History buffs, nature lovers
and sportsmen will thrill to the sights and sounds of the 96-mile route
of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Along its banks are numerous state
parks, restored historical sites, and abundance of wildlife and distinctive
landscapes, ranging from bluffs to rolling hills. Visitors can follow
the I&M Canal State Trail along the old towpath at Rockdale
to LaSalle, experiencing 61.5 miles of scenic views and
the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers. At every turn, trail users will find
something of interest. One can spend an afternoon or several days exploring
the wonders along this picturesque and unique area.
This canal provided
the first complete water route from the east coast to the Gulf of Mexico
by connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by way of the Illinois
River. French explorers Joliet and Marquette recognized the value of this
water route for navigation in the 1600s. It was used heavily by Native
Americans and traders from this time until 1823 when Illinois created
a Canal Commission to oversee design and construction of the I&M Canal.
The canal was completed in 1848, at a cost of $6.5 million. It
begins at the south branch of the Chicago River at Bridgeport and extends
96 miles to the Illinois River at LaSalle. Originally 60 feet wide
and 6 feet deep, the canals 15 locks accommodate differences
in elevation. Commercial traffic began immediately, with barges pulled
by mules or horses walking on the towpaths. In 1933, the Illinois Waterway
was completed and the I&M Canal was closed to navigation. Since then,
the canal has been developed for recreation, with the addition of shelters and picnic
areas and renovation of the tow path for hiking and bicycling.
Interpretive programs and information centers are located at key locations
along the trail.
Parks along Canal
- Channahon State Park is located in Channahon in Will County. The park is the site of two locks and a restored locktender's house. The park provides opportunities for picnicking, tent camping, fishing and canoeing. For interpretive programs or more information, visit the Channahon State Park Web site.
- Aux Sable access area, 8 miles from Channahon, has an aqueduct, lock and locktender's house.
- William G. Stratton State Park is located in Morris and provides public boat access to the Illinois River. Fishing is popular here, as well as picnicking.
- Gebhard Woods State Park located in Morris and is bordered on the south by the canal, is 30 acres of slightly rolling terrain dotted with many stately shade trees. Spring brings a profusion of wildflowers, to the delight of park visitors. Songbirds, mallards, wood ducks, green herons and great blue herons can be observed as they feed or nest in the park and along the canal banks. Beaver, muskrat, mink, raccoon and deer also call Gebhard Woods home. The restored Nettle Creek aqueduct adds to the park's beauty. A visitor center, located in the park is a source for additional information on the area.
- Buffalo Rock State Park is located 5 miles from the Fox River Aqueduct on the north bank of the Illinois River. Stand atop the sandstone bluff at the summit of Buffalo Rock and look upon a sweeping view of the Illinois River. Take advantage of one of several picnic areas popular for providing a shady respite from the sun, or visit a shelter with a fireplace on cool days. Visitors will feel a kinship with the Illinois Native Americans, former residents of the area, as they hike through the magnificent stands of oak, cedar and pine. Two American bison call Buffalo Rock home.
The trail on the old canal towpath is easy walking and gives access to unparalleled scenic and historic sights. Bicyclists also can take advantage of the groomed towpath to enjoy the natural and manmade wonders. The trail is marked and has wayside exhibits describing features of the canal. Due to the trails's composition, horseback riding isn't allowed.
After a minimum of 4 inches
of snowfall, snowmobilers may travel the 61.5 miles of marked trail available
along the canal. Call the nearest park office for snowfall
and trail condition information.
is allowed at designated sites along the trail. Tent and youth group camping
also is available at Channahon and Gebhard Woods. Open fires are permitted
in campstoves and fire pits provided at the sites. Permits must be obtained
from the park offices prior to camping.
Channahon State Park
provides shelters, tables and campstoves, along with playgrounds, restrooms
and water fountains. Tthere are restrooms
and drinking water located at the west end of William G. Stratton State Park, along the Illinois
River. Gebhard Woods provides rustic beauty with five shady picnic areas which include,
tables, shelters, restrooms and water fountains. Join
in a baseball game on the diamond while the smaller children enjoy the
playground area. Buffalo Rock State Park offers several picnic areas with
ample shade, as well as a shelter house with a fireplace and restroom.
Bring your fishing
gear to the canal and test your skill at catching bass, crappie, bluegill,
carp, catfish and bullhead. Pond fishing also is available at Gebhard
Woods. River fishing is popular at William G. Stratton State Park on the
Canoeists can travel
15 miles of open water in the canal between Channahon and Gebhard
Woods State Parks, and 5 miles between Utica and LaSalle. Canoe access also is available
at the Aux Sable Aqueduct and at Lock 14 in LaSalle.
have easy access to the Illinois River at William G. Stratton State Park.
Any one of the four boat launching ramps will provide your start to an
afternoon of boating, fishing or water-skiing.
A full-size replica canal boat located in LaSalle offers cruises, with guides dressed as Canal era crew and passengers. Enjoy learning about life on the American frontier and the Illinois prair as you tak a relaxing, scenic ride on the waterway that changed the face of the nation – the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal. Cruises are operated by the “Lock 16” Visitor Center of the Canal Corridor Association located at 754 First St. in LaSalle. Information about cruises is available by calling (815) 220-1848 or visiting www.lasallecanalboat.org. Directions: Exit Route 80 West at mile marker #77 (Rt. 351) South on Rt. 351 to First Street, Building is located at 754 First St. (southwest corner of Rt. 351 and First St.
and Unique Sites
The historic city
of Lockport is located along the Chicago to Rockdale portion of the canal.
Here visitors can tour the renovated Gaylord Building, constructed of
native dolomite limestone, which served as a supply depot during the canal
construction period. Today the building houses displays of the canal and
The restored Nettle Creek Aqueduct
is located in Gebhard Wood State Park. In this picturesque area, visitors
can relax among stone and wooden structures built by the Civilian Conservation
Corps during the 1930s.
Located in Ottawa
is the Fox River Aqueduct, the largest aqueduct on the I&M Canal.
One of the largest
earth sculptures ever built, the Effigy Tumuli, is located near Buffalo
Rock State Park. This reclaimed mine site has turned a barren wasteland
into an area filled with recreational opportunities and interesting landscapes.
It contains five large, earthen figures (effigies) of native aquatic animals
represented in geometric form - a water strider, frog, catfish,
turtle and snake. Marvel at the artwork formed with aid of
heavy construction equipment.
The M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator in Seneca has gone through an extensive
refurbishing. This elevator, formerly know as the Seneca Grain Elevator,
is the only remaining historic grain elevator along the canal that was
in operation during the canal's early days.
the elevator, call the Gebhard Woods office at (815) 942-0796.
- 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.