elroy to sparta bike trail

every year my sweet friend “b” and i choose one thing that pushes us physically. in 2015, we completed the warrior dash. in 2016, we ran a 1/2 marathon.  in 2017, we choose to pedal the 32.5 mile route from elroy, wi to sparta, wi and back again. check out what’s in store for this year here.

preparing for this endeavor. practice pedals.

okay this is where I have to be honest.  just weeks, literally, prior to our trip…i didn’t own my own bike. of note, you do need a bike to pedal the trail. 😉 i don’t recommend this, however know that it can be done.

we did get together on multiple occasions to do practice “runs” but, because b and i live in neighboring communities it wasn’t always easy to get together.  we would often encourage each other via a phone call or text. find someone who pushes you to be stronger. being the competitive person that i am, those phone calls often made me pedal one more mile than her, just to prove i could. b, i’m not sure whether to say sorry or thank you. bahahaha!

old plank trail is an asphalt trail beginning in the city of sheboygan and stretches west roughly 17 miles to  greenbush, wi.  the trail terrain varies from flat to rolling with a few seemingly larger descents or climbs depending on the direction you are headed (and the miles you have already put in!) we took old plank trail from the entrance of the sheboygan falls trailhead to marshall’s express in plymouth and back to kohler. returning to the trailhead to round up our trip for the day, putting in a little more than 20 miles in no time.

adventure two began when we loaded up the bikes and headed 30 minutes north to jump on another trail for a few more “practice miles.” the start of this was very exciting as we were checking the air pressure in the tire and my tire tube broke… so we took a quick detour to get this fixed prior to even heading out.

rawley point trail is about 6 miles in length and connects to the mariners trail for an additional 6 miles.  absolutely stunning views in every direction. the trail surface is crushed stone, with an occasional plank bridge and dirt path. the trail end points include: sandy ridge dr. and sandy bay rd./county road o (two rivers) and point beach state park. be sure to stop at the pavilion at point beach state park and enjoy a refreshing ice cream cone and scenic views of lake michigan!

packing for an overnight bike trip.

the key here is not to over pack! whether you have a carrying rack on the back of you bike or you choose to wear a back pack, the lighter the better!

we ate breakfast both days prior to hitting the trail. so we only had to carry a few snacks for along the way to refuel. protein bars, beef jerky, energy gels & chews, trail mix, starburst, gum, & of course water were the main ingredients packed to get us from point a to b. additionally, you pass through 3 towns along the way so if necessary you can reload, but try to be as self sufficient as possible. once arriving in sparta there were plenty of options to eat for a sit down meal.

one of the most unique things about this trail was that we were able to refill our water bottle at a hand pump well & we ate freshly harvested raspberries from a food stand that was paid by the honor system. so bring a little cash along the way as well, you never know what little deliciousness you will find along the way.

clothing may vary some dependent on the weather report. we were blessed with warm rays both days, but keep in mind it does get a bit cool in the tunnels and along fully shaded areas.


cycling shorts, tank top, sports bra, tank top, t-shirt, long sleeved base layer/or light jacket, socks, gloves (optional), ball cap, helmet (optional), underwear (not optional), flip flops or sandals, rain gear/poncho.

bike gear:

multi tool, replacement inner tube, air pump, air gauge, grease or chain lube, handlebar bag or frame bag, bike lock, & mirror.


flashlights are a must as those tunnels are DARK! be sure your bike also has reflectors/lights as well so you are visible to other bicyclists. pedometer/bike computer, phone, camera. one thing we didn’t bring that i seen others had was a speaker. perfect for a little jam session on the trail!

that’s it…well okay, one more thing…hairspray & mascara.

the elroy-sparta trail is part of the first rails to trails project in america. it runs along the abandoned chicago & north western railroad. it is regarded as one of the most popular biking trails in the country and when we see the beauty you will quickly understand why!

the trail has three rock tunnels and five small towns along it’s 32.5 mile route.  traveling between sparta & elroy, the trail stretches through the communities of norwalk, wilton and kendall on a crushed limestone path.

the trail may be entered at many locations along the way. depending on which direction you are coming from, jump on 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. we accessed the trail at the elroy commons location.

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 and we picked ours up here.

woodsy and scenic views throughout captivate your visual senses. the entrances to the tunnels were by far the most eye catching. trickling water gave way to the organic deep green moss climbing to the top of small rock walls as you entered the tunnels.

the kendall and wilton tunnels are 1/4 mile long and the norwalk tunnel is just over 3/4 mile long. upon entering the longest tunnel there is no daylight to be seen on the other end.  they are dark and cool, and feel initially refreshing as the springs above drip on you. nearing the end it can get a little colder even in mid-july (which may be the only truly hot month in wisconsin!)

bikers should walk bikes through the tunnels. yup. there are postings. nope, we initially did not follow those rules (surprised?). however, after the first tunnel we did understand the reasoning. the pathways are slick from the water and the smooth rock surfaces that you passing through on. additionally, there are people in front of, behind, and to the sides of you and in a very dark setting, it could become dangerous on bike. it is important to use good trail etiquette.

the trail provided endless accounts of wild life, deep wooded paths followed by bright clearings of curved landscape with brilliant blue skies. occasionally, there was a tree down providing an obstacle to maneuver around.  the path was quiet at times. conversations with friends being the only sound besides our bike tires combing through the crushed limestone beneath us. at the entrances of the tunnels and at the small city stops along the way there were friendly people in every direction. small conversation and encouragements were provided followed by high fives and a quick share of what’s ahead for our new found trail friends. some people were novice riders like us, others fully equipped for what seemed like a month of travel and overnight back packing adventures.

upon arriving to sparta my butt hurt!

we stayed at super 8 hotel which was about 1 mile off the trail. they housed our bikes in a shed out back, which was super convenient not to have to bring them into a shared hotel room.  we locked them up, grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant, close enough to walk to, because getting back on the bike to find dinner was the last thing any of us wanted to do.

on the ride home the next day i believe i was officially bruised in places no one should ever be bruised. it took at least two miles before i could even stay seated on the bike. and that’s when it hit me… i’m an amateur for sure!

…but great news! this trail is for both novice and experienced riders alike.

although i have not visited the trail in the winter, there is no charge for snowmobiling or hiking. i would imagine that this would be an incredible destination for snow shoeing as well.

have you visited the elroy-sparta trail?


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