Beloved by bicyclists, hikers, snow mobilers, and cross-country skiers, the historic and beautiful Elroy Sparta bike trail is an adventure everyone should experience; one that takes you along some postcard-worthy views of the Driftless region of Wisconsin! Here are some interesting facts about this unique trail.
Elroy Sparta Bike Trail History
- The 32.5 mile Elroy Sparta Bike Trail was once a rail line of the Chicago and North Western Railroad.
- Over 140 years ago, approximately 50 trains passed daily through the three tunnels, carrying passengers, cattle, and other goods for sale.
- The tunnels are all flanked by 20-foot high wooden doors, which would be opened and closed by a tunnel watchman after each train passed through in the winter, to keep snow from accumulating in the cave-like tunnels.
- When the trail opened in 1967, it was the first rail-to-trail in the country and is called the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
Elroy Sparta Bike Trail Today
- While the trail is popular and used by more than 60,000 cyclists yearly, you’re likely to see very few people on the trail – it’s not crowded!
- The level trail (less than a 3% grade) and crushed limestone surface make it a perfect choice for all levels of riders, hikers, and walker/joggers.
- In addition to the towns of Sparta and Elroy, the trail passes through three quaint communities: Norwalk, Wilton, and Kendall. Restrooms, shopping, and fabulous restaurants can be found all along the trail.
- While the shaded trail takes you through the rolling hills and beautiful trees of these communities, the three tunnels are always a highlight for travelers. Impressive in their construction and length, these tunnels are more like caves!
- If you’d like to keep going, the Elroy Sparta trail connects to other trails at each end: the 21-mile La Crosse River State Trail in Sparta and the 400 State Trail and Omaha Trail in Elroy.
- Winter users (snowmobiles, cross-country skiers, and snow-shoers) also take advantage of the trail and trail passes are not required, although the tunnels are closed in the winter.
Elroy Sparta Trail – Tips for Riding
- Many riders enjoy the Elroy Sparta bike trail shuttle services. You can catch a shuttle from either end of the trail (to be able to ride the length of the trail without turning around), or at any point in the trail.
- If your bike doesn’t have a headlight, be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp, as the three tunnels are very dark! And even bikers must walk their bikes through the tunnels.
- Tunnel temperature can be cool and damp, even in the heat of summer, so a light jacket will probably be a welcome addition.
- You must purchase a bike trail pass ($5/day or $20 for an annual pass), which you can find at the Sparta Depot, Kendall Depot (the Elroy Sparta bike trail headquarters), Elroy Commons and outlets in towns along the trail. Most of these places will also have an Elroy Sparta bike trail map, if you don’t have one already.
- If you don’t have a bike already but want to do a day trip along this beautiful trail, rentals are available in lots of towns. Speed’s Bicycle Shop is a popular option for rentals that also provides shuttles. You can also purchase a bike pass there.
Reserve Your Stay Today
After a long day taking in the sights on the trail, come home to Westby House, a short 20 miles from the trail, and let yourself be pampered by a great rest in our comfortable and luxurious rooms. Our mouth-watering restaurant and gourmet breakfast will provide your body with the energy it needs to ride the bike trails or whatever else you have planned in the Driftless region. Download our complimentary Vacation Guide to find out more about our beautiful area. We hope to see you soon!