8 a.m. Fuel up for this 32-mile cycling day trip with a sit-down, four-course breakfast at the Victorian Strawberry Lace Inn (603 N. Water St., Sparta), one of Wisconsin’s most historic homes. If you don’t get your fill, you’ll find food, water and restrooms in each of the three towns along the trail before you roll into Elroy. Depending on your cycling experience, you can choose to do the 64-mile roundtrip on your bike, take a shuttle back to Sparta from Elroy – or anyhwere along the trail – or stay overnight in Elroy and return the following morning.
10 a.m. On your way to the trailhead, stop to get the quintessential Sparta photo with the Big Ben Bikin’ statue (Water Street and Highway 16). The giant, 32-foot mustached high-wheeling cyclist symbolizes Sparta’s claim as Bicycling Capital of America. (In season, look for real-life look-a-like Little Ben Bikin’ who cruises around town.) It’s a straight shot south from the inn on Water Street to the trailhead and Sparta Chamber Depot (111 Milwaukee St.) to catch the Elroy-Sparta Trail. Opened in 1967, the Elroy-Sparta Trail was the first rails-to-trails conversion in the country. The trail features three tunnels, two spanning one-quarter of a mile and a third that is three-quarters of a mile long. Cyclists are asked to follow trail etiquette and use flashlights and walk their bikes through the dark tunnels.
12:30 p.m. After passing through the first two tunnels, refuel with some classic country cooking at the Dorset Valley School Restaurant and Bakery (26147 Highway 71), just north of the trail near Wilton. A former student turned the one-room schoolhouse into a cozy restaurant that includes some original items from the school. Once you’ve had your fill, hop back on the trail and pedal on to Kendall.
2 p.m. Grab a drink or just stretch at the historic Kendall Train Depot. If you’re lucky, one of the trail’s board members will be on hand to answer questions before you hit the trail for the last nine miles into Elroy.
3:30 p.m. Since you’re deep in Amish country, head over to Elroy’s Country Favorites (138 Main St.) and check out the store’s selection of Amish goods and other wares. Down the street, the Elroy Historical Society Museum (259 Main St.) brings the significance of the trail to life (open Saturday and Sunday only). You worked hard today! You could ride back to Sparta, but there’s no need – grab a shuttle from one of the local operators like Speed’s Bicycle Shop of Sparta (608.269.2315).
5 p.m. Replenish all the calories you burned today at Jake’s Northwoods (1132 Angelo Road). Try the Walleye Fingers, Grizzly Fries or Northwoods Eggrolls. And those are just the appetizers.
Amanda Wegner writes from Madison, where she occasionally battles maniac motorists to bike to work. If only her commute included the Elroy–Sparta Trail. This article appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Wisconsin Trails.
- Day Out: Northern pines thrive in southern Wisconsin relicts
- Day Out: Enjoy the view at High Cliff State Park
- Day Out: Kenosha’s streetcars offer a travel history lesson
- Day Out: History, nature a draw to Paradise Springs in Kettle Moraine
- Day Out: Newly paved Bugline Trail great for a fall ride in Waukesha County
- Day Out: Ghost Boat offers haunted tour of Wisconsin River in the Dells
- Day Out: 6 fall hikes within 60 miles of Milwaukee
- Day Out: Mount Horeb brewpub is far from grumpy
- Day Out: Ferry Bluff offers magic on Wisconsin River
- Day Out: A quiet bike ride on the Eisenbahn Trail