Hennepin Canal State Trail
Open: Open all year
Want a peaceful, relaxing day of picnicking, hiking, fishing and good old fashioned family fun? Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park is just the place you're looking for. Spend the day and bring a picnic lunch along. There are plenty of picnic tables at the 104.5-mile linear park which spans five counties (Rock Island, Bureau, Henry, Lee and Whiteside).
Before exploring the wonders at the park, stop in at the Visitor Center near Sheffield. There are several displays that help illustrate the canal's past -- including tools used to build and operate it. At the time the canal was built workers often made their own tools by hand. There's also a model of a lock with a boat going through it and a model of an aqueduct. Get a peek at the plant and animal life at the park through other displays at the center.
Just outside the center is a beautiful half-acre patch of wildflower prairie. Among the plantings are little bluestem and big bluestem-- the official state prairie grass.
Don't miss the marsh observation area and duck blind located near the Visitor Center. There you will see a variety of marsh type plants and animals including ducks, geese, redwing blackbirds, muskrat and cattails.
Visitor Center hours are usually 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday, but may vary. Please call ahead.
Picnic tables are sprinkled throughout the day use areas and main complex for your relaxation and enjoyment. Three shelters in the park's main complex near Sheffield provide areas for group gatherings-- the largest one can be reserved -- so call ahead. Playground equipment, located at the largest shelter, will keep the kids busy while the grownups have a chance to chat.
An old tow path, originally intended but never used by animals for towing boats along the canal's main line and feeder routs, provides 155 miles of one-foot-after-the-other fun. Because you're right next to the canal, you'll get a great view of its locks and aqueducts, not to mention the animal life. The going is level and easy at the Hennepin -- but be sure to make several stops along the way if you're hiking the canal's entire length.
If you're up to something more challenging, try the 4.5-mile trek in the main complex which is moderately difficult and gives you a broad taste of landscape from tall timber to grasslands to marsh.
Hiking here is particularly satisfying in the fall, when Mother Nature works her wonders on the leaves.
With the completion of the new trail surface, mountain bikes are no longer a necessity. East to west the trail is surfaced from Bureau Junction, near the Illinois River, to Colona on the Rock River. There is a Feeder Canal to Rock Falls, 29.2 miles long, completed. Bring your own refreshments as only three areas along the corridor have water (Locks 21, 22 and the Visitor Center). Be sure to yield the right of way to horses.
It's a well-kept secret, but fishing along the Hennepin is well worth the trip. Whether you're angling for bluegill, crappie, walleye or bass, 70 bridge or 32 lock locations are available and the pools are stocked regularly.
There's unlimited horsepower for boats (between bridge 37 and Lock 24) at the Hennepin; elsewhere it's 10 horsepower. Take off on the launching ramp at the Visitor Center complex, Locks 21, 22 & 24, Route 82 north of Geneseo, Route 92, Route 78 north of Annawan, bridge 39, bridge 28 and bridge 45.
If canoeing is your sport, come ready for a workout! The waters are calm so back and arm power are required. The many locks are no longer operational and must be portaged (from Lock 21 east is particularly tough). For a great 1-2 day trip, begin at Rock Falls and continue to the Visitor Center.
Class "C" and Youth Group camping are allowed along the Hennepin Canal Parkway at the following locations:
Lock 11, West of the Canal Prism
Lock 17, Northwest of the lock
Lock 21, North Day Use Area (drinking water available)
Bridge 14, North bank.
Lock 22, Southwest of the lift bridge (drinking water available)
Bridge 23, South bank
Lock 23, just West of the parking lot.
Lock 26, South bank
Equestrian camping is restricted to the south side of the Lock 21 area. Please clean up after your horse
The Canal is open from April 15 to October 31 annually. Bring your own horse and prepare to enjoy 48 miles along the main canal and over 25 miles along the Feeder. Gallop to your heart's delight along the corridor. Please stay out of the picnic areas and off the west tow path between bridges 43 to 56, and Locks 30 to 32. Be aware you will be sharing surfaces with bicyclists and pedestrians around aqueducts and in areas where there is usable towpath on one side only.
Take a shot at dove hunting during season at the park's main complex. Or enjoy waterfowl hunting on Lake Sinnissippi near the Rock River. More than 30 blind sites are awarded in an annual draw.
When the snowflakes fall, break out the skis and go cross country on 4.5 miles of moderately difficult trail in the main complex or venture out onto the canal, but keep an eye out for the snowmobilers.
Hey, snowmobilers -- the Hennepin boasts the longest snowmobile trail in the state -- 91 miles on the tow path. You can use the ice at your own risk, but pay heed to the locks, bridges and culverts where the ice likely is thinner than the rest of the canal. If grace under your own power is more your style, bring your blades. There's skating along the entire canal.
SPECIAL NOTE: No motorized vehicles, except for snowmobiles during designated times, are allowed on the tow path.
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