By Wade Ellett, Let’s Move Quad Cities Outdoor Blogger
One of the best kept secrets for great walking is our own Hennepin Canal State Trail. Its towpath is packed earth and scenic for walkers, runners, cyclists, or even kayakers. The best part for those on foot: it’s easy on the knees and flat!
We’ve checked out about 20 miles of the old towpath so far and it’s filled with wildlife, interesting aquaducts, and history.
Opened in 1907, the Hennepin Canal is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its intended purpose was to connect the Mississippi River and the Illinois River.
While it was only mildly successful as a means of transportation, its rebirth as a recreational waterway has made the Hennepin Canal a highlight of the region. It extends from Princeton, IL, through various communities including Geneseo, Colona, and Milan.
The Hennepin has many supporters and if you’re interested, visit the Friends of Hennepin website for their hikes and other events.
If you live in the QC, here are a few ideas about where to start!
Close to the Metro: The Milan Section
I’m slightly ashamed to admit, but I’ve driven past, alongside, and over this section of the Hennepin Canal State Trail more times than I can count! It’s only 5 miles from my house, and I’m in Milan at least once a week.
So, we decided to pull off on Big Island, and get to stepping.
Heading East, we walked along Milan after crossing below the 67 bridge.
It’s a nice walk, very accessible, very close, and offers a nice juxtaposition of scenery. The town of Milan is on one side, with the tree-lined canal with Bald Eagles and other wildlife (look out for some beaver and muskrat in the summer) is on the other.
Down the Road: Colona
Here the trail passes by a park, a ball diamond, lots of great benches, and tons of green space.
The path is paved in this section as well, so you’ll have no trouble pushing a stroller or riding a bike.
We took the pup with us, and lots of other people did that day as well, which I love to see. Just be sure to pick up after your pets on the path!
Not too far from Colona and on your way to Geneseo, you’ll see how the canal flows over unique bridges and locks.
The Long Way ‘Round: The Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park
I also wanted to drop by the Hennepin Canal Visitor Center near Sheffield, IL, to learn a little more about the canal’s history, but I had poor timing. It’s not open on the weekend. Make sure and check the hours if you want to stop in!
We had a good time hiking for 5 or 6 miles that day. This was the only section of the trail we explored that wasn’t paved; this was packed earth and gravel.
It was a chilly day, but we stayed warm by moving! Despite the occasional sounds of vehicles nearby, this was the section where we felt more isolated, with trees on both sides of the canal, and plenty of signs of wildlife.
Keep in mind, there’s a lot more of the Hennepin Canal to explore; 155 miles total! Some sections are open to equestrians and snowmobiles. Fishing in the canal is great, and you’re also welcome to paddle the canal as well (though none of the locks work anymore, so you’ll have to portage your boat).
The Hennepin Canal is a great way to get fix, relax, and experience local history.
Whether you’re hiking, biking, fishing, or boating, this waterway is a great feature that we are lucky to have in our neck of the woods. I hope to see you out there soon!
|Meet Wade Ellett, Let’s Move Quad Cities Outdoor Blogger. Wade is an outdoor adventurer who shares his passion for QC outdoor adventures here! Read his other posts by clicking here.|