If you're looking for an invigorating motorized trail experience, the Cheese Country Trail (a.k.a. the Tri-County Trail) will not disappoint. The 47-mile trail meanders through the heart of southwest Wisconsin's Driftless Area, a massive tract of land noted for the rolling hills and rocky outcroppings left untouched by glaciers.
The Cheese Country trail traverses Iowa, Green and Lafayette counties, intersects with the Pecatonica State Trail near Calamine and crosses a total of 57 small bridges and overpasses, including the 440-foot bridge at Brownstown, as it winds from Monroe to Mineral Point. This is primarily used as an ATV and snowmobile trail, though bicyclists, horseback riders and cross-country skiers share the corridor. The surface in many areas is quite rough; if you plan to bike, opt for the sturdy tires of your mountain bike. You should also be prepared to share the trail with loud and heavy ATV traffic.
Monroe, the Cheese Country Trail's southern end is quite fittingly known as the "Swiss Cheese Capital" of the United States. The trailhead, with parking, is just 6 miles from the Illinois border. Heading northwest from Monroe, you follow State Route 11 through Brownstown and South Wayne. After passing through Brownstown, the trail crosses a 440-foot bridge spanning the Pecatonica River. Here the trail runs through wooded areas and marshes, all the while hugging the scenic farmland of the local dairy farms.
If you want to take a break, Gratiot, at mile 20, is a good bet. Restaurants and shops are found here, as well as ATV rentals, in case you want to start your motorized adventure. From Gratiot the trail continues northwest along stretches of farmland and wooded ridges for about 11 miles to Darlington, right off SR 81. Refreshments, supplies and ATV rentals are plentiful in this community.
Another 5 miles on the trail brings you to Calamine. As you approach Calamine you run into the Pecatonica State Trail
, which runs west for 10 miles to Belmont. Finally, from Calamine the Cheese Country Trail heads north for an additional 10 miles until it ends in the lovely town of Mineral Point at the old Railroad Depot Museum.
Mineral Point is among Wisconsin's oldest communities, and this historic mining village is today rich with artist's studios and galleries. Many of the old homes in Mineral Point have been restored, and some of them have been made into restaurants and B&Bs, encouraging you to stay awhile.
A state trail pass is required for bicyclists, horseback riders and cross-country skiers 16 years and older. All ATVs must be registered. Visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website
for more information.