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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. The trail also overlaps the Ice Age Trail for a handful of miles in this part of rural southern Dane County. The Ice Age Trail is a 1,200-mile hiking path across Wisconsin and a National Scenic Trail. 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. For information, visit the Wisconsin DNR website. Snowmobiling is permitted from Purcell Road to the Illinois state line. Winter ATV use is permitted, but UTVs are prohibited. Snowmobilers and ATV/UTV users must display either a Wisconsin registration or an ATV/UTV or snowmobile State Trail Pass.
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.
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