Elroy-Sparta State Trail

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One of the informative signs posted along the trail.
Just outside one of three railroad tunnels along the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail
A bicyclist enters one of the tunnels.

The Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail is a 32-mile (51 km) rail trail between Elroy and Sparta, Wisconsin. Considered to be the first rail trail when it opened in 1967, it was designed for foot, bicycle, equestrian or light motorized traffic. It is designated as a multiuse trail, offering recreational access to the routes, and is open to the public.[1]

It is one of four connecting bike trails in west-central Wisconsin that spans approximately one-third of the state. The trail is known for its rural scenery and three tunnels. It is part of the larger Wisconsin bike trail system, operated by the state of Wisconsin.[2]

The four connecting west central Wisconsin trails, known as the Bike 4 Trails, going from southeast to northwest are:

The Elroy-Sparta bike trail connects to the 400 Trail in Elroy and the La Crosse River Trail in Sparta.

The trail headquarters is located in Kendall on Wisconsin Highway 71 and is open from May 1 through October 31. There is a $4.00 per day fee for use of the trail if one does not have the $20.00 yearly Wisconsin bike trail pass. Bike lights are advisable even on the brightest summer days when going into the long unlit tunnels. The tunnels are also considerably cooler than other areas of the trail, so visitors are advised to bring windbreakers and caps, especially for exploring the trail on foot.[3] Camping, lodging, food, parking, bike rentals and information are available at many points along the trail.[4]

The trail is constructed upon the abandoned Chicago and North Western Railway railroad bed, and is covered with crushed limestone for a smooth ride for bicyclists. The three tunnels along the trail are impressive feats of nineteenth-century railroad engineering. Tunnel #1 is just a short distance from Kendall, and is surrounded by natural tunnels formed by the surrounding canopy of trees. Tunnel #2, stationed halfway between Wilton and Norwalk, features 20-foot-tall wooden doors on both ends of the tunnel. Both Tunnel #1 and Tunnel #2 are an incredible 0.25 miles (400 m) each. Tunnel #3, just 9 miles from Sparta and 3 miles from Wisconsin, Norwalk, is longer than the span of 10 football fields at 0.75 miles (1.21 km). It took $1 million and 3 years of digging by hand to complete in 1873.[5]

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