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The Hennepin Canal State Trail, administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as a state park, follows an old towpath along a canal opened in 1907 and quickly abandoned due to competition from railroads. The canal was originally built to link the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Most of the locks and aqueducts are still in place, and the entire canal is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The path, which was built for animals towing boats along the canal but never used this way, is level and easy. However, water is scarce along the way (found only at locks 21, 22 and the visitor center), so be sure to bring plenty, especially during hot days. The landscape varies from forest to grasslands to marsh to farmland, and the trail is particularly pleasing during fall, when the leaves are changing colors.
The trail surface is suitable for both road and mountain bikes, although those on hybrid bikes will have the easiest time. During winter, the canal often freezes, making it suitable for ice skating. Anglers will find stocked bluegill, crappie, walleye and bass.
The east–west corridor extends from Bureau Junction, near the Illinois River, to Colona on the Rock River. A feeder canal runs just more than 29 miles from northeast of Mineral north to Rock Falls and Sterling. Toilets are located at locks 3, 6, 11, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 26, as well as at bridges 14, 15, 23 and the visitor center on the main canal. Additional toilets can be found at bridges 50, 52 and 64 on the feeder canal.
This trail is a gateway to the Great American Rail-Trail, a nearly 4,000 mile developing trail that will connect the country from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. Gateway trails represent those iconic trails that make possible the Great American Rail-Trail in each of the states it connects.
Multiple small parking lots are located at bridges and locks along the mainline canal and feeder canal. The State Park Visitor Center is located off I-80, just west of SR 40, at 16006 875 E. St., Sheffield. Nine primitive state park campgrounds are available along the canal.
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