A parallel finite element simulator, ichannel, is developed for ion transport through three-dimensional ion channel systems that consist of protein and membrane. The coordinates of heavy atoms of the protein are taken from the Protein Data Bank and the membrane is represented as a slab. The simulator contains two components: a parallel adaptive finite element solver for a set of Poisson–Nernst–Planck (PNP) equations that describe the electrodiffusion process of ion transport, and a mesh generation tool chain for ion channel systems, which is an essential component for the finite element computations. The finite element method has advantages in modeling irregular geometries and complex boundary conditions. We have built a tool chain to get the surface and volume mesh for ion channel systems, which consists of a set of mesh generation tools. The adaptive finite element solver in our simulator is implemented using the parallel adaptive finite element package Parallel Hierarchical Grid (PHG) developed by one of the authors, which provides the capability of doing large scale parallel computations with high parallel efficiency and the flexibility of choosing high order elements to achieve high order accuracy. The simulator is applied to a real transmembrane protein, the gramicidin A (gA) channel protein, to calculate the electrostatic potential, ion concentrations and I – V curve, with which both primitive and transformed PNP equations are studied and their numerical performances are compared. To further validate the method, we also apply the simulator to two other ion channel systems, the voltage dependent anion channel (VDAC) and α-Hemolysin (α-HL). The simulation results agree well with Brownian dynamics (BD) simulation results and experimental results. Moreover, because ionic finite size effects can be included in PNP model now, we also perform simulations using a size-modified PNP (SMPNP) model on VDAC and α-HL. It is shown that the size effects in SMPNP can effectively lead to reduced current in the channel, and the results are closer to BD simulation results. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.