March 28, 2018
Our 6 Favorite Hikes In & Around Sparta
Posted by: Jennifer
People who aren’t from the Midwest often mistakenly assume that Wisconsin is just flat prairies and ice-covered plains. Once they visit the state, however, they are wowed by its incredible natural beauty and the surprising diversity of its terrain. Western Wisconsin, where we are located, is one of the most beautiful corners of the state. The Driftless Region boasts a particularly unique landscape because, unlike most of the state, it was never touched by glaciers. Here, you’ll find forested hillsides, lush valleys, limestone bluffs, cold-water trout streams, prairies, meadows, and wetlands. This makes Western Wisconsin a hiker’s paradise. Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the region and get some exercise. Luckily, there are many wonderful hikes within 30 minutes of the Franklin Victorian Bed & Breakfast. Here is a list of our all-time favorites.
1. Elroy-Sparta State Trail
The Elroy-Sparta Trail is most well-known as a biking route but it is also a popular trail for hikers. The Elroy-Sparta Trail was the inaugural trail in the Rails to Trails project, which converted abandoned railroad tracks into cycling and hiking trails. This 32.5 mile trail stretches through five small towns, three rock tunnels, and several lovely bridges. Even better, the Franklin Victorian Bed & Breakfast is located just one-mile away from this local treasure. Just remember to be extra aware of the bikers who also use the trail. We recommend bringing a flashlight to light your way through the tunnels you’ll pass along the way.
2. 400 Trail
The 400 Trail gets its name from the train line that used to travel from Chicago to the Twin Cities in 400 minutes. Now, it is one of the best hiking trails in the region. We love it for the sheer diversity of what you’ll encounter along the way: wetlands, wildlife, sandstone bluffs, croplands, pastures, and forests of beautiful white pines. You’ll also cross the lovely Baraboo River a whopping eleven times. This 22-mile trail follows the river from Elroy to Reedsburg and connects to other popular trails: the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, the La Crosse River, and Great River State Trails.
3. La Crosse River State Trail
The La Crosse River State Trail stretches 21.5 miles from Sparta to Onalaska along the old Chicago and North Western Railway. This route will take you through a variety of quaint and historic Wisconsin whistlestop towns, including Rockland, Bangor, and West Salem. You’ll explore the rugged terrain of Western Wisconsin through farmland, marshes, meadows, and prairies. You’ll even catch remnants of the hills, bluffs, and and ridges formed by the last Ice Age. You can also take the time to visit the La Cross River Conservancy, a privately funded wildlife refuge where you may encounter waterfowl, beaver, red foxes, and even river otters.
4. Great River State Trail
This 24-mile trail twists through the scenic upper Mississippi River Valley, taking you through wetlands, 500-foot bluffs, hardwood forests, sand prairies, and striking oak savannahs. You will also pass through two wildlife refuges, the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge. During the winter, this is a popular spot for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling. If you like to canoe, you can launch at Lytles Landing along the Black River to explore the region from the water.
5. Perrot State Park
Perrot State Park begins where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi. The park encompasses 1,243 acres and offers magnificent views of the tributary from its 500 foot limestone bluffs. The terrain is so lush and green and you might feel as if you are in Central America or Southeast Asia. The Brady’s Bluff Natural Area offers some of the best views of the river and Trempealeau Mountain, a cone-shaped mountain surrounded by water. Native Americans considered this mountain sacred and used it as a meeting grounds. You can still find some of the earthwork mounds made by ancient Native Americans in the park.
6. Hixon Forest
The tranquil Hixon Forest is located on the eastern edge of La Crosse and boasts 10 miles of hiking trails. The scenic and peaceful trails pass through lightly forested areas out to the magnificent, 600-ft high Grandad Bluff. The view from the Bluff certainly makes it worth the trip. From the top, you can see the city of La Crosse, the Mississippi River, and three different states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. During the winter months, this is also a popular spot for cross country skiers.
Planning a hiking trip to Sparta, Wisconsin? Book a stay at the charming and historic Franklin Victorian Bed & Breakfast.