Display the Downloads folder when you open File Explorer in Windows 11

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 26, 2023
Updated • May 12, 2024
Windows 11 Help

File Explorer, the default file management tool of Windows 10 and 11 systems, opens Home, This PC or a OneDrive folder by default when launched. While these are the three default options that users may select between, there is also a hidden setting to open the Downloads folder on start of File Explorer.

The following paragraphs provide step-by-step instructions on changing the startup location of File Explorer on Windows 11 to that hidden option, and to one of the three default options.

Switch between Home, This PC and Personal folders

windows 11 change file explorer-start-location

The built-in options are accessible via File Explorer's Folder Options.

  1. Open File Explorer on the Windows 11 device.
  2. Select the three-dots menu and then Options from the context menu that opens.
  3. The setting "Open File Explorer to" determines the startup location of File Explorer.
  4. Select one of the available options and then OK to apply the change.

The three options are:

  • Home -- This displays Quick Access folders, pinned files and recent files when launched. Microsoft is working on adding more content to it, including work-related content for Enterprise and Education accounts.
  • This PC -- displays all connected drives and devices.
  • Personal -- The user's personal or work OneDrive folder.

Some Windows 11 users may prefer to set a different startup location for File Explorer. While there is no way to set a custom folder, there is at least a hidden option to make the Downloads folder the startup folder on the system.

Making the Downloads folder the default File Explorer folder on startup

file explorer windows 11 launchto

Note: this change requires making an edit to the Windows Registry. While it is perfectly save, it is recommended to create a backup of the Registry or the entire system before proceeding.

Here are the required steps:

  1. Open the Start Menu on the Windows 11 device, type regedit.exe and select the Registry Editor result.
  2. Confirm the UAC prompt with a click on the Yes button.
  3. Paste the following path into the location field in the Registry Editor window: Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced
  4. Right-click on Advanced and select New > Dword (32-bit) Value.
  5. Name it LaunchTo.
  6. Double-click on the LaunchTo Dword and set its value to 3.

The change takes effect immediately, a restart of the PC is not required. If everything was done correctly, File Explorer should launch the Downloads folder from now on whenever it is opened.

You can undo the change at any time by deleting the LaunchTo key, or by using the built-in options menu to set the start location to one of the three defaults.

Now You: if you could choose freely, which location would you select to launch at File Explorer start?

Display the Downloads folder when you open File Explorer in Windows 11
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Display the Downloads folder when you open File Explorer in Windows 11
Find out how to open the Downloads folder on Windows 11 devices when File Explorer is launched.
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  1. DesertFox said on May 11, 2024 at 6:40 pm

    Thank you Martin. This works fine, but there is one thing that was/is a bit confusing. Step 6 indicates that you should double-click on the Dword and set the value to 3. The key word in that sentence is “the”, because you need to double-click on the Dword (Launch To) which was just created. There is no Dword in the list to double-click on. :).

  2. Someone said on March 26, 2023 at 8:47 pm

    I prefer to use for my content that I took from web, onto pictures (win10 OS) folder. For program
    setup files, on downloads. For videos, pdf, txt, and test files, on documents, and desktop.
    For better results, everything must be on an visible, easily access destination folder.

  3. VioletMoon said on March 26, 2023 at 5:55 pm

    I’m fine with Home and Tiled for View. The Download folder is “right there.”

    I don’t use the Download folder; I use the Desktop. Any program setup file I think I may want later is tucked away in a different folder.

  4. tinwheeler said on March 26, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    if you could choose freely, which location would you select to launch at File Explorer start? I’ve used my download folder as my go to folder for decades. It’s sort of a file cabinet for anything you want to work on. As an aside I’ve always used refdesk as my homepage. It’s a great general reference page of most things internet.

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