Great Outdoors, History and Heritage

Hennepin Feeder Canal State Parkway

Rock Falls , IL

History: The Hennepin Canal played an important role in the history of commerce and industry in the United States, as a result the entire canal is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rock Falls is the starting point of the Hennepin Feeder Canal which the Rock River supplies water to the greater Hennepin Canal. Today the canal is used solely for recreational purposes.

 Thoughts of constructing a canal that connected the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers date back to 1834. But financial problems in the state held back many public works projects. Pressure for a transportation shortcut that was cheaper than rail continued though, and Congress authorized preliminary surveys on the project in 1871. Construction finally got underway in 1890 and the canal was completed in 1907, reducing the distance from Chicago to Rock Island by 419 miles. There was a problem, however. By the time the canal was finished, the cost of shipping by rail had decreased and barge sizes and freight loads had increased making the canal nearly obsolete. By the 1930s it was used primarily for recreational traffic. The Hennepin and its sister canal, the I&M, tied the Illinois, DesPlaines and Mississippi river systems into a transportation network connecting Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico. The I&M was completed nearly 60 years earlier and helped make Chicago one of the nation's greatest cities.

The Hennepin Canal, which at one time was known as the Illinois and Mississippi Canal, was open to boat traffic until 1951. There was no cost to use the canal. Ice made from the canal's frozen waters was sold during the winters to help pay the canal's maintenance costs. The Hennepin was the first American canal built of concrete without stone cut facings. Although the Hennepin enjoyed limited success as a waterway, engineering innovations used in its construction were a bonus to the construction industry. In fact, construction of the Panama Canal was based on some of the building techniques used for the Hennepin.

There are 33 locks on the canal. Thirty-two are still visible. Fourteen of the locks had Marshall gates, which are unique to the Hennepin, and are raised and lowered on a horizontal axis, much like a rural mailbox. Five of the locks have been restored to working condition, although they are not used. All of the gates from the remaining locks have been replaced with concrete walls, creating a series of waterfalls. The Hennepin originally had nine aqueducts - concrete troughs which carried the canal and its traffic across larger rivers and streams. Today, only six remain. Come enjoy walking, running or riding on nearly 100 miles of trail and waterway. Parking for the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park can be found in Rock Falls at the Jim Arduini Boat Launch. For more information on the Hennepin Canal visit the Illinois Department of Natural resources website.

Fitness: The Hennepin Feeder Canal is a year-round multi-use trail that is convenienty located near all the major Rock Falls, IL Hotels. In Rock Falls, this trail is hard surfaced and stroller friendly. Bring the whole family! Run/walk, cross country ski, kayak or bike the trail for your needed exposure to green time. Mead's Bike in Sterling, IL offers bike rentals. Make your reservations at lease a week in advance. Rock Falls is also the host city for the Hennepin Hundred Ultra-marathon. The Hennepin Hundred is Illinois’ only point-to-point, all-trail ultramarathon, a true Illinois adventure from Rock Falls/Sterling, Illinois on the Rock River to Colona, Illinois near the mighty Mississippi, along the historic and beautiful Hennepin Canal. For snowmobiling on the Hennepin Feeder Canal in Rock Falls, IL,  Click Here and/or Here.


Additional Info

  • What To Do: Great Outdoors, History and Heritage
  • Address: East 2nd Street
  • City: Rock Falls
  • State: IL
  • Postcode: 61071
  • Hours: Open Year Around
  • Pet Friendly?: Yes
  • Wheel Chair Access?: Yes
  • Open to Public?: Yes
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