America’s First Rail Trail

The Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail is a 32-mile railroad trail between Elroy and Sparta, Wisconsin. Considered to be the first rail trail when it opened in 1967, it was designed for foot, bicycle, equestrian or light motorized traffic.

This is a must-do for anyone travelling in the area of western Wisconsin. After reading about this bike trail, we were excited to actually stop driving for a half day and enjoy ourselves. We were very glad we chose this place. We decided on the least-expensive campground in Wilton, WI which is city-owned.

Wilton, WI Campground

The park attendant came by early the next morning to collect the fee of $7 bucks per person!

Wilton, WI Gold Medal Flour

The hardware store around the corner sold us the permits for the trail at a whopping $4 each.

Sparta Elroy bike trail

The best part of this bike trail was the fact that is used to be a railway, so while it was going up or down in elevation all of the time, it was at a gentle slope and was never too steep to manage.

Sparta Elroy bike trail WOODEN BRIDGE

It was perfectly maintained and a joy to ride.

Sparta Elroy bike trail wall Tunnel #1

The tunnels were a highlight, for sure.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel overpass 2

This particular tunnel was NOT used for trains. It has obviously been put in under the county road since it became a bike trail.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel Lindsay Reading signs

Lindsay read up on the history and safety warnings about not disturbing the bats. We didn’t see any bats.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel FLUME

This stone flume was created to channel rainwater away from the low-lying railway bed. Very well preserved, don’t you think?

Sparta Elroy Bike Trail tunnel #2

Can you believe this is almost free? The doors are to keep people and snowmobiles out during the wintertime.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 T&L

Tunnel selfie!
Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 looking out

Water ran down both sides of the tunnel path. This tunnel was the shorter of the two we went through and was constructed of limestone blocks on the vertical sides and clay-bricked into an arch on the top.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 inside

There was lots of mold growning on the sides, but yet it smelled fresh inside.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #2 exit

Onward to the next tunnel, about 7 miles away.
Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 wall

The walls of the longer tunnel, which is 3/4 of a mile long, were carved from the limestone rock. No need to block or brick this one! A natural spring was struck during it’s creation. We stood still to listen to the water dripping from the ceiling.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 interior

It was very difficult to photograph in the darkness but this shows the growth on the walls and ceiling.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 entrance

Time to turn around and head back to camp.

Sparta Elroy bike trail tunnel #1 DATE

This reads 1873. The information we read told us it was all created with manual labor. I guess the only steam power was the engine of the train at this time.

Sparta Elroy bike trail Norwalk Creamery

An old abandoned building along the railway still has potential, as it’s obviously well built.

Sparta Elroy bike trail FIELDS

Rolling hills of alfalfa in the distance.

Sparta Elroy bike trail FIELDS 2

Pristine views of country homes and fields are on both sides of the path.

Sparta Elroy bike trail 4

A levy was created to control the flooding of the valley in the 1970s.

Sparta Elroy bike trail 2

Going fast downhill in top gear was relaxing because we knew there would be no obsticles or holes in the well-maintained path.

Sparta Elroy bike trail

We have now decided to look for more rail paths in the future, and recommend you find some nearby you as well! Tomorrow we travel to our cattle-ranching friends in Estherville, Iowa before launching out into the Great Plains!