Bicycling the Hennepin Canal, I&M Canal, and Old Plank Rail Trail
Photo Slideshow Tour of the Hennepin Canal and a few sights nearby
Here is a link to a photo bike tour of the Hennepin Canal: after the photo of the Princeton Amtrak station, the canal photos start from Bridge 1 / Lock 3 on the eastern end and head westward to the Rock River in Colona, IL in a suburb of the Quad Cities. The photos continue from Rock Falls south along the feeder canal back to the summit pool. Not how you would ride it, but it shows what a ride on the Hennepin would look like.
SEE THE FULL SLIDESHOW: Flickr URL http://www.flickr.com/photos/35710734@N05/sets/72157621931854831/show/
I rode across Illinois on the Hennepin, I&M, and OPRT trails in May 2008. Beyond my interest in the canals for ice skating in winter, I enjoyed cycling the towpath trails, which are part of the larger Grand Illinois Trail. The combination of trails can make for an excellent weekend trip. I started my trip at the western end of the Hennepin Canal trail at the Rock River in Colona, IL, turned at the feeder junction for the round trip up and back to Rock Falls, headed eastward from the feeder junction, and finally finished with the Hennepin trail at the lot at Route 29 in Bureau Junction. It was obviously a long day, but the weather was sunny and it being late May it never got too hot. I stayed overnight in Utica at a nice bed and breakfast--I was thankful for the bar nearby that served dinner past 9pm and that the B&B had a nice jacuzzi tub in the room. Utica makes for a nice place to stay as it is right off of the I&M canal trail and has a variety of lodging and restaurant options.
The second day I rode the I&M and Old Plank Rail Trail. The nature of the ride was different from the Hennepin trail as the I&M runs through many towns along the way while the Old Plank Rail Trail cuts through suburban Chicago. I finished the ride a little short of the end of the OPRT at the Matteson Metra station. You can't miss it as it is right by the trail. I then got aboard the next train with the bike (no problem as I was going into the city, against the commute). I took the train to downtown and then made my way a few more blocks to a hotel located just off of Michigan Ave. After two long days of riding the trails, which for most of the journey had seemed secluded from civilization by trees or large fields, it was a surreal experience to emerge from the train station into the bustle of downtown Chicago on an early summer evening as people were leaving their workplaces for the day. I was exhausted and happily checked my bike with the bellman at the hotel. Needless to say, I skipped a night out at nearby Rush St. and instead ordered room service.
Much of the Hennepin trail was actually nicer than I expected as a significant portion of it was oil and chip which is closer to pavement than other similar trails I have ridden which are crushed stone / gravel, with the rest of the Hennepin trail that wasn't oil and chip being a very manageable crushed stone. There were no washouts on the Hennepin Canal trail despite the spring rains and there were no spots with major overgrowth, with the exception of a few spots on the feeder trail where I had to get around a few downed tree branches. The I&M Canal trail was similar although most of it was crushed stone, and when I rode it, I had to "portage" a few big washouts and overall the I&M trail surface had absorbed more water in general compared to the Hennepin trail and there were a few instances when the bike tires sunk in just a little or were sluggish. Note that when I rode the I&M trail in late May 2008, there had been heavy spring rains in the weeks leading up to the ride, and a further short downpour early the morning that I rode the I&M (while it was a sunny day when I rode the Hennepin). The saturation of the crushed limestone was never a big deal, but being set up on a relatively heavy bike with a little extra weight (panniers, etc., and I myself weigh around 200 lbs / 91 kg)--there were a few places the rear tire sank in a little bit, which meant a little different "feel" and handling than riding on smooth pavement, but this was no big deal at all.
For a bike, I used a rock-solid Cannondale touring bike with 700-35c tires, which, while narrower than mountain bike tires, were very appropriate for the Hennepin and I&M trails. The interesting thing that came up in my search is that many "non-official" Hennepin websites (general biking interest or other) that discuss the Hennepin are out-of-date or reference a period from years ago when the trail was grass in spots, or that you should start in Geneseo (not Colona) [Most of these were updated later in 2008.] The Hennepin trail is excellent, starting in Colona at the Rock River and was fine for a bike with wider tires. Narrow road bike tires may or may not be a problem for some depending on the rider and trail conditions (dry vs. after heavy rains), but anything wider, whether on a mountain bike, touring bike, or cyclocross with wider tires should almost always be fine. I also found the I&M to be a nice trail, with the exception of the major washouts encountered.
Above: Photos of scenes along the I&M Canal. In the upper photos, one of the locks along the canal; at lower left, a washout on the I&M trail just east of Utica, in a photo from 2008. At the lower right, the canal trail goes across a bridge over the DuPage River near Channahon.
More Thoughts on Logistics and Sources of Information for the Ride
The only thing that would have made the ride better was if I had employed better logistics. When I rode the Hennepin and its feeder canal trails, I only made one "pit-stop" in Rock Falls to take on water, which meant that I had to carry a great quantity of water, food, and provisions for the day. The important things to know for a "thru biker" for the Hennepin include water / food stops beside the "official" water stops at lock 21 and the Hennepin Visitor Center—such as the convenience stores in Geneseo, Annawan, Tampico, Rock Falls and Wyanett. Several times I thought of riding the 1-2 miles out of my way, but instead wasn't confident that the towns on the maps had gas stations, etc. with food / water for sale. Other key items of interest are cycling shops near the route (in case of a breakdown or other need, and also lodging options). The League of Illinois Bicyclists website (see Links page) has a good source for bicycling information on the Hennepin, I&M, and OPRT under the Grand Illinois Trail. [NOTE: Since I wrote the original report, both the League of Illinois Bicyclists and Openlands came out with excellent cue sheets, and the LIB sheets have a wealth of pertinent information on services as well. See the Links page.]
The information that the Illinois-DNR sent to me was also helpful—both on the Hennepin and the I&M--I especially found the "new" Hennepin Canal Parkway brochure from The Friends of The Hennepin Canal very helpful as it had both a map and the distances between reference points.
Hennepin Canal Trail and I&M Canal Trail Lodging / Accomodations Guide
Here is a guide to places to stay near the two canal trails. No review of the places is offered--one person's "creepy, disgusting room" might be another's "good value for the price". Some prefer primitive camping and are fine with no showers while others want the comforts of a national hotel chain--while the thought of staying next to I-80 spoils a trip for others. Still others prefer the quaint, homey charms of a well-run bed and breakfast. Note for the latter not all serve meals, including a breakfast, so plan ahead.
Various Sites Along Hennepin Canal
Locks 6, 7, 11, 17, 21, 22, 23, and 26 and at Bridges 14 & 23 Primitive Camping 815-454-2328
Geneseo Campground Camping 309-944-6465 Next to canal (north) off IL-82
Comfort Inn Chain hotel / motel 309-945-9345 3.5 miles south of canal
Super 8 Chain hotel / motel 309-945-1898 2.7 miles south of canal
Best Western Annawan Chain hotel / motel 309-935-6565 0.5 miles south of canal, across I-80
Rock Falls area (north end of feeder section of canal)
Leisure Lake Campground Camping 815-626-0005 3 miles east of canal
Country Inn & Suites Chain hotel / motel 815-625-3200 0.25 miles north of canal
Super 8 Chain hotel / motel 815 626-8800 0.25 miles north of canal
All Seasons Motel Motel 815-625-3700 0.25 miles north of canal
Knapp Inn Motel 815-625-2324 0.6 mile west of canal on US 30
Rock Falls Hotel Motel 815-626-5500 0.25 miles north of canal
Chestnut Inn B&B 800-537-1304 3 miles south, in town
Hickory Grove Campground Camping 815-866-4557 On canal, north of Sheffield town
Sheffield Inn Motel 815-454-2224 1 mile, north of 80
Eastern end of Hennepin canal and beyond
Ranch House Lodge Motel 815 659-3361 0.1 mile north of canal at IL-26 / IL-29
Spring Valley Motel (was Riviera Motel) Motel 815-894-2225
In Spring Valley, when connecting between the Hennepin and I&M trails
Fairfield Inn Chain hotel / motel 815-223-7458 5.25 miles north and west of canal
Holiday Inn Express Chain hotel / motel 815-224-2500 5.25 miles north and west of canal
La Quinta Chain hotel / motel 815-225-9000 5 miles north and west of canal
Super 8 Chain hotel / motel 815-223-1848 5.25 miles north and west of canal
Kaskaskia Hotel Hotel / Resort 815-224-4800 3 blocks north of canal
Note--the Kaskaskia Hotel is under renovation, reopening date TBD.
Daniel's Motel Motel 815-223-3829 1.4 miles north of canal
Best Western Chain hotel / motel 815-883-3535 3.7 miles south and east of canal
Days Inn Chain hotel / motel 815-883-9600 3.7 miles south and east of canal
Along the I&M Canal Trail
Designated sites Primitive camping 815-942-0796 On canal
Utica / Starved Rock area
Foster Suite B&B 815-667-4717 1 block north of canal
Landers House B&B 815-667-5170 1 block north of canal
Starved Rock Retreat B&B 309-453-9986 1 block north of canal
Hickory Hollow Campground Camping 815-667-4996 2.5 miles north of canal
Lasalle Peru KOA Camping 815-667-4988 3.7 miles north of canal
Papa Murphs Camping 815-667-4747 2.5 miles south of canal
Starved Rock State Park Camping 815-667-4726 3.2 miles south of canal, then into park
Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Lodge Hotel / Resort 866-399-3866 2.0 miles south of canal
Brightwood Inn Inn 888-667-0600 4.5 miles south of canal
Starved Rock Inn Inn 815-667-4238 1.5 miles north of canal at US-6 and IL-178
Willows Hotel Inn 815-667-3400 2 blocks south of canal
Buffalo Rock State Park Primitive camping 815-433-2224 On canal
Fox River B&B B&B 815-431-9257 8-10 miles from canal
Marcia's B&B B&B 815-434-5217 2 miles north of canal on Rte. 71
Starved Rock Harbor Villas and Suites B&B houseboat 815-434-9200
On the detour of the washout, or 1 mile west of Buffalo Rock and a few miles east of Utica on Dee Bennett Rd.
Fox River Eagle Cabin Cabin for rent 815-434-1308 1.5 miles north and east of canal
EconoLodge Chain hotel / motel 815-433-9600 1.6 miles north of canal
Fairfield Inn Chain hotel / motel 815-431-8955 1.5 miles north of canal
Hampton Inn Chain hotel / motel 815-434-6040 2.0 miles north of canal, across I-80
Holiday Inn Express Chain hotel / motel 815-433-0029 2.0 miles north of canal, across I-80
Super 8 Chain hotel / motel 815-434-2888 1.6 miles north of canal
Sands Motel Motel 815-434-6440 1/2 block from canal
Surrey Motel Motel 815-433-1263 1.4 miles north of canal
Parkers 117 House Room for rent 815-252-3473 3 blocks south of canal
Riverloft Room for rent 815-575-4325 7 blocks south of canal
Madison Street Living Rooms for rent 815-434-1500 6 blocks south of canal
Illini State Park Camping 815-795-2448 0.5 mile south of canal
Troll Hollow Campground Camping 815-795-2537 3.5 miles south of canal
Comfort Inn Chain hotel / motel 815-942-1433 3 miles north of canal and I-80
Days Inn Chain hotel / motel 815-942-9000 3 miles north of canal and I-80
Holiday Inn Express Chain hotel / motel 815-941-8700 3 miles north of canal and I-80
Quality Inn Chain hotel / motel 815-942-6600 2.8 miles north of canal
Park Motel Motel 815-942-1321 2 miles north of canal
Gebhard Woods State Pk Primitive camping 815-942-0796 On canal
Channahon State Park (I&M Canal State Trail) Primitive camping 815-467-4271 On canal
Manor Motel Motel 815-467-5385 0.5 miles south of canal @ I-55
Besides food stops (I'll leave that for the rider to plan using other resources-see the cue sheets on the Links page), there are a few other things to note besides lodging for the touring cyclist.
Bike Rental and other including canoe and kayak
Kayak Morris offers guided kayak, canoe, and bike tours as well as rentals out of Morris, IL right on the I&M Canal where it is next to the Illinois River. 630-567-4653.
Canal Area Tackle Shop rents bikes as well as camping gear. It also rents canoes, kayaks, and fishing boats and they sell fishing tackle and bait. They also offer bike repairs as well. It's right off the canal in Wyanet at S. Wyanet / Walnut Rd. 815-878-6822.
Bike Shops (mostly for repairs as a survey of them resulted in none of them offering significant rentals)
Geneseo, IL B&B Lawn Equipment and Cyclery 309-944-2660 2 miles south of canal
Sterling, IL Mead's Bike Shop 816-626-4601 2 miles north and west of canal, in Sterling
Peru, IL Bike Works 815-223-2500 4.5 miles north of canal (behind Menards)
Morris, IL Grand Schwinn 815-942-1510 7 blocks north of canal
There are many shops in the Quad Cities area at the western end of the Hennepin Canal Trail, while at the eastern end of the I&M Canal Trail and the OPRT in the Joliet and Chicago suburbs many bike stores including Plank Road Cyclery, which is on the OPRT in Frankfort, IL.
For additional details on the Hennepin (elevation, route) as well as the I&M (Utica to Joliet) and OPRT, see the links below.
Links to Garmin Connect for my ride (may require Adobe plug-in, etc.):
Note: There are Google Earth files of the ride on the Canal Tour webpage on this site. Canal Tour is under the Canal Information heading above.