Want a peaceful, relaxing
day of picnicking, hiking, fishing and good old fashioned family fun?
Hennepin Canal 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 along the 104.5-mile linear park spanning five counties (Rock Island,
Bureau, Henry, Lee and Whiteside).
The Hennepin Canal played an important role in the history
of the United States, and to commerce and industry, and the entire canal
is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Thoughts of constructing a canal connecting the Illinois and Mississippi
rivers date to 1834, but financial problems in the state held back many
public works projects. Pressure for a transportation shortcut that was cheaper
than rail continued though, and Congress authorized preliminary surveys
on the project in 1871. Construction got under way in 1892 and the
first boat, the Marion, went through in 1907, reducing the distance from Chicago to Rock
Island by 419 miles. As the canal was under
construction, the Corps of Engineers was widening the locks on both the
Illinois and Mississippi rivers. With lock chambers 20 and 40 feet
narrower than the rivers it connected, the canal was obsolete before the
Marion made her initial voyage.
By the 1930s, the canal was used primarily for recreational traffic. The Hennepin
and its sister canal, the I & M, tied the Illinois, Des Plaines and
Mississippi river systems into a transportation network connecting Lake
Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico. The I & M was completed nearly 60 years
earlier and helped make Chicago one of the nation's greatest cities. The
Hennepin Canal, which at one time was known as the Illinois and Mississippi
Canal, was open to boat traffic until 1951. There was no cost to use the
canal. Ice made from the canal's frozen waters was sold during the winters
to help pay the canal's maintenance costs.
The Hennepin was the first American canal built of concrete without stone
cut facings. Although the Hennepin enjoyed limited success as a waterway,
engineering innovations used in its construction were a bonus to the construction
industry. Some of the innovations pioneered on the Hennepin Canal were probably
used on the Panama Canal. Both used concrete lock chambers and both used
a feeder canal from a man-made lake to water the canals because both needed
water to flow ‘uphill.’
Of the 33 locks on the canal, 32 remain visible. The first
one, on the Illinois River, has been under water since the 1930s. Fourteen
of the locks had Marshall gates, which are unique to the Hennepin, and are
raised and lowered on a horizontal axis, much like a rural mailbox. Five
of the locks have been restored to working condition, although they are
not used. One of these is a Marshall Gate lock. All of the gates from the
remaining locks have been replaced with concrete walls, creating a series
The Hennepin originally had nine aqueducts -- concrete troughs which carried
the canal and its traffic across larger rivers and streams. Today, six remain
while the other three have been replaced by pipes that carry the canal flow under a
creek or river.
Before exploring the
wonders at the park, stop in at the Visitor Center near Sheffield. Several displays 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. The Visitor Center is handicap accessible.
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. Where you will see a variety of plants and
animals, including ducks, geese, redwinged blackbirds, muskrats and cattails.
Visitor Center hours
are usually 8 A.M. - 4 P.M., Monday through Friday, but may vary. Please
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 available at Locks 21 and 22 from hand pumps, as well as at the Visitor
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 Visitor Center on the
Main Canal. There are facilities at Bridges 50, 52 and 64 on the feeder
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.
Hiking the Hennepin 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. A feeder canal to Rock Falls,
29.2 miles long, also is surfaced. 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 regularly stocked.
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.
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
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
is restricted to the south side of the Lock 21 area. Clean up after
11 | Lock 17 |
Lock 21 | Bridge
14 | Lock 22 |
Bridge 23 | Lock
23 | Lock 26
The Canal is open annually 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.
Fact Sheet | Dove
Hunting Fact Sheet | Lake
Sinnissippi Fact Sheet |
Mautino Fact Sheet | Archery
Deer Fact Sheet | Archery Deer Application
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.
The Hennepin boasts the longest snowmobile trail in the state -- 91
miles on the tow path. 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 and ice skate along the entire canal.
SPECIAL NOTE: No motorized
vehicles, except for snowmobiles during designated times, are allowed
on the tow path. SNOWMOBILING INFORMATION SHEET
to the Visitor Center
The Hennepin Canal
Parkway basically parallels I-80 in Bureau and Henry counties in west
central Illinois. The Parkway's Visitor Center is one mile south of I-80,
just west of Route 40. East or westbound travelers on I-80 should take
Exit 45, turn right (south) on Route 40. They almost immediately cross
the Canal and in about 1 mile is the brown sign directing them to the
Parkway Visitors Center. Turn right (west) and proceed to the Center.
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.