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Enjoy Illinois

  I & M Canal  

Northeast Region

401 Ottawa Street
Morris, IL 60450

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East Map | West Map Historic & Unique Sites Picnicking
Archaeology of 19th c. Canal Boats Interpretive Program Snowmobiling
Boating LaSalle Canal Boat Trail
Camping Natural Heritage Corridor Virtual Tour
Fishing News and Projects  
Hiking  Parks along Canal  

Illinois & Michigan Canal

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.

State 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.


Backpack carry-in 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 Illinois River.


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.

Boating enthusiasts 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.

Historic 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 a restaurant.

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.

To tour 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 conflicts.
  • 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.

Parks & Recreation

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Springfield, IL 62702
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