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Rail-trail fans know that Wisconsin’s Elroy-Sparta State Trail is famous for its three tunnels. The Badger State Trail, which heads south from Madison to the Illinois state line (where it connects with the Jane Addams Trail), boasts its own 1,200-foot Stewart Tunnel—with a twist: the Stewart Tunnel is built on a curve, so riders cannot see the other end as they enter the tunnel.
The trail starts in Madison just south of Lovell Lane, where it intersects the Southwest Commuter Path, which heads 5.6 miles from Madison to Fitchburg. Heading south on the Badger State Trail, you’ll quickly cross over an intersection of the Capital City State Trail, a 17-mile route that stretches from Fitchburg to Madison, and the Cannonball Path, a 3.9-mile route from the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum to the Military Ridge State Trail in Fitchburg.
The first 6 miles of the Badger State Trail are paved to Purcell Road, after which the surface gives way to crushed stone. (Note: Snowmobiling is permitted from Purcell Road to the Illinois state line. Winter ATV use is permitted, but UTVs are prohibited.) The small town of Belleville will greet riders just shy of the 13-mile mark. It’s a quaint historical town where one can see remnants of how the railroad used to go right through the heart of the community.
Approximately 4 miles south of Belleville, riders will find the Stewart Tunnel. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommends that all riders walk their bikes through the entirety of the tunnel. Flashlights and light jackets to guard against the dampness are also recommended.
Once you clear the tunnel, it’s only 5 more miles to Monticello. Parking can be found a couple hundred yards to the right of the trail on Pratt Road. Here the trail also connects to the Sugar River State Trail.
The next 5 miles run through wooded areas and farm fields—with rolling hills and several nice creeks and bridges along the way—to the small farming town of Stearns, after which it’s only a few more miles to Monroe. The seat of Green County (population 10,000), Monroe is home to the famous Swiss Colony gourmet food company and is also known as the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.”
Just a few blocks west of Badger State Trail, on West 21st Street, you’ll find the eastern terminus for the Cheese Country Recreation Trail, a 47-mile route that heads west and then north to Mineral Point.
The final few miles of trail takes you to Clarno, the last town in the state of Wisconsin, where you’ll find a few businesses. From there, it’s just a short ride to the Illinois state line and Wuetrich Road, where you can pick up the 14.8-mile Jane Addams Trail to Freeport, Illinois.
NOTE: A State Trail Pass ($25 annually/$5 daily) is required for bicyclists and in-line skaters ages 16 and older. Snowmobilers and ATV/UTV users must display either a Wisconsin registration or an ATV/UTV or snowmobile State Trail Pass. For information, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/trailpass.html
Parking near the northern endpoint is available at Dawley Conservancy in Fitchburg—which also serves as the western trailhead for the Capital City State Trail. To reach the Fitchburg trailhead from the intersection of US 18/US 151/Verona Road and McKee Road, take McKee Road east. Go 0.9 mile to S. Seminole Hwy., turn left, and then go 0.4 mile and turn left into the parking lot for Dawley Conservancy. Take the short path in back of the parking lot north for 0.1 mile to the Capital City State Trail, which you’ll then take left (northwest) less than a quarter mile to where it meets the Cannonball Path and the Southwest Commuter Path. Head north on the Southwest Commuter Path a short ways to where it meets the Badger State Trail.
To reach the southern trailhead in Monroe from SR 11/WI Trunk Hwy. 11, take the SR 69 N. (Monticello/New Glarus) exit, and head south on 18th Ave. Drive about 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Mansion Dr. After 0.2 mile, turn left onto 14th Ave. After about 0.3 mile, turn right onto Park Dr. Look for parking immediately to your right. The southern endpoint is just over 8 miles south along the trail at Wuetrich Road and the Wisconsin–Illinois state line, which is also the northern terminus for the Jane Addams Trail.
Just rode this trail from Monroe to just past the tunnel and back. The trail was considerably overgrow on the sides and in the center in many areas. Spent the majority of the ride with 2 tires in the weeds. The tunnel is the best part of the ride. There are a few good pastoral views although mostly blocked by the dense undergrowth. Also, watch out for screws sticking out on the bridges where snowmobile travel has done some damage.
I rode from the IL state line north to the Stewart Tunnel and back. There were enough ruts, gopher holes and sandy spots that it was hard to enjoy the scenery. As soon as I'd get comfortable I'd hit one of those things. There were also a couple of trees down south of Monroe. North of Monroe was better in terms of sand and ruts, but most of the bridges had broken planks that had to be avoided. The Stewart Tunnel had a lot of graffiti, something I didn't see in any of the tunnels on the Elroy-Sparta Trail. Overall I was left wondering why anyone would pay the trail fee to ride this trail. It will probably be a long time before I return.
I rode a round trip from Monticello to Monroe and back last weekend, and was surprised that the trail was so overgrown. It was just two tire tracks among the weeds, not the hard-packed gravel trail I can experienced before. Also, there was no obvious place to get a trail pass in Monticello, and there was no trail ranger in sight. (Budget cutbacks? ). It was still a great ride in a picturesque part of the state, and Monroe's town square is an excellent place for a mid-ride lunch.
Very pleasant ride on well kept trail from Monroe south to Clarno. Shady trail with some openings to view very pleasing pastoral setting in the country. Connected to Jane Addams trail at state line and continued south to Orangeville, IL. Returned to Monroe and visited the brewery/distillery/winery.
I love this trail which takes you through scenic farmland and some small towns. My favorite circuit is going from my house in Fitchburg down to the Stewart Tunnel south of Belleville. A good 35 mile ride.
Be prepared for crushed limestone. I find the going to be pretty slow once I hit that and there are some holes (a few rather large) to watch out for. Otherwise it's in decent shape.
We rode a portion of this trail on July 3, 2016. We hopped on near New Glarus and rode roundtrip to Belleville which included the tunnel. The trail was flat and lovely with trees and farmland. We walked through the cave which is about 1/4 mile long. It IS dark so be sure to have lights. It's also nice and cool in there with just a little bit of dripping. I had really wanted to do the tunnel and am glad we did.
We started in Freeport, IL and bike the Badger State Trail from the Illinois/Wisconsin State line to Madison. Although most of the view was the path lined with trees or farmland, the trail itself was nicely kept. Even with a little rain to start the trip, the trail was nicely packed crushed limestone most of the way, but you could tell it was kept up and most of the weeds along the side had been killed off recently, and it was wide enough for a 2 bikes side by side the whole way. There were a few holes where gophers had dug into the trail, but all of the bridges and crossroads were nicely marked. With the trail being an old railway, the grade was nice and even all the way to Madison. About 6 miles out of Madison, the gravel turned to pavement, and the trail traffic picked up. If you are planning on meeting up with another trail closer to Madison, be aware of your surroundings and roads that come close or you may miss your interchange. All in all, I would recommend this trail to any of my friends.
Rode from Monroe to Monticello in mid July. Enjoyable ride through farm land. Foliage along the trail keeps it cooler on hot summer days.
A tunnel, vistas, all the way to the IL line
We came from the Jane Addams trail which was very nice and beautiful scenery. I was not impressed with the badger trail that we took to New Glarus. There we big potholes, mushy ground and it didn't appear this trail was groomed at all. We had a great trip and will use this trail again. But be careful and watch for all the potholes.
About 37 miles out of the 40 miles are in weed choked, scrub woods (vine covered buckthorn). Pleasant enough but you will be weary of it, trust me. Stewart Tunnel and two bridges crossing the small Sugar River are the only breaks in the monotony. You can take Tunnel Hill Road so you don't have to go through the tunnel if you don't like dark places. It's a hill with about a seventy foot vertical climb, but you'll get sometime the trail lacks, picturesque views, and you'll have a rewarding downhill run if biking.
If you're looking to hear birdsong, see wildlife and wild flowers you're out of luck. The narrow corridor of the woods and invasive flora are my guess critters and color are in short supply. South of Stewart Tunnel and north of Belleville you'll find some relief as the trail goes through marsh and you'll see some birds in the summer (blackbirds, finches, sparrows, maybe Sandhill Cranes if you're living right).
MAJOR WARNINGS. Hunting is permitted within a couple of feet of all state trails. Find out the various hunting seasons and don't even think about using the trail. I've seen at least one rifle hunter in a stand shooting directly into the thick cover of the trail where he couldn't see trail users. Trapping I believe is also permitted so I wouldn't advise stepping in the weeds running along the trail. The paved portion near Madison has a plethora of Lance Armstrongs often paying little attention to other trail users, i.e. jerks. You will have to make quick decisions to stop or get off the trail when an oncoming racer is passing someone and is headed right at you on your side of the trail.
The trail is poorly maintained. As old as the trail is the DNR should know by now the problem prone washout areas in the gravel portion and pave those short segments. Go too fast cycling and you'll go rump over teakettle when your wheels burrow in when the gravel suddenly becomes sand. I saw at least two widow maker trees almost at head height that I was uncomfortable going under. The trail sides are not mowed so you'll find a few thistles leaning over into the trail, this is mainly in the paved area.
The trail is mainly crushed limestone so you'll have the unpleasant task of cleaning grit from your chain and gears if you bike it.
There is only one place on the trail to get water. It's in Monroe and it's turned off during the cold months. You can get water by going into Belleville parks, but they're turned of in cold months, too.
In summation, skip this sleeper.
I ride parts of this trail often. The northern stretch between Madison and Purcell Rd is paved and in great shape. Between Belleville and Monroe, is a different story. Just south of Belleville there are a lot of soft, sandy spots in need of repair. Just north of Monroe, there's a stretch about 10-20 yards long where the trail is like a big sandbox. It's barely navigable. A sign warning of loose sand would have been nice, and I hope it can be fixed soon. The trail goes through some pretty countryside, and it would be a shame to see it degrade.
Got on the Badger State Trail north of Belleville and biked to Monticello where I joined the Sugar River Trail to Albany. The Badger showed signs of earlier flood damage with new gravel having been applied to roadbed. Though still a little rough in places, I enjoyed my ride on this beautiful trail.
Started on the Jane Adams in Orangeville and as soon as you hit the Wisconsin line it falls apart quickly. Only went to the Stewart tunnel which is THE only good thing about this trail, really cool to see the size of this thing. Absolutely need flash light or head light because it's pitch black inside. No restrooms anywhere on the trail so you ladies are going to hate it for sure. Not sure what the $4 sticker fee goes for but the trail doesn't see it. This trail is very rough and dirty, might as well ride on a gravel road.
The section of the trail from Purcell road, south to Monticello has been rendered nearly unrideable due to maintenance performed early this spring. It appears that a large tractor was used to cut brush along the trail while the gravel surface was still soft and wet leaving large tractor tread marks along both sides of the trail. Hopefully the DNR will grade the trail sometime soon to smooth the surface out. Meanwhile exercise caution while riding.
In June, I finished the Wisconsin sections of the Badger State Trail. I have now biked the entire length from Freeport (Illinois) to Madison, Wisc. (Camp Randle Stadium) 56 miles. The Illinois section is called the Jane Adams Trail. The trail leads through rural Illinois and Wisconsin and is very peaceful. The tunnel, located near Belleville, Wisc., is in great shape. You need a light source if you plan on traveling through it. I did the trail in three sections. The majority of the trail is crushed rock and changes to blacktop when entering Dane county. Madison and surrounding towns have done an outstanding job on that portion of the trial.
I have read about a number of trails with tunnels in Wisconsin, but between the fee and the logistics, we always decided to ride closer to home. However, we found a good hotel deal in Madison over labor day weekend, and so we loaded up the kids and the bikes and set out for the Badger State Trail.
We drove to Monticello, approaching the town crossing both the Badger State Trail and the Sugar River Trail where they are mere feet apart. We went to the grocery in town to enquire about getting trail passes. The friendly folks in the store said that, though they once had them, they no longer had any for sale and they had no idea where we might find them. They also kindly directed us to the nearest trailhead. We elected to bike without the passes, deciding that it would be better to seek the mercy of the authorities than to continue to drive around seeking passes. The trail wound pleasantly through farm fields, although some of the road crossings looked as if a car could come up suddenly when we were trying to cross the kids.
Finally, the trail began to rise above the fields and trees below, indicating that the tunnel was close. There was a crowd milling around the tunnel, with some teenagers perched precariously about the entrance to the tunnel, giving my kids some unwanted inspiration. We made it through the crowd into the tunnel and confirmed everything we read about how dark this tunnel is. It was disorienting, even with a flashlight, but the kids loved it.
We went about a mile past the tunnel when it appeared that a storm might blow up, and so we turned around. Our second pass through the tunnel went more smoothly, without the crowd and with my kids feeling more confident from having made it through before. Fortunately, we made it back to the car before it began to rain.
Our drive to Madison paralleled the path. We stopped in Belleview to allow the kids to enjoy the nice playground, but it looked like much of the rest of the trail was on a raised roadbed next to the highway. While we enjoyed the tunnel (and previous experience with the Jane Addams Trail), I don't expect I'll be doing much more of this trail anytime soon.
For a fun ride with the family, start in Monticello. Go north through the tunnel to Belleville, and then return.
BUT!!! Take a detour on your return trip south and take a right onto Tunnel road instead of going through the tunnel. It will take you up and over the hill and provide beautiful views of the area. Then it will sweep you back down to the south of the tunnel and cross the trail again, where you re-join it.
(Do not do this in reverse. The uphill on Tunnel road is brutal from the south.)
The curved tunnel is great! More fun then the Elroy-Sparta ones because when you get in the middle you can't see the light at the end in either direction.
I had trouble getting a pass in Monroe, the Garden Deli was out and there was no pen at the station at the trail head. From Monroe to Monticello was not worth the price of the pass, there is little shade and no benches to take a break at. There was construction in downtown Monticello so there was no where to get a sandwich or ice cream even though there was a sign on the trail saying there was. I prefer the Jane Addams trail over this part of the Badger trail by far - it is wider, shadier, well maintained, full of benches and free. 8-29-10.
I rode this trail from Monroe south connecting to the Jane Addams trail in Illinois. Not much to recommend here. The Jane Addams is in much better shape, wider, AND NO FEES. Basic trail maint could be alot better. Like trimming up overhanging trees and mowing the shoulders of the trail. The mowing would help reduce the bugs (very buggy) also weeds jut out into the trail alot. Also there was a big washout about 20 feet of the trail was effected clean across the trail. It was fixed sort of, well at least they didn't use duct tape. With all the trails in the area I would go elsewhere. Maybe it is better riding north it is better?
"You can take the Southwest Trail southwest from the university area through the west side and across the beltline and behind Home Depot and Cub Foods. Where it intersects with the Capital City Trail, don't go down the hill but keep left to cross the railroad bridge over the Capital City Trail. It will eventually merge into Seminole about a half mile before it intersects with Whalen Road. I thought it had stopped there, but the Milwaukee Map Company map shows it crossing Seminole at a sharp angle. Otherwise, catch up with it again on Whalen, as described in the previous post."
"This fall, work has continued on the trail. I have traveled on about 10 miles of the trail, even in its current unfinished state, and enjoyed it greatly. From Madison, the easiest way to find the trail is to head south on Seminole Highway in Fitchburg until it dead ends at Whalen Road and take a left (East). The trail starts on Whalen Road heading south about 100 yards from the intersection. The only parking is along the side of the road. The first mile is overgrown but bridges are completed over the small streams. After you cross Adams Road, the trail is cleared with light gravel for footing. The trail heads south towards Belleville. There are beautiful bridges, outlooks, and gentle rolling hills that makes for a most enjoyable travel. I am looking forward to the trail being officially openned. "
I have been on the IL section of the trail from Orangeville IL South. This section has been competed for about 3 years. The trail north to Madison has been slow in developing. It will interconnect with the existing Sugar River Trail that runs from New Glarus to Brodhead.
"After reading about this proposed new trail, I set out to see the tunnel from the Sugar River Trail. After a little exploring I found it. It is very dark and requires a flashlight to explore. In the center the inner brick lining has partially collapsed from water damage. Other than that it is an easy walk through with a light. There is alot of graffiti from local kids on the walls. And it is a very bumpy ride into the tunnel area from the nearest road."
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