The Elroy-Sparta State Trail was once part of the Chicago and North-Western Railroad, transporting livestock from Iowa, the Dakotas, and Minnesota to Chicago. Up to fifty freight trains traveled this section of the railroad daily, but now it’s a frequently-traversed route, visited by 60,000 cyclists every year. The Franklin Victorian is an ideal location for visitors wanting to bike the Elroy-Sparta trail, with a shuttle service that provides transportation for guests and their bikes to one of three different spots along the 30-mile route. That gives you greater freedom to see more of the trail on a single-day trip, to get the most out of your stay.
Getting Prepared for the Trail Experience
As well as the use of the shuttle service, guests of the Franklin Victorian can purchase both daily and annual bike passes at the B&B, making it easy for you to get started exploring the Elroy-Sparta trails. Access to maps of the area is useful too, of course, with traditional paper maps, or the use of map apps for your mobile device. Getting well-and-truly lost on these extensively-charted trails isn’t really a risk, but maps are essential for planning your route and timing those all-important rest stops! Other details to take care of before you start your biking vacation might include accessories like cycling clothing or shoes, a repair kit, and first aid kit, and insurance for your bike and accessories. It’s all too easy to forget about ensuring you’re adequately covered in the excitement of planning a trip, but it can save you a lot of time, money and stress in the event of damage, theft or an accident involving your bike. For the Elroy-Sparta trail in particular, a good bike light is needed too, for going through the tunnels. The trails are of easy to moderate difficulty, so they’re usable by people of most fitness levels. If you’re unused to biking long distances it might be worthwhile doing a little training before-hand, so you can travel the trails with confidence.
As a popular route with thousands of visitors every year, the Elroy-Sparta trail is well-stocked with concession stands, rest areas with drinking water and restrooms, and camping sites, in the three other towns on the route.
Many people who use the trails say that one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience is, of all things, going through the tunnels; there are three on the trail, and the largest, located near Sparta, is 3,800 feet long (the other two are babies in comparison, at just 1,700 feet each). Cyclists must dismount and walk through the tunnels, and on especially busy days you’ll often find people congregating at the tunnel entrance points. Walking through the tunnels, it’s not at all uncommon for people to burst into song, making the cave-like interior seem quite welcoming.
If you take the shuttle to Elroy before starting your cycling trip, you’ll be traveling the full 30-mile route, which includes three tunnels and three towns. The first tunnel is around six miles out of Elroy, and from there it’s another three miles or so to the town of Kendal. From Kendall, to the second tunnel, and then to the town of Wilton, you’ll travel a further 5.5 miles. The third and longest tunnel is definitely the most fascinating part of the five-mile section of trail between Wilton and Norwalk. As a point of interest, there’s an ice cream shop in Norwalk, making it a good place for a rest stop! A flashlight or bicycle lamp is essential, and just to make this point, there are small kiosks on each side of the tunnel, providing the opportunity to purchase a light if need be. After this third tunnel it’s another nine miles to Sparta, and the end of the trail.
The entire 30-mile length is surfaced with hard packed crushed limestone, which makes an ideal track for walking and running as well as cycling, and it’s suitable for wheelchair-users too. The trail is well-maintained and mostly flat, with small inclines of around 3% on either side of each of the three tunnels. And, of course, you have the beauty of the Wisconsin countryside before you along your route, with stunning views the whole way through.
Your cycling vacation doesn’t have to start and end with the Elroy-Sparta trail, as there are several other short and medium-length routes in the region. At Sparta, you can connect to the 21-mile La Crosse River State Trail, and at Elroy there is the 22-mile-long 400 State Trail.
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