The Hennepin Canal cuts through five counties in Illinois and spans 104 miles. Although I've driven past one of the entries many times, my family and I had never visited until last week, when we leashed up the dog and decided to take a relaxing mid-morning stroll along the waterway.
The welcome we received was tremendous. Minutes after getting out of our car, my daughter and I were greeted by a fabulous committee of monarchs that landed on our shoulders and fluttered about our faces as if in a Disney movie. We were instantly spellbound.
For anyone wanting a level hike, this is a great spot for a quiet adventure. Built as a shortcut to connect the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, the Hennepin reduced travel from Chicago to Rock Island by over 400 miles and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A tow path right next to the water allows an easy walk with a great view of the old lock systems and aqueducts. If you're up for a more difficult route, the park does offer a more strenuous hiking experience that covers a bigger variety of terrain.
Since the canal is no longer used for industry, it is open for canoeing (although be warned that the water is quite calm and you will have to paddle a lot!) and is a good training ground for the beginner. Fishing is also available, with bluegill, crappie, walleye and bass populating the water. As my family and I took a break on one of the park benches at an old lock, we were amazed at the number of fish jumping for flies. Of course, the walleye were probably equally mesmerized by our dog and her breathtaking dance with the local frogs.
My daughter was fascinated with the turtles we watched from a bridge over the canal. My husband, the crane that swooped overhead with a glorious wingspan and landed nearby to enjoy a quiet lunch. I, of course, revisited the butterflies and was even more amazed when they greeted me a second time, monarchs coating my shirt and the dog's back as we lingered near the blackberries along the trail.
If you're a horse lover, the park has equestrian paths. It also welcomes bicyclists, skiers, and has the state's longest snowmobiling run at 91 miles (following the tow path). Camping and hunting are allowed in certain areas of the park, as detailed on its website.
We had a fantastic adventure at the Hennepin Canal. While we were at one of the main stops near the visitor center for several hours, we were only accompanied by the wildlife in the area, which made it seem like a backyard experience. When visiting, be certain to check out the restored prairie grass along the roadway and don't forget to make a donation so this great Illinois park can continue to stay so beautiful.