Freight Routes: List of Major Shipping Canals in the US

Undoubtedly, the most famous of all manmade canals is the Suez Canal. The second would be the Panama Canal, built by America, and is probably the most famous of all American canals. It’s a 51 mile/82 km canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It allows ships to bypass the dangerous Cape Horn shipping route around the southern tip of South America. Yet there are well over a hundred canals throughout North America, from down in the Gulf of Mexico to the border with Canada. In this article, we will highlight the major shipping canals in the US and their importance.

Freight Routes: List of Major Shipping Canals in the US

US Canals allow ships access to inland lakes, thereby enhancing freight routes by connecting waterways. The US Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) consists of approximately 3,000-miles of inland waterways, reaching along the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic coast. In fact, it reaches from Boston, Massachusetts, down and around the southern tip of Florida. From there it follows the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas, making use of natural inlets, bays, saltwater rivers, and manmade canals. As a result, the ICW has evolved into the Great Loop. Therefore, ships are now able to circumnavigate the eastern continental United States via canals. Consequently, freight routes have become time-efficient and thus more cost-efficient.

Main Canals in the Intracoastal Waterway:

  • Cape Cod Canal (Massachusetts)
  • Cape May Canal (New Jersey)
  • Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (Maryland and Delaware)
  • Dismal Swamp Canal (Virginia and North Carolina)
  • Point Pleasant Canal (New Jersey)

The Galveston and Brazos Canal is another prominent canal in the United States, running from the Brazos River to Oyster (Christmas) Bay. The canal was completed in 1856 and originally tolled the sailing ships and steamships that made use of it. The canal connected the cotton plantations in Brazoria and Galveston Port. It starts at the opening of the Brazos and travels north through East Union Bayou. From there it continues to Oyster Creek, turning upstream and cutting northeast through the mainland to Drum Bay, and extends to Rattlesnake Point.

There are dozens of manmade canals all over America. In fact, some sharing the border with Canada. The Great Lakes Waterway, which includes the Saint Marys Falls Canal, is one. Another is the St. Lawrence Seaway – running from New York to Canada. Then there are the likes of the Portage Lake Canal in Michigan which forms part of the Keweenaw Waterway. The Illinois Waterway includes the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the North Shore Channel, and the Cal-Sag Channel (Cook County, IL).

Other major US canals:

  • Canaveral Barge Canal
  • Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal
  • Industrial Canal (Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, New Orleans)
  • Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet Canal (Louisiana)
  • Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel (California)

On the international front, Israel is again considering constructing the Ben Gurion Waterway as an alternative to the Suez Canal, given the recent lengthy, costly blockage in the Suez. It would also connect the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. With its proud tradition of canal building and expertise, the U.S. could well be lending a hand (or shovel) in that project.

Additional Reading: National Park Service – Canals

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