The 32 mile bike trail between Elroy and Sparta is the first rails-to-trails that we ever rode. Thirty years ago this was a new concept. The Midwest is full of old unused railroad beds. Once the ties are removed the beds are the perfect width for two bicycles and they guarantee a gentle grade since trains cannot handle a hill with more than a 2 - 3% grade. It was so nice to ride a bike off the road past verdant farms and the Elroy - Sparta offers the unique experience of riding through three long tunnels, pitch black and dripping with rain seepage. Signs warn that you must bring a flashlight - a good idea - and that you should walk your bike - really only necessary when the path is busy. Animals both domestic and wild, grazed in the lush greenery along side the trail.
Because the trail is not a loop, it is critical to keep in mind the need to save enough strength to make that ride back to the car. So, we split the trail and rode it in sections over two days. This is not a concession to old age; we can remember using the same approach back in our younger days. Those gentle grades didn’t feel all that gentle as we worked our way up to each tunnel, but the ride down the other side provided the relief that tired muscles craved. Four little towns on the trail get a significant boost to their economies when hungry riders pass through. Home made pie is rarely on our menu, but after all those miles, hopefully the damage is minimal.
Since we first rode the Elroy-Sparta, its success has lead to many other trails. Sparta is also a trail head for the 22 mile long La Crosse River Trail which ends in La Crosse. From La Crosse you can ride north along the Mississippi on the 22 mile Great River State Trail. And from Elroy you can ride southeast 22 miles on the 400 Trail. Souls more ambitious than we could ride almost 100 miles off road.