Feeder Canal Ride
During the second weekend in October, I rode the Hennepin Feeder Canal from Sterling south about 20 miles. The landscape was beautiful: the peaceful canal was lined with large trees with delicately colored leaves--though many had already fallen.
The path surface, however, presented some problems. For example, there was a significant amount of clutter on the trail, especially fallen branches--at one point a fallen tree completely obscured the path. The second problem was that for the most part, only one side of the trail was well traveled. Third, the farther south I rode, the more the canal encroached on the trail and significant erosion could be seen. In some places the erosion was so severe that a momentary lapse of concentration could easily take a rider down the bank and into the canal.
There are occassional little parks along with trail with bathrooms, but no water is available. And no camping either. I chose to do a little stealth camping on the grassy tow path that runs along the eastern side of the canal and it was beautiful.
It rained the whole day of my return, and rather than get bogged down on the bike path, I chose to ride on highways back to Sterling. In so doing, passed through the only town close to the trail--Tampico, IL, the birth place of Ronald Reagan. Tampico has seen better days. Although full of interesting history, many of the buildings on Main St. are closed, and even the home where Reagan was born is for sale. In the only gas station/grocery store, I heard a lady talking about how hard it was for their church to find a new pastor because they only have six families attending. Nevertheless, if you have chance, Tampico is an interesting place to stop.
I've hiked, canoed, or biked the entire feeder canal, and most of the main canal. I have to agree, there is not much in the way of provisions and there are a few towns along the way close enough to be convenient. The most frustrating part if you decide to camp or ride on a hot day (especially in the summer), is the lack of places to get water. There are sporadic camping areas along the canal (none along the feeder) but most have no hydrants. I think there are only a couple locations that actually have a hydrant, one is the visitor's center and the other is a camping area (forget which lock) approximately 5 miles east of the visitor's center. If you get it from that one you may still want to filter it. I've taken it from there and it looked like it came right from the canal. I would not recommend taking water from the canal even if you filter it. The most scenic area for the main canal is the eastern corridor. During the Spring some spots get a little washed out and you will see maintenance crews from time to time working on it. There are signs near Bureau indicating the canal is closed in that area. Most locals just ignore them and continue to use it (probably knowing the signs were put up and simply forgotten about). Anyways, about the first 10-15 miles, it's mostly forested on either side. I have seen lots of water fowl and birds of prey along the route. Snakes, turtles, coyotes, and deer. The early morning is the best time to see the wildlife moving about. In the evening you will likely hear coyotes howling (only heard them near the east end). I've had one get within 30 feet of a campsite I was at one night, It was in the woodline, i first notices its eye glowing from my headlamp, I was able to scare it off. From what I've seen of the western end (west of the visitor's center), mostly cornfields and old farm homes. Still camping areas along the way, but the scenery does start to get interesting again on the approach to Geneseo, and if you like to fish, the smallmouth population is pretty good. My best trips on the canal have always been in the fall.
I have ridden the HCP twice in the last three years, which was a return to my late mother's homeland around Geneseo. Stayed with family that still lives in the area about the canal, and one of my uncles' grandmothers even cooked meals for the construction crews when the trail was initially dug!
I rode the trail in October and in May, in that order in two different years, 2007 and '08. The first time alone and the second with an old college days friend. The trail is crushed stone and a thinly bonded aggregate surface, but well maintained, in the main. Several of the old mechanical lift bridges have been restored and the locks still exist but they are no longer operative and have been converted into water falls, presumably to aereate the water for the aquatic life? Much in the way of wild life exists along the length of the trail.
In my second ride on the canal, I rode the entire main canal length of some 74 miles in two days. The primary complaint was the prevailing east wind that happened to be blowing (an anomaly with respect to usual west-to-east flow). I stopped along the way to photoshoot and hydrate. Many of the old iron bridges still exist over which, some 40 years ago, I would drive heavy farm machinery when staying for summers on my uncles farms. I shudder to think of doing that today on them!
The Visitor's Center is a jewel and has an education and information section second to none. The staff is helpful, warm and cheerful and provide willing service to all who visit. the VC is near Sheffield.
I have yet to ride the Feeder Canal, and that is a goal in the offing. It would be a good day's ride from Annawan, when my aunt and uncle live. A nice side trip, given sufficient energy, would be a visit to the Ronald Regan Presidential birthplace at Tampico, Illinois. However, that awaits another familial visit with my newest MTB. The first two bikes have traversed sections of the trail, the new one has yet to do it.
Provisions along the trail are wanting. The rider is well advised to have panniers and bike bags sufficient to carry along water, power bars, banannas and the like since there is very little in the way of ammenties along the way. The HCP misses most communities, and one has to leave it to obtain such services, but one can.
The ride is virtually flat, given that it is a canal way. It falls away from the center both ways to the Illinois River to the east and the Mississippi to the west. The main pool is near Mineral, Illinois, where the Feeder Canal intersects the Hennepin from Rock Falls. The eastern ride is the so called, "Historic Section," and has more locks on it. Unfortunately, one can not go all the way to the Illinois River and Lock #1 because it is blocked by private property (a gun club, so don't mess with it!), and the fact that Lock #1 is under the river anyway! The western end stops at the Rock River, but some segments, broken up by roads and development, are in place beyond it, but one "can't get there from here!"
This is a jewel in Illinois' crown. It's a great ride, but one that has little ammenities. Take your own and enjoy this long, long trail.
A nice walk
"In September of 2004 I parked at the nice parking area at Route 29 where it crosses the Hennepin Canal. I had my Camelback Mule strapped on, and I had my iPod rocking. I had no particular mileage in mind, although it was in the back of my mind to walk to Tiskilwa and back. For my age, condition, and shoes, this turned out to be a bit more than I should have bitten off as I had very stiff legs towards the end. I can only say that it was a wonderful experience, complete with shady portions, sunny stretches, and there is always that canal.
I saw some water mammals at a distance so I cannot say if they were otters or beaver, either is possible in that region, I think. They were too big for muskrats. Some great old trees quite near the path, probably survived the years because so close to the canal, otherwis they might have gotten chopped.
So I made it to Tiskilway where I drank a real big bottle of Gatorade and went back to the car. It was maybe 18 miles of walking or so. I was wishing for my bike, but that was somewhere else.
I grew up in the area, down in Chillicothe right along the mighty Illinois, and I never knew this canal existed, although in those days it was abandoned and the revitalization effort had not yet begun."
Crushed stone now? Or still grass?
"I would appreciate an update on this trail, which is part of the Grand Illinois Trail. When I last checked, the trail wasn't crushed stone, at least in the spots where I checked it on an auto trip. It was just a grass bank, suitable for mountain bikes (as long as there weren't enough mountain bikes to wear out the grass).
The cue sheet for the Grand Illinois trail
doesn't route you on this trail at all, but on parallel roads, making me think this segment may not be finished as of August, 2001.
If you know of contrary information, please post it in a corrected review here, so visitors will get current info."