The Canal du Rhône au Rhin: Besançon to l’Isle-sur-le-Doubs


Wanderlust climbs from the Doubs in Ecluse 46/47. a rare double lock.

It took us two cruising days to cover the stretch of waterway from Besançon to the small commune of l’Isle-sur-le-Doubs. In between Wanderlust spent the night at the port on a canal shunt outside of the village of Baumes-les-Dames. Though the towns are pleasant, the real attraction of this stretch of our route is the River Doubs.

Wanderlust was now deep in the Doubs Department, just 20 miles from the Swiss border. As we climbed the Canal du Rhône au Rhin the gorge deepened as the river wound its way through the foothills of the Jura Mountains. This portion of the waterway is in our opinion the most beautiful section of the Rhone-Rhine. Indeed, it is on its own reason enough to make the effort to cruise this out of the way waterway.

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The steepness of the forested hillsides left little doubt why the flow on the Doubs is so responsive to precipitation: Rainwater has no place to go other than quickly down the gorge’s sides and into the river. The rainwater surges can make spring navigation challenging. That’s a downside. But it also gives the river a wild and untamed feel, the characteristics that make the waterway special.

Like much of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, the moorings are on stretches of manmade canal and generally not the flowing River Doubs. It made sense, as the river level changes dramatically, sometimes quickly, and maintaining moorings would difficult. In this case we spent a night on a canal section at the port in Baumes-les-Dames. It’s a nice mooring and a pleasant town. But the next morning there was significant motivation to get back to the more scenic river. So Baumes-les-Dames was only an overnight stop.

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Seven weeks after our first stop we returned back this way stopping again in Baumes-les-Dames. The weather was now blistering hot and bone dry and the rains of spring were a distant memory. Under the blast furnace heat, the level of the river water dropped and the current slowed. The clean clear water we enjoyed on our ascent had turned murky. France was now in the midst of a serious drought that would soon threaten the rest of our plans for the season. It seemed hard to believe that our once abundant water supply was dwindling quickly and that the rest of our cruising season’s plans were in doubt. Indeed the lack of water in 2019 would prematurely end Wanderlust’s season.

Wanderlust in l’Isle-sur-le-Doubs



Wanderlust’s motor ran for 8.2 hours to cover the 37 kilometers from Besançon to serviced mooring at Baumes-les-Dames. There are 11 locks on our way, including an unusual double lock. We stayed one night on the way out and on the way back.

From Baumes-les-Dames to l’Isle-sur-le-Doubs the engine ran for 6.2 hours to travel the 32 kilometers. This segment has 14 locks. The mooring at l’Isle-sur-le-Doubs is also serviced. Again we stayed just one night on the way out and on the way back.

On the way upstream with the rainwater surging down the gorge entering locks from the river was more challenging than typical. Still, we were generally heading into the current, a far easier situation than dealing with the momentum generated by the river’s flow heading into a lock while heading downstream.

Later in the summer the low level of the river made the downstream navigation trivial. In the spring we would have been backing against the push of the current to get into the locks: A tricky maneuver, as Wanderlust does not steer well in reverse. But after the Doubs level dropped, cruising the waterway was like being on flat water anywhere. Nevertheless, though navigation was easier later in the season, we preferred the cool spring cruising with its wild and quiet feel.

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2 thoughts on “The Canal du Rhône au Rhin: Besançon to l’Isle-sur-le-Doubs

  1. Thanks for documenting this section of this delightful route. High on our list of to-do. I thought the juxtaposition of the pizza machine with the abandoned hotel was a nice, if ironic, touch 🙂

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