Imagine a time when 400 workers using only picks, shovels and wheelbarrows excavated a 5-mile long canal along the banks of the Connecticut River in order to provide safe passage around the treacherous Enfield Falls.

Today, visitors can walk, ride or run along the tow path where mules, horses or oxen once towed scows and flat-bottomed boats safely along the placid canal between Suffield and Windsor Locks. The paved 4.5-mile trail runs between the 80-foot-wide canal and along the riverbanks providing panoramic views of the Connecticut River and King's Island.

It's fun to walk past the peaceful canal and then look down a 30-foot-high bank to see the river flowing past. There are opportunities to fish in the canal and watch turtles sunning themselves on a half-sunken log or watch the treetops for a bald eagle.

One of the highlights of the journey is a view of King's Island in the middle of the river at the trail's halfway point. The mile-long island, once home to Native Americans, became a Millerite farming community in the 1800s. The owner, DeWitt Clinton Terry, would gather local Millerites on the island to await the end of the world — on several occasions. According to lore, there are several Indian burial grounds on the island and the stone foundations of Terry's farmhouse, barns and stone walls.

Another highlight is an old brownstone railroad bridge that marks the border between Windsor Locks and Suffield. There are several overlooks providing panoramic views of the Connecticut.

Parking for the canal's southern terminus is off Route 140 in Windsor Locks. Visitors can take I-91 north to Exit 42. Take Route 159 to Route 140 and take a quick left after crossing the canal bridge. A road with speed bumps between the canal and a factory complex takes visitors to a large dirt parking area. Parking for the canal's northern terminus is off Canal Road. Take exit 47W off 91 south to Route 190 across the Connecticut River. Turn left on Route 159 and an immediate left on Canal Road. The lot is at the end of the road.

You can view Peter Marteka's videos online, along with his Nature's Path column, at www.courant.com/marteka. His column also appears in Friday's Hartford Courant.