Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Biking Cook County's Illinois & Michigan Canal Bike Trail

The I & M Canal Bicycle Trail is a paved trail located in southwestern Cook County, Illinois, between Route 83 and 79th Street, within the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor, the first national park of its kind. The 8.9 mile trail consists of three sections; two 3.3 mile loops and a 2.3 mile section that connects the loops. It was built by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in 1971 on a sliver of land separating the Sanitary and Ship Canal and the canal it replaced, the Illinois & Michigan Canal.

The trail traverses lovely forest with occasional glimpses of both the old canal (on the left here) and the new, larger canal. One trailhead parking lot is just south of the Willow Springs Road bridge over the Sanitary and Ship Canal and another is in the forest preserve about 2.5 miles south of there.

This is the namesake Illinois and Michigan Canal, constructed in 1843 to permit cargo ships access from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico. Explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet traveled the Illinois River to Des Plaines River but then had to portage to the Chicago River, an area now called the Chicago portage, near where the I & M Canal was dug.

The much-used Sanitary and Ship Canal parallels the old I & M Canal, and the I&M Bike Trail runs between the two canals, along the trees to the right of this photo. The Centennial Trail runs on the left side of the S & S Canal, west of the industrial area.

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