The Hennepin Canal State Trail is an ideal destination for a relaxing day of picnicking, hiking, biking, fishing and old fashioned family fun. There are plenty of picnic tables along the 104.5-mile linear park spanning five Illinois counties (Rock Island, Bureau, Henry, Lee and Whiteside).
Constructed from 1892 to 1907, the Hennepin Canal played an important role in U.S. history and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hennepin was the first American canal built of concrete without stone cut facings. Although the Hennepin enjoyed limited success as a commercial and industrial waterway, its construction involved a number of engineering innovations, and its waterway, locks, aqueducts and adjoining towpath continue to provide a beautiful recreational resource.
The towpath provides 155 miles of hiking/biking fun from the Illinois River to the Rock River, with the feeder canal path to Rock Falls. Segments of the trails are open to horseback riding and snowmobiling in season. Fishing along the Hennepin is outstanding, and the canal is open to boating and canoeing (locks are no longer operational and must be portaged). Campgrounds and day use areas are located all along the canal.
Before exploring the wonders of the Hennepin Canal, stop in at the Visitor Center near Sheffield. Several displays help illustrate the canal's past, including tools used to build and operate it, as well as the natural features of the canal corridor.
East to west the trail is surfaced from Bureau Junction, near the Illinois River, to Colona on the Rock River. A feeder canal to Rock Falls, 29.2 miles long, also is surfaced. Bring your own refreshments as only the Visitor Center has drinking water available. Be sure to yield the right-of-way to horses.
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 ramps at the Visitor Center complex, Locks 21, 22 or 24, Route 82 north of Geneseo, Route 92, Route 78 north of Annawan, bridge 39, 28 or 45.
If canoeing is your sport, come ready for a workout, as the waters are calm and back and arm power are required. The locks are no longer operational and must be portaged (from Lock 21 east is particularly tough). For a great one-or two-day trip, begin at Rock Falls and continue to the Visitor Center. Check out the Hennepin Canal Recreational Guide on the park's main page for additional details about portaging.
Class "C" and Youth Group camping are allowed along the Hennepin Canal Parkway at the following locations:
Lock 6, north bank East of lock
Lock 11, west of the Canal Prism
Lock 17, northwest of the lock
Lock 21, North Day Use Area
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. Clean up after your horses.
Vehicular (RV, pop-up) camping is allowed and is the same rate as tent camping, $8.00 per family unit. There are no dumping/pump-out stations located at the park.
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 regularly stocked.
An old tow path, originally intended but never used by animals for towing boats along the canal's main line and feeder routes, 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. This trail begins directly across from the Visitor Center parking lot.
Hiking the Hennepin is particularly satisfying in the fall, when Mother Nature works her wonders on the leaves.
The canal's horse trails are open from April 15 to October 31. Bring your own horse and prepare to enjoy 48 miles along the main canal and more than 25 miles along the feeder. Gallop to your heart's delight along the corridor. Stay out of the picnic areas and off the west tow path between bridges 43 to 56, and Locks 30 to 32. You will be sharing surfaces with bicyclists and pedestrians around aqueducts and in areas where usable towpath only exists on one side.
Take a shot at dove hunting during season at the park's main complex. Enjoy waterfowl hunting on Lake Sinnissippi near the Rock River, where more than 30 blind sites are awarded in an annual draw.
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. Call the site office to make a reservation. The largest shelter is handicapped accessible. Playground equipment, located at the largest shelter, will keep the kids busy while the grownups have a chance to chat. Drinking water is currently unavailable at Locks 21 and 22, however, there is a hydrant on the south side of the Visitor Center for use when the center is closed. Outdoor toilets are located at Locks 3, 6, 11, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 26; Bridges 14, 15 and 23, as well as the Visitor Center on the Main Canal. There are facilities at Bridges 50, 52 and 64 on the feeder canal.
When the snowflakes fall, break out the skis and go cross country on 4.5 miles of moderately difficult cross country ski trail in the main complex. You can also venture out onto the canal's trails, but keep an eye out for snowmobilers who often run at high speeds.
Ice skating is permitted on the canal, however, it is at your own risk and we do not monitor ice thickness. The canal is approximately 7 feet deep at a maximum in any given location along the waterway.
The Hennepin Canal boasts the longest snowmobile trail in the state -- 91 miles on the tow path. Snowmobiling on the Hennepin Canal trail is allowed when the trails are declared open by site staff. To check if the trails are open, call the visitor center at 815-454-2328. A pre-recorded message is left during winter hours to indicate daily trail status. Or visit us on Facebook for trail status.
The trail is either open or closed; there are NO partial openings/closings. To declare the trail open requires 4 inches of snow on the ground & 6 inches of frost in the ground. When the trail is closed, the entire park is closed to snowmobile use.