I’ve always preferred running on a  nature trail as opposed to pounding the hot pavement, fighting traffic and sucking in exhaust fumes, or the monotony of running on treadmills.  I’m always searching the area for some trails that I haven’t tried yet.  Where are your favorite trails???  This is one trail I run frequently:

Hennepin Canal Parkway Trail – Milan Section

This section of the Hennepin Canal Parkway Trail is approximately 7 miles long so if you park at the trailhead and run to the end and back you’re in for a 14-mile run!  I normally just run portions of the trail depending on how far I want to run that day.  There are several access points in Milan.  The trail follows along both sides of the canal next to the Rock River.  There is a paved path on one side and there are primitive trail sections on the other side of the canal, next to the River.  It’s a beautiful place to run but the paved trail can be busy at times with cyclists and walkers and the primitive sections in the summertime are literally carpeted with poison ivy!  The gnats, mosquitoes, and ticks can be an issue too.  Dogs are allowed on a leash.  The entire Milan section of the Hennepin Canal Parkway Trail is flat, without much elevation change.

Directions:

To access the trailhead turn off of Airport Road in Milan onto 14th St. NE frontage road.  The road leads back to a parking lot at the Steel Dam and Lock 30 on the Rock River.  There are a couple of other access points to Hennepin Canal Parkway Trail – Milan Section.  From 1st Ave. (Airport Road) in Milan, turn into the parking lot between Subway and EZ Livin Sports to park and access the paved trail.  Or if you stay on 1st Ave. to the stoplights at the Milan bridge and turn left onto Big Island Parkway there is another parking lot on the right with access to the paved trail.  According to Google maps, there is a public restroom and a kiosk with information.  I saw the kiosk but no restroom.  It’s possible in the summer months they bring in a porta-potty but right now in mid-March, there were no restrooms.  There is another parking/access area a little further down Big Island Road, just look for the sign.

Trail Information:

From the parking lot at the Steel Dam, you can walk back up the road to the paved trail or walk around the end of the canal to access the primitive path that runs between the canal and the Rock River.

I highly recommend the primitive path before the poison ivy gets out of control!  It’s cooler since you are off the pavement and the trees provide intermittent shade.  It’s not nearly as busy as the paved trail.

From the steel dam, you can follow the primitive path for less than a mile where it eventually leads back up to the paved trail.

There is a section of paved trail that leads across a bridge alongside Airport Road; the trail is separate from traffic.  The trail then veers to the right, away from the road and at the next bend in the trail, you can access the primitive path again.

1112161542_HDRWhether you choose paved or dirt from there, both trails will lead past the blue Milan bridge and out to some railroad tracks.

At this point from the dirt path, you have to go left and run alongside the railroad tracks for a short distance.  You can pick up the paved trail on the other side of the tracks, heading out towards Big Island. The large, loose rocks along the tracks make for some awkward running!

This is also the location of the parking lot with the kiosk and the supposed public restrooms.  The distance from this parking lot to the junction or confluence (if you want to be fancy) of the Mississippi and Rock Rivers is approximately 3.0 miles.

The paved trail continues on for about 2 miles and is not quite as well maintained as the last section and can be kind of rough in places.  There is also no shade to speak of so in summer months this section can be pretty scorching.  If you really want to get off the pavement you can run in the open areas beside the paved trail until the grass gets too long.

Eventually, you will see a sign to turn right onto the primitive path heading for Lock 32.

This trail is beautiful any time of year.  In early spring, before the trees leaf out, and in late Fall you have a much better view of the river.  There is a wooded area on your right, and in the summer the trees provide some shade along the trail.  I spotted a red fox that jumped up from the banks of the canal and crossed the path ahead of me, darting off into the woods.  Beautiful!  I was wishing I had a Go-Pro because I can never get my camera out quick enough to snap a pic!  It’s common to see geese, ducks, buzzards, turtles, squirrels, cranes, hawks, eagles and seagulls all along the canal.

The trail drops down onto a road to lead you under the IL 92 overpass.  On the other side of it, you can turn right to get back onto the primitive path and continue on to the confluence or stay on the road and it will also lead you there.

This is where the two rivers meet.  I didn’t get a great picture, it’s actually much more impressive in person!

Whatever the season, the Milan section of the Hennepin Canal Trail makes for a beautiful run, walk or ride!  My favorite part of this trail is that for the most part, you can run it all off-road but, if you choose, you can run the paved trail and still not have to run in any traffic.  The views of the river and the wildlife are amazing!

When the water is high, portions of the primitive trails can be flooded.  Watch for poison ivy and check yourself and your dog for ticks before you get back in the car!

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