Lake Vänern and Trollhätte Kanal

Do you feel like doing a bit different sailing? Why not try a trip to the the third largest lake in Europe, Lake Vänern. Only Ladoga and Onega in Russia are bigger. So, of course it is worth a visit. A fair number of foreign leisure boats cross it every year, although most of them only use it as a passage from the Baltic to Göteborg. That is when they use Göta Canal.

But Lake Vänern is much more than just a passage. You will find some quite big cities (Swedish standard), and the guest harbours are often right in the middle of the township. Real archipelagos you find at Kållandsö (Ekens skärgård, west of Mariestad, along Värmlandsnäs (Lurö) and in the northeast. So there are plenty of opportunities of finding a natural harbour. Also! I give you one more reason. July is a very busy time for sailing in Bohuslän. So if you want more peace and quiet, (much more!) as well as a nice scenery, I recommend a tour up to Vänern.
The lake is 44 meters above sea level, and to get there from the west coast, you go up along Göta Älv, the biggest river in Sweden. .

The Canal system

The river has been important for transports since long, but there were for long three spots with waterfalls which stopped the ships: At Lilla Edet, Trollhättan and Vargön. The very first lock was constructed in Lilla Edet already in 1607, but it took until 1800 beTrollhättan slussfore the whole stretch was completed. Trollhättan with its huge waterfalls was of course the biggest challenge. The canal and lock system is called Trollhätte canal, and you pass six locks. In Lilla Edet one, at Trollhättan four, and finally one at Brinkebergskulle. The latter one is just before you enter the lake, and is the only stretch that is a dug canal. The four locks in Trollhättan are huge, they lift you altogether 32 meters. The locks may look more difficult than they are. Water enters from the bottom of the lock, hence no strong currents. But they are big! A hint could be if you travel together with an other boat, you help each other. You tie one of the boats to the other, and you get more hands free for ascending/descending with the other one.

Vänern is huge! From Vänersborg to Kristinehamn diagonally, is more than 80 Nm. And there is plenty to see. Two famous canal systems enter Vänern, Göta Canal and Dalslands Canal. Göta Canal is normally a nice way to enter the Baltic Sea, but Dalslands Canal is well worth a short or longer round trip. You can also go one way, and take your boat on a trailer to/from Halden in Norway if you prefer.

Some facts about Lake Vänern:

Area 5650 sqkm
Longest distance 80 Nm
Max depth 106 meters
Average depth 27 meters

Practical matters

How much time do you need?

From Göteborg to Vänersborg (which is the entrance to Lake Vänern) assume that you will need two days. If you start very early, and are lucky with waiting time at the locks and bridges, you might do it in one day. I have done it four times now, and I think of two days as being realistic. Going south, one day with an early start could be OK. The current in the river is between 1,5 to 3-4 knots. (Mostly around 2 during normal flow) So going south is considerably faster, which could be nice since if you really just feel like going home.

Lake Vänern itself? You could spend a “lifetime there” if you want. I think of two weeks (passage up and down Göta Älv included) as a minimLilla Edetum.
Also consider that the only guest harbour along the river is in Lilla Edet. Emergency stops you can find along old jetty's, but is not comfortable.
The lock fee is 1000 SwCr (2015) and is paid in Trollhättan at the second lock. (they take credit cards)


You can buy separate charts for Lake Vänern, as well as local guides. One thing to consider: The depth in the charts is referred to a reference water table. Check what the present level is through weather reports. Often it is above the reference level, which means that you have that extra as a margin. Ex. If the chart says 2 meters depth and the present water table is 60 cm above the reference table, you have in fact 2,6 meters actual depth.


The weather is mostly dominated by the same conditions as on Skagerack. If you have a south western gale coming in from the North Sea, expect it to enter lake Vänern as well. Perhaps with some 2-3 m/s less of wind. But, remember that fresh water and a rather shallow lake, can cause more and steeper waves than you expect. Watch out!

Natural reserves

There are a number of natural reserves around the lake. As always when you enter such an area, there are certain things to beware of.
- Do not start a fire on places not arranged for the purpose
- Keep a distance of 50 meters to birds nests, or other home of animals.
- Keep your dog in leach
- Be quiet
- Don’t stay at the same place or more than two days.

Points of interest

Locks at Trollhättan

This is a very popular spot for tourists, so prepare yourself for being watched Trollhättan lockswhen you sluice. But if you stop in Trollhättan, in one of the three spots I mention further down, you should take an evening walk through the lock area. There are three lock systems, the first one constructed in 1800. Then a new and bigger one was in use 1844, and finally the one you use today is from 1916.
There has been discussions whether one should build a fourth lock system. It is estimated that the present system will only last until 2030, even with due maintenance. The commercial vessels are diminishing, but the cities around the lake find of course it necessary. But it costs! A new lock-system with bigger dimensions is estimated to around 200 million euro. Personally I think it is worth it. It has a positive cost benefit, and if you consider that we must save the environment (I say must!) it seems to me as a good investment. As a comparison there is a new big road project in Stockholm that is very controversial, Förbifarten. It is huge ring-road west of Stockholm. It has been delayed for some 20 years, but now when many scientists say that these types of infrastructures are “out of date”, then the politicians start it! This project cost 20 times what the new locks would cost.


Läckö CastleLäckö castle

North of the old manufactoring town Lidköping, you find a medieval beautiful castle, Läckö. Just next to it you find a guest harbour, and when you are there a tour in the castle is a must. You can also attend an opera performance if you want.

Läckö Opera.Annually an opera production in the castle's inner courtyard takes place. Performances takes place for about three weeks beginning in the middle of July.


Dalslands Canal

The canal was dug between 1864 and 1868 by engineer Nils Ericson. He was an expert canal and railway designer, and also redesigned the locks at Trollhättan. And he also had a brother that was a great inventor, John Ericson. He was the inventor of the propeller, as well as the ship USS Monitor which played an important part in the American Civil War.
The most impressing part of the canal is the aqueduct at Håverud. Håverud Aqueduct is regarded as one of the greatest engineering achievements of its day. In the mid eighteen sixties it became clear that this section of the Dalsland Canal could not be completed using a traditional lock owing to local soil conditions. As a consequence a thirty metre long metal chute was constructed that traversed the Dalsland Waterfall. Håverud akvedukt

The Håverud Aqueduct was created by the famous canal builder Nils Ericson. Today the aqueduct is a tourist attraction and is unique meeting point of waterway, road and railway. There is a popular visitor centre here. This is the the starting point for many boat trips on the Dalsland Canal.(Source: Wikipedia)
Dalsland Canal starts in Köpmannebro at Lake Vänern. The Englishman Roger Pilkington said that this canal was the most beautiful in the world! The construction was started in 1864, and 254 km and 31 locks later, it was finished in 1868. Still there is only ten km of man built canal, the rest is natural routes on lakes.


Vänersborg has a rather big and well equipped marina. As for myself it has often been the point where I start and finish my trip on Lake Vänern. The city itself is also well worth a visit, easy when you moore only ten minutes walk from the centre. You have also good connections with other cities on the west coast.


The webpage of the harbour:


Åmål is a rather small city, and the only one in the old province of Dalsland. The province never was a county of its own, but was a part of County Älvsborg after 1634. But it is a nice little town, and you find the guestharbour right in the middle of the city. If you are interested in film, one of present more famouos Swedish directors, Lucas Moodysson, made a breaktrough in 1998 with a film called “Fucking Åmål”. It is about some teen age girls who find Åmål a little bit to small, and life complicated in a teen age way. It is worth seeing.

What to see and do in Åmål?

There is an Harbour festival in July 20 - 22.
International Bluesfestival. On July 6 - 9, you will find the 26th annual Bluesfestival in Åmål.

Dalbergs Å

Dalbergs Å is a rather small harbour hidden a couple of hundred meters up a small river. Its narrow, but has good facilities and you moor along wooden jetties. There is a small kiosk and café, where you can find some essentials. In short, a friendly and sheltered harbour.
If you take a short walk towards the lake, you will find rock carvings from the stone age which is interesting. Even if you are not interested in that, the view over the lake could make the short trip worth it. (At least, the exercise is most likely necessary?)

Dalbergs Å


Sjötorp is entrance to Göta Canal. The canal will take you to the Baltic Sea after having passed another 58 locks. Sjötorp itself is a small friendly harbour where you moore just before the first lock. If you are interested in the history of the canal, you will find a small museum.

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If there is a guest harbour at Lake Vänern where you possibly will find difficulties in finding space, that is the picturesque little harbour Spiken. It is an old fishing village, today turned into a touristy spot with restaurants and shops selling smoked fish. Often they are situated in old boat houses. It is not only boat tourists that come, quite a number of cars arrive to have a good meal, and also look at you and other yachts.




There are three different possibilities to moore at Trollhättan. Below the locks, at the entrance to the old lock system, there is ample place for a number of boats. This is not an official harbour, so it’s free of charge. Facilities like toilets, you have to walk all the way up to the top of the locks.Above the locks, just after the last one, you find a small guest harbour. But if you carry on some kiometer, you find Spikön, right in the middle of the town.

Trollhättan, the city

If you come from south, you start in Göteborg, one main industrial city in Sweden. Volvo cars are being built here. Along Göta Älv you pass some smaller industrial towns, but the next big city is Trollhättan. Here the other Swedish car manufacturer, SAAB, assembled cars from 1949 until 2009. In the aftermath of the global economical crisis General Motors, who then owned SAAB, wanted to close the factory. Instead they sold it to a dubious Dutch car manufacturer, Victor Muller, who kept it running for a couple of years. Then he went bankrupt (very few thought anything different from the beginning, and now the Swedish Courts are trying to sort out what really happened during that time).

saab But eventually a second buyer was found, and the company NEVS was founded. Primarily Chinese investors, and they are going to build electrical cars with SAAB 9-3 as a base. Environmentalists applauded, financial analysts still had their doubts. It did not do very well either, and in 2013 a new company reconstruction started. But! In December 2015 some new Chinese investors seems ready to throw in some 2 billion Euro in order to the restart of production again. I wish them, the environment and the possibility of reemployment, all the best.

Trollhättan is an old industrial town. Energy they had an abundance of after the huge waterfalls had been tamed in 1914. Maybe the most famous industry was NOAB. They were a big producer of steam engines. Good and big ones. After the Russian revolution, the new Soviet state made an enormous push for infrastructure, and they bought some 100 engines from NOAB. When you have passed the last locks in Trollhättan (from south) you can see an old crane on your starboard side. It is called the Russian crane. It was used for loading the steam engines on ships for export.

Fallens dag

If you are in the vicinity at 15-17th of July? Don't miss when they open the gates and let the water flow free. It is rather spectacular. Also, the week end carries a carnival with lots of music and friendly people in the streets.


Lake Vänern - official webpage

Including event calendar, links to guestharbours and more.

Weather at Lake Vänern

Weather chart för the next week