Elroy Sparta Trail

Welcome to the Elroy Sparta Trail

Welcome to the first Rails to Trails Project in America, The Grandaddy of them all, The Elroy Sparta Trail.  The trail remains one of the most popular trails in the country.  With three rock tunnels and five small towns along it's 32.5 mile route, the trail is a favorite Wisconsin bicycling destination. Traveling between Sparta and Elroy, the trail stretches through the communities of Norwalk, Wilton and Kendall. The Elroy Sparta Trail is the property of the State of Wisconsin and is part of it's State Trails System run by the Department of Natural Resources and supported by the Friends of the Elroy Sparta Trail.  It is located in Hidden Valleys Country and passes through a portion of the unglaciated areas of Wisconsin exemplifying the natural beauty of our State.  Part of the "Bike4Trails" it connects to 101 miles of trails.  

The trail is 32 miles in length on the abandoned Chicago & North Western Railroad bed and passes through three rock tunnels.  The three century-old railroad tunnels hightlight the trail. The Kendall and Wilton tunnels are 1/4 mile long and the Norwalk tunnel is just over 3/4 mile long.  The tunnels are dark and cool, even on the brightest days, and water from springs above the tunnels can trickle onto the trail.  Bikers should walk bikes through the tunnels. The Trail is covered with limestone screenings and provides a smooth riding surface.  The bridges are covered with planks and are guarded with railings.  

The trail may be entered at the Elroy Commons in Elroy, At the trail Headquarters in Kendall, the Sparta Chamber of Commerce in Sparta, or enter at Wilton or Norwalk on Hwy 71. 

Trail passes are required for bikers 16 years of age and older.  A daily trail pass is $5 and an annual pass is $25.  These are good on any Wisconsin State Trail.  

In the winter this trail and surrounding trails are well marked and maintained by local snowmobile clubs.  There is no charge for snowmobiling or hiking. 

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Membership & Donation


 The missions of the Elroy Sparta Trail Friends Group is to assist in the promotion of the trail. This can be achieved through the development of educational programs, financial support, and volunteer work programs.

Now you and your family can become a Friend (member) of the Elroy-Sparta National Trail Friends group. As a Friend you will help the Elroy-Sparta Trail and it's Headquarters remain a vital part of our communities. It will enable us to continue to promote our beautiful and famous three tunnel trail, and in turn help our small communities by inviting thousands of visitors to bike and enjoy the area each year


 Donations are always helpful to our organization.  You can make donations as an honorarium, memorial, or just because.  Your funds go to help us promote the trail, fund programs not covered under state programs, educational resources across the trail and so much more. As always your donations are tax deductible under 501(c)3 guidelines.

Tunnel 3

About the Ride

At 11 miles this section from Norwalk to Sparta is the longest stretch between towns on the Elroy Sparta Trail. On your way west out of the Village of Norwalk, the trail crosses two small creeks that serve as part of the Tri-Creek Watershed Project Reservoir, which was built to prevent flodding in the area.  The trail also crosses Summit Rd (County Road T). Along this section of the trail visitors enjoy a mix of woods, pastures, and large rock outcroppings.  Approximately 2.75 miles west of Norwalk and .25 miles east of Tunnel #3 you will find the Summit Rest Area.  Plan to spend some time exploring this fascinating area.  on the south side of the trail sits one of the original watchman's shacks which was moved to this location and restored.  Tunnel watchmen were located at the entrances to each of the tunnels, and their job included opening and closing the massive wood and steel doors to the tunnels during the winter months.  Insdie this small building you will find photographs depicting the life of the railroad workers during the heydey of the railroad.  Near the watchmen's shack an old fasions water pump provides very cold well water with a slight iron tasts that can't be beat. You will also find nearby picnic tables, sitting benches and a pit washroom. 

Across the trail and a few steps west sits a stone flume that stretches from the top of the hill that the tunnel passes through to the valley to the east.  It was build to divert water that might have eroded the rail bed and collapse the banks of the valley leading to the tunnel.  The stone flume is unfortunately missed by many who don't pay attention to their surrounding as they bicycle the trail.  It is well worth your time to stand on the bridge that crosses the stone flume and look west for the best view of this massive structure. 

Tunnel #3 is often the favorite of many visitors, probably because it's the largest (3,810 feet).  Additionally, when in the middle of this tunnel it is possible, depending on the wather conditions, to not see either end.  Total darkness.  This happens when the outdoor weather is humid causing the tunnel entrances to become covered with fog. Construction of this tunnel took place by digging and boring from both ends at the same time as well as boring from the top of the hill downward to help remove material.  One thousand feet in from the east end of the tunnel, a vertical hole was made from the top of the hill to the tunnel; sixteen hundred feet from the west end of the tunnel, another verticla hole was made from the top of the hill to the tunnel.  These holes were used to lift up material and remove it from the tunnel, and these vertical holes were filled in when the construction of the tunnel was completed.  Inside the tunnel there is a constant stream of water from a natural spring located approximately at the midpoint, and the water from this spring finds it ways through these drilled holes.  Make sure you have on clothes that you don't mind getting wet.  No matter when you visit, very cold water will rain on you througout this tunnel, and in some isolated spots a virtual deluge of icy water may pour over your head. Just plan to get wet.  At four locations inside this tunnel you will see recent construction to strenghten the tunnel walls and ceiling.  Expect most anything in this tunnel.  

Because of the length, the darkness, the water falling on your head, and the echo of the water running along both sides of the trail, many poeple become disoriented and often cross the centerline into the path of the people walking the opposite direction.  Always bring a light into all tunnels. 

Just west of Tunnel #3 on the south side of the trail you will find the only private rest area along the trail effectionately known as "Tunnel Tom". This rest area provides a soft drink machine a couple of picnic tables and other nessecities.  It also includes parking for a small donation and is only yards from the tunnel if interested in seeing the greatness of the tunnel without riding on it. 

While bicycling along this section, notice that the ground surrounding the old rail bed drops off significantly leaving the trail sitting much higher than the surrounding farmland.  This is an areas where the rail bed was built upon a three-mile long wooden trestle.  When the trestle became old and unsafe, dirt was packed underneath the rail bed and around the wooden structure, leanding strength and support to the oldest trestle.  Unfourtunately there is no trailside markers describing this interesting bit of history.  Most people bike ride over this sections and do not realize what once was here.

-Excerpt from "Elroy Sparta Trail Guidebook" by Bob Sobie is avaliable for purchase at the trailheads.