Whew, winter was brutal. Between being shut in by arctic temps and the incessant shoveling, most of us are coming out of the season feeling like a cave troll with a bad back. So we have some major catching up to do in the sun-on-the-face and breathing-the-fresh-air departments. A nice long bike ride – a two-wheel trip – is just the cure.
Traveling by car can be enjoyable, but on a bike, you’re closer to the experience. You’re exposed to all the flavors of the places you’re moving through. You can feel your momentum as you move through the air. You can hear the sounds of what’s scurrying in the bushes or calling from the trees and you can explore the many places where automobiles can’t go. While we may have a limited amount of beautiful days in Wisconsin, we have hundreds of beautiful places to enjoy them. And a day of travel will last a lot longer on a bike.
The Elroy-Sparta State Trail, located just a half-hour northwest of the Dells area, is considered by many to be the crown jewel in a national system of trails converted from defunct rail corridors. Revamped in 1967 into a recreational trail from the abandoned Chicago and North Western Railway, the 32.5-mile trail attracts more than 60,000 bikers annually. The gentle route meanders through beautiful unglaciated countryside, five charming small towns and three former railroad tunnels. One of the best ways to tackle the trail is to use two cars. Drop one car off in Sparta, then drive the other back to Elroy and begin your journey.
The town of Kendall, the trail’s official headquarters and just a few miles up the trail from Elroy, also offers a shuttle service (608-463-7109). Using your own car, a driver will drop you at the location of your choosing along the trail, then park your vehicle in Kendall. Even though the entire trail is doable in a day, stopping for the night is a perfect way to make a vacation out of the route. All of the towns along the trail offer a variety of lodging options from camping to bed and breakfasts. Bike rentals are also available at
several locations along the trail. The trail is set to open May 1, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sparta at noon. For more information, visit www.elroy-sparta-trail.com or call 800-354-BIKE.
The state’s second-oldest rail-trail runs 23.5 miles between Brodhead and New Glarus in the area just west of Janesville. The Sugar River State Trail, as it’s called, winds through rolling countryside and the sweet little towns of Monticello and Albany. The stretch of trail between Albany and Monticello runs through the Albany wildlife area and is the most scenic part of the trail. Like the Elroy-Sparta trail, lodging can be found in the towns along the way, but for those who knock off the entire thing in one push, a great little biker-friendly hotel awaits in Brodhead.
The Earth Rider Hotel offers five whimsically stylish, bike-themed rooms, each named after past five-time winners of the Tour de France ($120 per night, earthridercycling.com;866-245-5276).
One of the most beautiful on-road routes in the state begins in the Door County town of Valmy and traverses
13 miles south along the coast of Lake Michigan to Sturgeon Bay. The route follows lightly traveled Rustic Road 9 and Rustic Road 77, so it’s not uncommon to have the world all to yourself the entire way. Whitefish Dunes State Park is just a two-mile jaunt off the trail and well worth the detour. Just follow the markers for Highway T. Other Door County trails include the ones in Peninsula State Park.
For a quiet nature ride close to home, try Waukesha County’s Bugline Recreation Trail. The 12.2-mile path travels through forest, wetlands and fields between Menomonee Falls and Merton. The Bugline doesn’t loop back, so doing the two-car trick is recommended if you want a short ride and don’t want to return the way you came. Pick up the trail in Menomonee Park just off of Appleton Avenue in Menomonee Falls. The path is forged on a defunct railroad bed and is coated with crushed gravel, so fat tires are a good idea.
One of the most spectacular circular routes in the state can be found near Spring Green. Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright fell in love with this area and ultimately chose Spring Green as the sight of his home, Taliesin. A trailhead leading to the route can be found directly off of the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.
The terrain here is quite hilly, so this is a bit of a challenging ride, but well worth it in terms of scenery. Go through tranquil wooded glens, past dramatic bluffs and over the crests of bright green hills. From the visitor center, bike along Highway Z until it meets Highway T. Follow T until you come to Highway H, at which point you’ll need to make a left. Make another left at Amacher Hollow Road. Take a right on Coon Rock Road, turn right on Golf Course Road, and follow it back to the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. The entire trip is close to 21 miles and can be done in about two hours, but there are plenty of stopping opportunities as you pass several beautiful spots and attractions, such as House on the Rock and the American Players Theatre.
Trail passes are required on state trails for riders 16 and older and can be purchased at any park headquarters. Day passes are $4 and annual passes are $15, both good on any Wisconsin state trail. After a sweet ride in the sunshine, you’ll forget there ever was such a thing as winter.