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Traveling the 400 State Trail is a numbers game. The trail’s name refers to the old Chicago and North Western Railway’s “No. 400” passenger train that zoomed through here between Chicago and St. Paul—a distance of 400 miles accomplished in 400 minutes. Other numbers related to the trail might interest you: 22, the number of miles between trailheads in Elroy and Reedsburg; 10, the number of times you’ll cross the Baraboo River; 7, the miles of parallel horseback-riding trail; 3, the number of junctions with other trails.
The Chicago and North Western Railway started running trains here in 1873 after completing three tunnels on the Elroy-to-Sparta section. The railroad discontinued the line, and the state acquired it in 1988 and opened the trail in 1993. It’s the eastern link in the state’s Bike 4 Trails adventure that combines four state trails—the Great River, the La Crosse River, the Elroy-Sparta, and the 400—into a 100-plus-mile bicycle trek.
Beginning in the historic railroad hub of Elroy, you’ll start a couple of blocks from the Elroy-Sparta State Trail and a mile south of the Omaha Trail, which runs 12.5 miles north to Camp Douglas.
In the first mile heading south, you’ll cross the first of nearly a dozen bridges or trestles spanning the Baraboo River. The valley provides a level ride to Reedsburg, but you’ll readily see hilltops, cliffs, and dramatic rock formations common to the so-called Driftless Area that wasn’t scraped flat by Ice Age glaciers.
You’ll arrive at a park and restrooms in Union Center in 4 miles, followed by a junction with the Hillsboro State Trail (it goes 4.1 miles west to Hillsboro). Another 3 miles puts you in Wonewoc, a narrow part of the valley that’s a tourist destination for trail pedalers as well as river paddlers. Wonewoc has two campgrounds (Baker’s Field is on the trail) and numerous restaurants, taverns, and grocery stores.
The horseback-riding trail runs from here to La Valle. The old railroad grade passes through woodlots and wetlands in this section where you might spy deer, raccoons, and skunks, as well as a variety of songbirds and waterfowl. Two public recreation areas, Hemlock-Sauk County Park and Dutch Hollow Lake, offer waterside recreation close to the trail 5.4 miles past Wonewoc on Dutch Hollow Road.
You’ll find more refreshments in La Valle. About 2 miles past the La Valle business district, County Road V takes you on a 1-mile side trip to Lake Redstone, a reservoir nestled in the hills.
About 7.7 miles past La Valle, you’ll arrive in Reedsburg. While its early history involved growing hops and brewing beer, now it’s the home to the annual 10-day Fermentation Fest that celebrates all things fermented. The trail ends at a restored railroad depot that serves as an information center. By far the trail’s largest town, there are antiques shops and a selection of restaurants, as well as bed-and-breakfasts and a campground.
NOTE: A State Trail Pass ($25 annually/$5 daily) is required for bicyclists and horseback riders ages 16 and older. Snowmobilers must display either a Wisconsin registration or a snowmobile State Trail Pass. For information, go to dnr.wi.gov /topic/parks/trailpass.html.
To reach the northern trailhead in Elroy, about 0.3 mile south of the trail’s start point, from I-90/94, take Exit 69 toward Mauston on WI 82/Gateway Ave., heading west. In 0.6 mile, bear left on WI 82/N. Union St. to head south across the Lemonweir River. In 0.2 mile, turn right on E. State St., go 0.3 mile (4 blocks), and turn left to head south on WI 82/Division St. In 0.6 mile, bear right around the traffic circle, and take the first right to continue east on WI 82/Grayside Ave. In 10.5 miles, turn left to continue south on WI 82. In 1.6 miles, turn left onto Franklin St. in Elroy. Take the first left into the parking lot, located behind the Elroy Commons Trail Shop on Railroad St. The endpoint is about 0.3 mile north along the trail.
To reach the southern trailhead in Reedsburg from I-90, take Exit 89 for WI 23 toward Lake Delton/Reedsburg, heading south. In 0.1 mile, turn right onto County Road P, and head west 4.9 miles. At the T, turn left onto County Road H, and follow for 6.8 miles. In Reedsburg, turn right onto Main St., and go a little more than 1.1 miles. Turn left onto S. Walnut St., and go 0.2 mile. The parking lot is to the left, just before South Ave. and behind the Reedsburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
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