Anyone wishing to bicycle between the Hennepin Canal Trail and the I&M Canal Trail cannot do so other than by riding on highways and roads for the approximately 15 - 20 mile (24 - 32 km) distance between the two trails. A planned connection has been in the works for several years with it being named the Kaskaskia Alliance Trail. It was drawn and marked as "under construction" on the 2008 version of the Illinois DOT bicycle map for the region. The version of the map I have shows a trail that utilizes an abandoned railbed, making for a direct connection between the eastern end of the Hennepin Canal trail near Bureau Junction and the western end of the I&M Canal Trail near LaSalle / Peru. In this design, the trail would use an abandoned railbed right-of-way that runs alongside a railroad track that is a single-track rail line currently used by the Iowa Interstate Railroad. (As an aside, note that it was pointed out to this blog that the abandoned railbed is owned by a real-estate entity). This would be what the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy calls a "Rail with-Trail", of which there are over 100 similar trails in the US, as opposed to a Rail-Trail, where the trail completely replaces all railroad tracks. However, the DOT bicycle maps will probably not show this connector trail as "under construction" in the future, or if the map does, it will now likely have a new routing.
I have been unable to obtain much in the way of official information about the connection between the canal trails and my understanding is that the preliminary engineering is being completed, that it has been a difficult project, and that it will likely be a combination of trails and on-road routing. Rather than being entirely a Rail-with-Trail, it will use a combination of roads and highways and maybe(?) some trails. Given the course will use on-road routing, this represents a compromise to the concept of the trail network--the two canal trails and their connector trail--as easy-to-use, flat, safe, completely car-free, and suitable for all types of riders (not only seasoned touring cyclists but also casual cyclists and families with small children). For now, note that cue sheets which show on-road, street routes to connect between the Hennepin and I&M Canal trails already exist in several forms, including the Openlands and League of Illinois Bicyclists versions [see the Links page].
Editor - Jim
This blog weighs in on topics such as long-distance skating, the Illinois canals, cycling, and a variety of related (and occasionally not-so-related) topics. I'd like to correspond with others interested in skating the Hennepin and I&M canals.