48 Hours on the I&M Canal

Spend a weekend tracing the route of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which transformed commerce in the 1800s.


The canal began here and powered the city’s rise, as did African Americans migrating from the South. Bronzeville, a South Side neighborhood once called the Black Metropolis, boasts Victorian homes and public art, as well as shops and restaurants.

The stories of canal workers who once energized this village live on at the Lemont Area Historical Society and Museum, housed in the landmark Old Stone Church. Limited hours.


Limestone unearthed during the canal dig accounts for the striking appearance of the Gaylord Building. Mine nuggets of history in the exhibits before enjoying dinner—try Public Landing Restaurant or Tallgrass Restaurant.

At the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center, grab a turn-by-turn guide to the Mother Road while exploring displays about the route’s history. Outside town, cruise by the prison where Jake and Elwood did time in The Blues Brothers.

Talk about ancient history. The Grundy County Historical Museum includes a collection of the region’s Mazon Creek fossils, said to be 300 million years old.

Across from historic Washington Square Park, site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, the Reddick Mansion offers a peek at 1800s-style luxury living. See a sofa that  Lincoln once used.  

Immerse yourself in the canal region’s past at the LaSalle County Historical Museum, where engaging artifacts and docents weave stories about coal mining, the military, Lincoln and more.

The canal ended here at the Illinois River. Ride part of the route the authentic way—in a mule boat (the animal walks a path along the shore). Guides in vintage attire crew the vessel, a full-size replica of a 19th-century original.