Biking Southwest Wisconsin | Travel | Chicago Reader

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Biking Southwest Wisconsin



Southwest Wisconsin

Southwest Wisconsin took advantage of the rails-to-trails conversion craze of the 70s. As a result, the lush countryside is crosshatched with bike paths well suited for touring. Amenity-rich Sparta forms the hub of three good routes: the Elroy-Sparta Trail, the La Crosse River Trail, and the Great River Trail. Maps are available from the Elroy-Sparta State Trail Headquarters (PO Box 297, Kendall, WI 54638, 608-463-7109) or at the La Crosse River Trail, Sparta Depot (111 Milwaukee, Sparta, 608-269-4123).

If you want some help organizing your bike tour, your best bet is Olga McAnulty of Out Spokin' Adventures (409 N. Court, Sparta, 608-269-6087,, an outfitter offering trips tailored to your degree of stamina. She'll arrange for side outings--canoeing, hiking, horseback riding, a guided tour of Amish country--if you wish, and she can handle the details of booking you into one of the area's many bed-and-breakfasts or campsites. Out Spokin' also offers bike rentals, shuttle service, and car transport.

The East View bed & breakfast (33620 County P Road, Elroy, 608-463-7564; doubles $65-$75), at the head of the Elroy-Sparta trail, is a nice takeoff point for a long weekend ride. The mostly downhill county road from the inn to the trail is an adrenaline-charged rocket launch.

In Sparta, try the tasteful and elegant Strawberry Lace Inn (603 N. Water, 608-269-7878; doubles $89-$145). The owners, Jack and Elsie Ballinger, are loads of fun, both energetic storytellers. Breakfasts are multicourse and luxurious, the bedding is soft and comfy as a crib, and if you're lucky you'll get the room with a tin roof on a rainy evening. At the end of the La Crosse River Trail in Onalaska is the Lumber Baron Inn (421 Second Ave. N., 608-781-8938; doubles $79-$119), a bed-and-breakfast with a lake view and lounge chairs you'll melt into after a long day of pedaling.

An even better ride is the Great River trail from Onalaska into Trempeleau. The 19th-century Trempeleau Hotel (150 Main, Trempeleau, 608-534-6898) is charming and its riverside stage is action packed in the summer--frequently there's live music to go with the beer and casual dining. You can rent canoes and bikes there too.

For camping near Wilton, there's the Tunnel Trail Campground, four miles east of Highway 71 (608-435-6829 or 920-294-3742; $20-$23 per night). And you'll of course want to try Gina's (400 Main, Wilton, 608-435-6541) for antique shopping and square pie.

--Jennifer Wilson

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