Description - Known as the country's first rails-to-trails conversion, the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, a National Recreation Trail, tours 32.5 miles of bicycle-friendly towns, scenic valleys and three century-old rail tunnels. The region is known as the Driftless Area, meaning it escaped the glaciers. The topography is a low plateau deeply cut by stream valleys. Open to hiking, tour biking and in winter, snowmobiling, the trail explores agricultural scenery varying wetlands to rolling hills to dry, sandy prairie.
The 32.5-mile segment is part of the 101-mile Wisconsin State Trail System that incorporates five trails. The 400 State Trail runs between Elroy and Reedsburg, Bike4Trail runs from Reedsburg to Trempealeau connecting with Elroy-Sparta State Trail, LaCrosse River State Trail, and Great River State Trail, terminating north of Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge. Omaha Trail, running north from Elroy to Camp Douglas along a paved surface, offers an additional 13 miles.
- Traveling the abandoned Chicago & Northwestern Railroad bed, the Elroy-Sparta State Trail explores three rock tunnels along its 32.5-mile route: Kendall and Wilton tunnels are each a quarter-mile long and the Norwalk tunnel is three-quarters-mile long. The trail surface is composed of crushed limestone with a grade of less than three percent. Planked and railed trestles carry riders over rivers.
In winter this trail and surrounding trails are well marked and maintained by local snowmobile clubs. There is no charge for snowmobiling or hiking during snow cover; bikers 16 years and older must have trail pass.
The trail headquarters is located in the old Kendall Depot offering exhibits, refreshments, picnic area, and restrooms. Bicycles rentals and car shuttles are available. Hours are from May 1 to October 31, 9 AM to 5 PM daily. For details call 608-463-7109.
Rest areas and public campgrounds are found along the trail and at the north and south ends of the trail. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers two primitive campgrounds for trail users; one located near Elroy and the other located near Sparta. Both campgrounds are self-registering / walk-in sites. Three nearby state parks offer modern facilities: Wildcat Mountain, Mill Bluff and Buckhorn.
Trail entrances are found at Elroy Commons (in Elroy), half-mile northwest of Elroy on Hwy. 71, the headquarters in Kendall, Wilton or Norwalk on Hwy. 71, southeast of Sparta near Hwys. 71 and 16.
Recreation - Recreationists using this trail include hikers, bicyclists, and snowmobilers.
Climate - Southwest Wisconsin has four distinct seasons with warm summers and long winters. January's average temperature is above 16 degrees F (-9 degrees C). Average July temperature is 85 degrees F (29 degrees C). During summer, temperatures can climb to above 90 degrees F (32 degrees C). The area's average yearly precipitation ranges from 32-34". Annual snowfalls in the Southwest Region can range from 20 - 40". Dressing in layers is a good way to remain comfortable in Wisconsin.
Elroy-Sparta State Trail is located in Southwest Wisconsin running between the cities of Elroy and Sparta in the region referred to as the Driftless Area.