Weekend Backpacker: Chicago
I & M Canal State Trail
401 Ottawa Street
Morris, IL 60450
Directly responsible for the growth of Chicago and other cities, the I & M Canal was built to link Lake Michigan and the Illinois River at LaSalle when it was constructed in 1848. Today, a 60-mile linear path along its banks provides excellent hiking, biking, and snowmobiling opportunities. This path is also part of the Grand Illinois Trail.
The total length of the canal-side trail is 55 miles, and it connects many parks and communities along its route. Scenery along the relatively flat trail consists of waterfowl, deer, muskrats, small oaks, cottonwood, and ash. Don't miss the state's biggest tree, an Eastern Cottonwood, just one mile west on the south side of the canal.
Camp at the Gebhard Woods State Park, which serves as an information center for the I & M Canal Trail, and you can hike 20 miles to the east toward Channahon State Park or 26 miles to the Buffalo Rock State Park to the west.
Camping: Available at the Gebhard State Park. Advance reservations are not accepted. Camping fee is $6 per night for the 30 walk-in sites. Camping is also available in Channahon State Park. Along the canal, there are about 30 backcountry sites. There are also three primitive walk-in sites near Buffalo Rock.
Getting there: Gebhard State Park is located west of Morris, Illinois. Take I-80 or Highway 55 to route 47 south. Head west on Route 6 and look for the park signs.
Permits and maps are available at the park offices in Gebhard or Channahon. Permits (available at Gebhard) are required for the backcountry sites along the canal. Permits for the primitive sites are available at the Buffalo Rock State Park office.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication