The Muskingum River Parkway State Park has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as the Muskingum River Navigation Historic District. In its day, the system of locks and dams helped open the state and the entire Midwest to trade and development. It is the only remaining system of hand-operated locks in the nation.
The locks help boats safely bypass ten dams on the Muskingum River from Zanesville south to the Ohio River at Marietta. These locks are operated at no charge for recreational boats. Ten of the eleven locks still function— the northernmost lock, Ellis #11, is no longer in operation but offers a campground. The remaining locks have a variety of amenities and many communities along the Muskingum River offer recreational and sight-seeing opportunities for boaters and non-boaters alike. Visitors may enjoy watching the river from the park's picnic shelter south of Lock #7 on State Route 376.
The Muskingum River, which extends 112 miles through eastern Ohio to the Ohio River, does not have a horsepower limit -- jet skis, house boats, pontoon boats, canoes, and kayaks travel the river. It is suggested that prior to departing for a boat trip on the Muskingum River, boaters contact the park office to check on river and lock conditions. Information on navigation charts can also be obtained at the park office.
The Muskingum River is navigable from Dresden to Marietta. However, Lock #11 Ellis (north of Zanesville) is closed until further notice and the river channel from Dresden to Ellis is unmarked and difficult to follow.
Public launch ramps are provided at Locks 4, 5, 6, 7, and 11. Public ramps operated by other entities are located near Locks 2, 7, and 10. The waterway is recognized as Ohio's first designated watertrail because of the variety of access and amenities found along it as well as for its historical significance.
Some of the tributaries that empty into the Muskingum River are also navigable for short distances and provide excellent fishing. The Licking River, which joins the Muskingum River in Zanesville, is navigable only by canoe or kayak.
How to Lock Through
A trip on the Muskingum River Parkway is not complete without going through one of the locks. These manually-operated locks are similar to those built throughout the United States before the turn of the century. Contact the park office for hours when planning your trip.
When approaching the locks, boats must stay between the red and green buoys that mark the river's navigable channel. Boats approaching the lock must give a signal of one long whistle blast followed by one short blast at least 800 feet away from the lock. The lockmaster also can be contacted on marine radio channel #13.
Boats must stay at least 300 to 400 feet clear of the lock until signaled by the lockmaster that they may enter. When entering or departing a lock, speed should be reduced to produce no wake and possible damage to other boats.
After entering the lock, boaters must secure their craft to mooring cables on the lock walls. The lockmaster will assist this procedure. Boaters must stand by to take in or let out the mooring line in relation to the water level. Each boater must provide their own mooring line of at least 75 feet.
The lowering or raising of the pool level will begin only after all lines are secure. By opening the upriver valves, water is allowed to flow slowly into the lock chamber bringing the water and boats up to the required height. When opened, the downriver valves allow the pool level to drop slowly.
After the lock pool has reached the desired level, the lock gate is opened. The lockmaster will signal that all is clear and the pilot may move his boat from the lock. The lockmaster is in complete charge of the operation and control of the locks and may determine the number of watercraft to lock through.
Arrangements to turn the railroad bridge at Zanesville Lock #10 can be made by calling Ohio Central at (740) 295-4698.
Muskingum River State Park Campground offers primitive camp sites at Luke Chute Lock #5 and Ellis Lock #11*. Camping closes for the winter Nov 1- Mar 31 each year. Also, all locks offer primitive camping to boaters. Reservations can be made online or by calling (866) 644-6727.
*Ellis Lock #11 remains closed/nonfunctioning.
Dog Park/Dog Swim Area
A fenced dog park is located at McConnelsville Lock (698 East Riverside Drive, McConnelsville 43756). Dogs may swim in the adjacent canal.
All three species of black bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted), saugeye, and various species of catfish swim the river. Bass are also found in several tributaries. Fishing is permitted from boats and at each of the lock sites. However, fishing is prohibited from the lock walls.
There are 10 picnic areas with picnic tables, grills, and latrines. Potable water is available at all locks except #5, #6, and #8. Visitors are asked to build fires only in the grills provided and to dispose of all litter properly.
History & Natural Features
The Muskingum River Parkway was designated as an Ohio State Park in 1958. Because of its size and location, the Muskingum River played an important role in Ohio’s history. Its watershed drains 8,036 square miles, which is an area equal to one-fifth of the state. The Muskingum is the longest continually navigable river traversing Ohio, due to the river’s locks and dams.
Missionaries settled along the headwaters of this picturesque river in 1761. The first permanent settlement in Ohio was established in 1788 at Marietta. One of the city's founders, General Rufus Putnam, recognized the economic potential of the Muskingum River for transporting raw materials to eastern markets and brought in New England shipbuilders.
In 1824, steam-powered paddle wheelers joined flatboat and keelboat traders to generate public support for river navigation. West Point graduate Major Samuel Curtis designed a system of 10 dams and 11 locks to connect the Muskingum River to the Ohio and Erie Canal at Dresden. Opened in 1841, the system provided navigable waterways from Marietta to Lake Erie.
National Register of Historic Sites
In 2001, the Muskingum River locking system was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. This designation recognizes the lock system as one of the nation’s great engineering marvels, along with the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building, and Hoover Dam. In 2007, the Muskingum River Parkway was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Muskingum River Navigation Historic District.
In its day, the system of locks and dams that extends 112 miles through southeastern Ohio, helped open the state and the entire Midwest to trade and development. Today, it serves the needs of more than 7,000 recreational boaters each year who come to fish, picnic, and play in the scenic Muskingum Valley.
The Muskingum River is formed by the confluence of the Walhonding and Tuscarawas rivers in Coshocton, Ohio. From there, it flows south through Zanesville where it is joined by the Licking River until it eventually drains into the Ohio River at Marietta. This mighty river travels 112 miles in all, traversing the scenic hill country.
The rich floodplains of the Muskingum provide suitable conditions for walnut, elm, cottonwood and sycamore. Dense paw-paw thickets line the banks of the river. A rich diversity of bird life and mammals share the wooded shores. The Muskingum provides a remarkable fishery including catches of huge shovelhead catfish. The mighty Ohio muskellunge was once abundant in the Muskingum and its tributaries, but its population has declined in recent years. A number of rare fish share the waters such as sanddarters, northern madtoms, mooneyes and channel darters. The Muskingum and its tributaries have long supported large and diverse populations of freshwater mussels. Dissolved limestone in the river is used by the mussels in constructing their shells. The Muskingum River system supports the last remaining Ohio populations of mussels such as monkeyface shell, fan shell, Ohio pigtoe and the butterfly shell.