Small organic molecules, like quaternary ammonium compounds, have long been used to probe both the permeation and gating of voltage-dependent K+ channels. For most K+ channels, intracellularly applied quaternary ammonium (QA) compounds such as tetraethylammonium (TEA) and decyltriethylammonium (C10) behave primarily as open channel blockers: they can enter the channel only when it is open, and they must dissociate before the channel can close. In some cases, it is possible to force the channel to close with a QA blocker still bound, with the result that the blocker is "trapped." Armstrong (J. Gen. Physiol. 58:413-437) found that at very negative voltages, squid axon K+ channels exhibited a slow phase of recovery from QA blockade consistent with such trapping. In our studies on the cloned Shaker channel, we find that wild-type channels can trap neither TEA nor C10, but channels with a point mutation in S6 can trap either compound very efficiently. The trapping occurs with very little change in the energetics of channel gating, suggesting that in these channels the gate may function as a trap door or hinged lid that occludes access from the intracellular solution to the blocker site and to the narrow ion-selective pore.