guétin

The canal bridge is 343 metres long and crosses the river Allier. There is also an impressive double lock to climb up to the bridge.

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Barges cruising on the Loire Lateral Canal

Name Itinerary Passengers
C'est La Vie Montargis to Sancerre 8 View the itinerary
Renaissance Montargis to Chatillon 8 View the itinerary

Self-drive boats cruising on the Loire Lateral Canal

Fleet Cruise route
Locaboat The Nivernais canal & River Yonne View the Locaboat boats
Le Boat Nivernais View the Le Boat boats
Le Boat The Loire canal & Briare canal View the Le Boat boats
Locaboat The Loire and Briare canals View the Locaboat boats
Nicols Loire & Briare canals View the Nicols boats
France Passion Plaisance The Loire canal & Briare canal View the France Passion Plaisance boats

The Loire was an important waterway in the last days of the French Ancien Régime before the Revolution. Coal transportation, in particular, was increasing and the Loire proved to be of an insufficient capacity to keep up with freight. In 1793, the canal du Centre was opened to navigation between Digoin and Chalon-sur-Saône. The construction of a new canal lateral to the Loire was decided to further improve commercial navigation from the Lyon region to the capital city of Paris. The decision to build this canal was made in 1807, but political turmoil prevented any work to begin before 1822. The plans were created by civil engineer Louis Jousselin. He was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars where he distinguished himself on several occasions including in Russia when he built a 6 kilometres long wooden bridge in three months for the French army. Jousselin’s grand idea was to build a canal joining the area of Digoin to Nantes, but this would not be concretized.

The construction was finished in 1838. At the same time, the Roanne-Digoin canal was built as an extension of the Loire lateral canal to reach the city of Roanne, further South of Digoin. These waterways were increasingly linked to the new network of railways. Thanks to its many connections we other waterways, the Loire canal is part of the canaux du Centre (Central France canals) network. It is a crossroad with junctions to the Centre and Roanne-Digoin canals at Digoin, the Briare canal at Briare, and the Nivernais canal at Decize. At Marseilles-lès-Aubigny, the canal had a junction with the Berry canal, but it no longer exists since the latter was disused in 1955. Furthermore, the Berry canal was inaccessible to most standard barges navigating on the Loire canal due to its small gauge. Like many other canals, the Loire lateral canal was administratively and physically modified many times during its (soon-to-be) two centuries of existence. The Freycinet gauge was adopted in 1879. 17 years later, in 1896, the crossing of the Loire to join the Briare canal was made easier thanks to the opening of the Briare aqueduct. With its length of 662 metres, this aqueduct once disputed the title of longest in the world. In the first half of the 20th century, the Loire lateral canal was perhaps the most important canal in the Loire basin. Although freight considerably declined by the end of the century, there are still commercial barges navigating on the Loire lateral canal. These barges often prefer to take this route instead of the Burgundy canal where navigation is made difficult by the height of the Pouilly-en-Auxois tunnel.

From Burgundy to the Loire Valley, the Loire lateral canal is a wonderful scenic route to cruise on to explore the green and fertile central regions of France sometimes referred to as the “garden of France”. Woods, fields and hilly vineyards can be viewed from the canal. Chateaux, ancient churches and pretty villages populate a magnificent landscape, while beautiful towns such as La-Charité-sur-Loire and Sancerre offer a great opportunity to taste local wines.


  • Desaunais, A. (1931), « La navigation intérieure française et le Rhône depuis 1928 » in Géocarrefour, n°7-3, 314-18.
  • Dion, Roger (1937), « A propos du canal de Briare » in Géocarrefour, n°13-3, pp. 161-73.
  • (s.d.), « Le canal latéral à la Loire » in Projet Babel [Online] (27 May 2022).

Cruise regions with this waterway

Loire Valley | Central Canal |