Potassium and sodium cation permeabilities of skeletal sarcoplasmic reticulum vesicles were characterized by means of 3H-choline, 22Na+ and 86Rb+ isotope efflux and membrane potential measurements. Membrane potentials were generated by diluting K gluconate filled sarcoplasmic reticulum vesicles and liposomes into Tris or Na gluconate media, in the presence or absence of valinomycin, and were measured using the voltage-sensitive membrane probe 3,3'-dipentyl-2,2'-oxacarbocyanine. About 2/3 of the sarcoplasmic reticulum vesicles, designated Type I, were found to be permeable to Rb+, K+ and Na+. The remaining 1/3, Type II vesicles, were essentially impermeable to these ions. The two types of vesicles were impermeable to larger cations such as choline or Tris. Both were present in about the same ratio in fractions derived from different parts of the reticulum structure. Studies with cations of different size and shape suggested that in Type I vesicles permeation was restricted to molecules fitting through a pore with a cross-section of 4--5 A by 6 A or more. When vesicles were sonicated, vesicles permeable to K+ decreased more than those impermeable to K+. These data suggest the existence of K+, Na+ permeable channels which are probably randomly dispersed in the intact reticulum structure at an estimated density of 50 pores/micrometer2. The function of the channel may be to allow rapid K+ movement to counter Ca2+ fluxes during muscle contraction and relaxation.