The canal consists of two level stretches, separated by a flight of 16 locks at Marple that raises the canal by 209 feet (64 m) over the course of 1 mile (1.6 km).

The Lower Peak Forest Canal runs south from the junction with the Ashton Canal at Dunkfield, just east of Manchester, to Marple a distance of about 7 miles.

The Upper Peak Forest Canal runs south from Marple to Buxworth village where it terminates at the Bugsworth Basin, again 7 mile long.

Marple Locks and Bugsworth Basin are firm favourites with boaters the latter especially for overnight mooring.