Wisconsin January 13, 2018
This Amazing Trail In Wisconsin Takes You Through Abandoned Train Tunnels
The Elroy Sparta trail is primarily known as a bike trail, but it’s open for walkers and runners as well. This 32.5 mile trail is the very first of its kind in the country – a converted railroad line. Wisconsin has an awesome history of providing public spaces and turning railroad lines into public trails fits very much into our state’s ethos. Rails-to-trails is a full movement across the US now, but we here in Wisconsin were first. This awesome trail goes through not one, but there different abandoned train tunnels for a totally amazing and unique experience.
This trail actually celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. It stretches between the towns of Elroy and Sparta west-central part of the state and crosses 34 bridges and through three tunnels over the course of its 32 miles.
At peak usage, this railroad line served up to six passenger trains and 40 freight trains a day. Now it's one of the most popular bike trails in the country and in the winter some group maintain parts of it for snowmobiling. What started here as just a short conversion of railway for public use has grown to include more than 22,000 miles over more than 1,900 different trails across the country. Rails to trails is now a nation-wide conservancy effort.
There are plenty of reasons to bike or walk the Elroy-Sparta, but the tunnels are the big draw.
Two of the tunnels are 1/4 mile long and the third is 3/4 of a mile long. Trail users are asked to walk their bikes through the tunnel for safety reasons.
In the summer, you'll find vendors on either side of the tunnels set up to sell refreshments, but also flashlights that can be rented for your trip through.
One of the most unique features of these tunnels are the large barn doors. The tunnels all experience dripping and moisture due to natural springs coming through the rocks. Blasting these tunnels was difficult enough the first time around, so to protect the structural integrity, the doors were added to help keep the inside of the tunnel warm during the winter months.
If the spring water would freeze and expand, it could affect the tunnel and cause parts to break off. The railroad employed spotters whose job it was to open and close the doors as trains passed through.
It seems impossible to imagine such a thing these days, but the doors remain a totally unique and awesome feature of these tunnels that walkers and bikers now get to use.
Riders older than 16 are required to purchase a $5 trail pass each day or can buy a yearly pass for $25.
The longest trail is more than three football fields long and you are in pitch black darkness for most of the trip. The tunnel was dug by hand in the 1870s, so passing through really is a bit of a marvel.
Traveling the the Elroy-Sparta is a unique experience Wisconsinites are so lucky to have at their fingertips and the three different tunnels make it all that more special.
The small towns along the Elroy-Sparta are well used to folks coming to take advantage of this very first rail-to-trail conversion. They are so welcoming to visitors and the area is set up for food, overnight stays and camping. Traveling this trail is on many outdoor enthusiast's bucket lists and Wisconsinites are so lucky to have it in our backyard.
Have you ever hiked or biked the Elroy-Sparta? Let us know about it in the comments!
Looking for more amazing and unique Wisconsin rails-to trails conversions? Check out
Take These Trails Along Former Wisconsin Railroad Lines For An Unforgettable Experience.