For outdoor lovers, this is an extra treat for you!
A little over 2 hours north of Dubuque, Iowa and an hour west of Minnesota you’ll find the Elroy-Sparta trail. Originally a section of the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW) built in 1873, the Elroy-Sparta Trail is the first Wisconsin rail-to-trail system. The crushed limestone path was made specifically for bicyclists in the 1960s, but has since become a popular destination for all types of outdoor enthusiasts.
On a whim, my husband lowered The Lift (our motorized garage storage system), packed our bikes on our bike rack, got the kids in the car and decided to go explore all the outdoor-ing the Trail had to offer. We were not disappointed.
The trail consists of three not-to-miss rock tunnels and five small towns staggered along its 32.5-mile route. This favorite Wisconsin bicycling destination travels between Sparta and Elroy, connecting through the communities of Norwalk, Wilton and Kendall. Along the routes you can enjoy a variety of scenery including wetlands, prairies, farmland and unglaciated areas.
Trails are open year round for activities like hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, biking, hiking and kayaking, but require a state trail pass for anything other than walking/hiking. The cost is $25 for the year or $6 for the day. More information on how to purchase can be found HERE.
The rock tunnels are each over 140 years old and were a definite highlight of the trip. Due to massive flood damage after the summer of 2018 the DNR closed a few of the bridges and tunnels for repairs. Most of the repairs have been completed and tunnels are reopened. Tunnels range from ¼ mile to ¾ mile so it’s a good idea to bring a light jacket and a flashlight, especially if you are planning to do a longer ride.
We were traveling with kids and are not expert bike riders by any means, so we didn’t bike the whole 32 miles. At the time we went tunnel #3 was blocked off so we drove to Wilton and biked slightly uphill to tunnel #2. The massive wood doors are breathtaking.
From Wilton you can ride two miles to tunnel #2 or about six miles to tunnel #1. It’s a good place to stop and refresh for those doing longer rides. The Hitching Post has great food and is near a gas station to pick up any additional snacks or drinks. There are bathrooms scattered along the trail, but using the facilities when they’re available is always recommended.
For our trip we drove up to Kendall next, where we biked another 3 miles uphill to tunnel #1, our personal favorite. It resembled a cave and the landscape was absolutely beautiful. Photos won’t do it justice, you really must just go and see yourself!
Each of the main parking lots featured a tool station with common bicycle tools, a bike mount and a pump for your tires, all completely FREE!. There are many different places to park depending on what portion of the trail you want to ride. Click here to pick the best parking lot.
We went over a holiday weekend, without having made hotel reservations in advance. We pulled into the Best Western in Sparta planning to stay for one night, but had such a good time we stayed the whole weekend! They offered a great continental breakfast as well as an incredible pool & hot tub area for everyone. With a pool slide & a kiddie pool area?! We really lucked out.
If you’re looking to make reservations in advance for a one-of-a-kind experience check out Caboose Cabins. The converted caboose cars offer nightly rates one block from the trails. On their site you can find information for bike rentals and shuttles to and from the trail.
One of the best things about being outdoors is there are so many activities to choose from. Just a couple towns away in Rockland WI, Ellistone Canoe Rental offers canoe and kayak rentals. We rented kayaks for day #2 of our trip. It was the perfect mix of winding river, gorgeous sandy bottoms and a current just strong enough to keep you going. We stopped at a couple of the sandy beaches for the kids to play, making our kayak trip about 4 hours long. Dan from Ellistone picked us up, dropped us off up river and met us back at the boat landing when we were all finished. Service was phenomenal and the pricing was great for a family of four.
No matter what type of outdoor activity you are into there is something for everyone at the Elroy-Sparta Trail and surrounding areas, but the bike trail alone is worth the visit. Hope you can get there soon!