Built for shipping, but ideal for biking: Enjoy the beauty and history of Hennepin Canal State Park
Not all the back roads that beckon are paved. Some are liquid! The Hennepin Canal runs across the northern half of Henry County and four adjacent counties, offering recreational delights for those who enjoy kayaking or canoeing. You can bike, walk, snowmobile, or horseback ride on the trails in the surrounding Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park. It was originally constructed for quite a different reason — to serve as a shipping shortcut between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The canal used innovative new construction methods — it was the first American canal built with concrete rather than stone cut facings and it required extensive engineering and the use of multiple locks to control the depth of water in the canal even as the land rose 196 feet. In the 60 years it took for Congress to authorize construction of the canal, water transit had changed, so the canal became obsolete for barge traffic almost before it opened. For more canal history, visit here. (add link when page is ready)
However, what was bad news for the shipping industry was good news for recreation. Today, the entire canal has been reclaimed as a historic, recreational jewel that offers numerous year-round opportunities for rural, outdoor enjoyment. The tree-lined park is a refuge with trails slicing through prairie restorations, wetlands, and corn and soybean farmland. Home to diverse fauna, it has become a favorite for bird watchers and prairie enthusiasts.
Local access points to the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park are located in Annawan, Atkinson, Geneseo, and Colona. A good resource is this map, which has detailed information about services available. Explore the history, dining, and lodging as you tour these countryside communities.
For information about projects to link the Hennepin trail to other trails:
For information about the trail’s end points:
How many miles of bike trails does the Hennepin have?
The canal trail has 91 miles of surfaced trails for biking. It is a part of the American Discovery Trail (a 6,800-mile coast-to-coast trail) and the Grand Illinois Trail (a 535-mile loop through northern Illinois). Enjoy the relaxing rural scenery and jump off the trail to visit attractions along the way. Pack water because only a few areas along the corridor have drinking water (Locks 21 and 22 and the Visitors Center). 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 Visitors Center on the Main Canal. There are facilities at Bridges 50, 52, and 64 on the feeder canal.
Tell me more about the American Discovery Trail
As part of the American Discovery Trail, the canal trail allows serious trail enthusiasts to be a part of a something larger. Called “the ‘Route 66’ for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders,” the ADT offers a chance to see a wide swath of the nation up close and personal. While on the canal trail, keep any eye out for others who may be doing the entire ADT, and say hello.
Biking enthusiasts will find information on the Grand Illinois Trail, which includes the biking trails of the Hennepin Canal:
For detailed suggestions on getting to the biking trails by train, including suggested routes:
For information about several routes from an experienced trail biker:
For information about boat access:
What restaurants are easily accessible from the trail?
You will build up a healthy country appetite (and thirst) when biking or hiking along the trail. Energy bars and bottled water from your backpack just aren’t going to be enough, so take a detour off the trail to fuel up your body at these eateries:
- Country Fixins, 1356 Cleveland Road, Colona, 309-792-2685
- Hacienda Mexican Grill, 504 First Ave., Colona, 309-792-6516
- State Street Café, 123 S. State St., Geneseo, 309-489-0100
- Barney’s, Korner Bar and Grill, 206 N. State St., Geneseo, 309-944-4173
- Lisa’s Place, 22385 U.S. Highway 6, Atkinson, 309-936-7107
- The Barn, 109 West Main St., Atkinson, 309-936-7553
- The Corner Tap, 512 N. State St., Atkinson, 309-936-7527
- Purple Onion, 311 Front St., Annawan, 309-935-6621
- Mick’s Place, 101 S. East St., Annawan, 309-935-6690
Where can I stay overnight along the trail?
Do you want to rough it in a tent or do you demand all the comforts of air conditioning and a comfy king-sized bed after a day on the trails? You have your pick! There are a number of Department of Natural Resources sites along the trail, including some designated for youth group and Class “C” camping. There is even an area available for equestrian camping. Other choices include:
- Colona Scott Family Park, 5775 Poppy Garden Road, Colona, 309-792-0571
- Geneseo Campground, 22978 IL Highway 82, Geneseo, 309-944-6465
- Atkinson Motorsport Park, 23354 US Hwy 6, Atkinson, 309-936-7878
- Best Western Annawan Inn, 315 North Canal Street, Annawan, 309-935-6565
For information about Illinois Department of Natural Resources camp sites along the Hennepin Canal State Trail:
What fish are stocked in the Hennepin Canal?
The Hennepin Canal is stocked with bluegill, bass, walleye, and crappie; you can ice-fish in the winter, too. Need bait and tackle? Check out Gas Mart, 301 North Canal St., Annawan, and Fishin Daze, 103 Hilltop St., Colona.
Can I rent a kayak or canoe to boat on the Hennepin Canal?
The Geneseo Campground offers canoe or kayak rental. Another option is the Canal Area Tackle Shop, located in Wyanet near the canal at 719 S. Wyanet/Walnut Road. With its smooth, reliable course and spectacular and varying views, the canal is a kayaker’s dream. The current is mild and the depth is about 4 feet. It’s ideal if you’re kayaking with kids. More information is available at paddling.net.
How many hiking trails does the Hennepin have?
With 104.5 miles of hiking trails, the Hennepin is an ideal place at any time of the year. You’ll enjoy the rustic views that vary from wooded areas and farm ground to wildflower-filled open areas. Get ready to see some wildlife! The trail is a popular place for birdwatchers. Wild turkey and waterfowl are plentiful, along with sparrows, warblers and woodpeckers, according to Illinois River Road.
For an informative and entertaining account of a bike trip on the Hennepin Canal Trail:
Can I ride my horse along the Hennepin?
If you believe rustic scenery is best viewed from horseback, the park has 73 miles of equestrian trails and an equestrian camping area.
What about snowmobiling along the Hennepin?
Winter recreation along the Hennepin includes 90 miles of snowmobile trails. Click here to see a map of the trails in Colona. To run on the canal, 6 inches of frost and 4 inches of snow must be present. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has more information about snowmobiling regulations along the Hennepin here.
What else is there to do near the Hennepin when I want a little break from the trails?
Some of the easily accessible museums near the trail include these:
- Geneseo Historical Museum, 205 S. State St., Geneseo
- Atkinson Historical Museum, 402 N. State St., Atkinson
What annual events take place along the Hennepin?
There are a number of special annual events that feature the Hennepin.
Cruise the Canal allows you to enjoy the natural beauty and learn about canal history as you proceed down the trail on provided golf carts. Tours begin at Lock 24 in Geneseo and head west to Lock 26, for a 90-minute excursion. Annawan Canal Ambush Mini-Triathlon and 5K Run and Fun Walk also takes place every fall, allowing participants to run, then bike along Patriot Way and finally to paddle down the Hennepin. The Hennepin Hustle, a 5K run/fun walk, takes place every summer in Colona, where the route goes through three miles of city park. The Hennepin Hundred runs every fall from Sterling to Colona. As the name implies, it’s a 100-mile ultramarathon, but there’s also a 50-mile option, and it takes place along the canal.
Want to learn more about the canal’s historic journey? Click here to find out what makes this canal such an engineering feat.