The Hennepin Canal was originally conceived in 1890 as part of an overall plan to connect the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico in order to facilitate barge shipping. The problem was that by the time the canal was finished 17 years later, a combination of decreasing railway shipping rates and increasing barge sizes had already rendered the narrow canal obsolete, particularly for commercial purposes. Thus, primary usage along the 105-mile Hennepin Canal has always tended toward recreational. In order to facilitate this objective, the entire waterway was designated as a state park and has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The best place to begin your exploration of Hennepin Canal State Park is at its visitors center near Sheffield. At the center, you can orient yourself, talk to staff members, and view excellent exhibits of tools used to construct the canal and other natural history aspects of the park. The park’s primary habitat includes riparian type forests comprised of shagbark hickory, black walnut, white ash, hackberry, and red mulberry. In addition, numerous patches of tallgrass prairie fill in the non-forested areas. Recreational opportunities include birding (Wild Turkey and waterfowl are park specialties), hiking/biking/horseback riding along the park’s 155-mile trail paralleling the canal, boating, picnicking, and winter sports such as cross country skiing and snowmobiling.
The entire 105-mile waterway is a state park listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Though there are access points all along the canal, the best place to begin your exploration of Hennepin Canal State Park is at its visitor’s center near Sheffield. At the center you can view detailed maps, talk to staff about recent birds sited, and learn about the natural history of the park. The park’s primary habitat includes riparian forests of shagbark hickory, black walnut, white ash, hackberry, and red mulberry. Numerous patches of tallgrass prairie fill in the non-forested areas. Wild Turkey and waterfowl are park specialties, along with a wide range of sparrows, warblers, woodpeckers. Plan a full day or even a weekend long excursion to traverse the entire length along the park’s 155-mile trail paralleling the canal. You can travel on foot, cross country skis, bicycle, canoe or horseback!