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The 12.5-mile Omaha Trail passes through a wonderland of towering buttes, mesas, and pinnacles that seem more at home in an arid desert than in fertile farmland. The steep sandstone formations, some 100–200 feet high, served as landmarks for early pioneers traveling through Wisconsin. They have names like Lookout Tower, Castle Rock, and Twin Bluffs. You’ll skirt them as you leave Camp Douglas bound for the Elroy trailhead, passing through a tunnel midway.
The Omaha Trail is maintained by Juneau County, which sealed the loose screened-limestone surface usually found on state rail-trails. Although it is built to be smoother than gravel, watch for cracks and potholes that have developed over the years.
The trail follows a spur route that the Chicago and North Western Railway acquired when it bought the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway (known as the Omaha Road) in 1882. The railroad stopped using the rail bed in 1987, and the county adopted the original railway’s name when the trail opened in 1992.
Beginning in Camp Douglas, an old logging town that’s now home to Volk Field Air National Guard base, you’ll head south to the first and only town on the trail at 2.8 miles. Hustler has a pleasant public park right near the trail.
You’ll probably notice that the grade increases after you leave Hustler and climb past the weathered bluffs that are unlike anything east of the Mississippi River. You’ll gain 200 feet over the next 4 miles, arriving at an 875-foot-long tunnel at the summit. The only other trails in Wisconsin with tunnels are the Elroy-Sparta and Badger State Trails. A small park just before the tunnel’s domed entrance provides restrooms and water and a sign encouraging bicyclists to dismount.
Leaving the tunnel, it’s all downhill for the next 5.4 miles to the town of Elroy. You’ll cross more than a dozen bridges and pass through a dense forest where you might spot white-tailed deer. Closer to Elroy the valley widens, and you’ll return to farm country.
The trail ends at the north end of Elroy, where you’ll turn left onto Second Main Street and go 0.9 mile to Cedar Street. You’ll find the 400 State Trail a half block to the left and the Elroy-Sparta State Trail one block to the right at the Main Street intersection. The 400 State Trail passes Elroy Commons Trail Shop, which serves as a trailhead for all three trails; here you’ll find parking, an information center, and bike rentals.
NOTE: A Juneau County Trail Pass ($10 annually/$2 daily) is required for bicyclists ages 18 and older on the Omaha Trail. The passes are available at Home Front Travel Mart (608-427-6555) in Camp Douglas, Hustle Inn (608-427-3424) and Hustle Stop (608-427-3521) in Hustler, and Elroy Commons Trail Shop (608-462-2410) and Hansen’s IGA (608-462-8200) in Elroy.
To reach the northern trailhead in Camp Douglas from I-90/94, take Exit 55 toward Camp Douglas onto County Road C. Go 0.1 mile south, and turn right onto US 12; immediately turn left onto Castle St. and then left again onto Douglas St. Go 0.1 mile, and turn right onto N. Washington St. Take the first right onto Eddy Ave., and look for on-street parking. The trail begins directly across the street from Eddy Ave., heading south.
To reach the southern trailhead in Elroy from I-90/94, take Exit 69 toward Mauston on SR 82/Gateway Ave., heading west. In 0.6 mile, bear left on SR 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. After parking, take the 400 State Trail north to Cedar St., turn left, and then, in half a block, turn right onto Second Main St. Go 0.9 mile and look for the Omaha Trail on the right.
In September 2018 a friend and I biked north from Elroy to the tunnel, about 6 miles. The first mile was bumpy old asphalt, for which a hybrid or mountain bike would be more comfortable than our road bikes using 35mm tires. Then the trail surface became smoother with crushed limestone. Quiet ride, pleasant views. South of the tunnel was a "Trail Closed" sign due to mudslides from heavy rains. Dirt and gravel were over 3 feet high in places, with 2-inch-deep mud. We walked around these to the tunnel, which is clear. Due to time constraints, we didn't go further. Bottom line: if you're willing to get muddy and have 35mm or wider tires, it's a pleasant ride at this time. Also, the trail is maintained by Juneau County, not the state.
This had so much potential to be an awesome ride but this is NOT for road bikes ! Got off after 1/4 mile of rough old gritty asphalt. Too bad :( cute trail head bike store and bathrooms in Elroy
I’ve been riding this trail for years since I live two blocks from the trail head in Camp Douglas. I love the trail, the bluffs in Camp Douglas are beautiful and the stream between Camp Douglas and Hustler ( the town) is a nice trout stream for browns and brook. ( license required). 7 miles in from Camp Douglas is a super cool tunnel. The trail is not next to any roads so a nice peaceful ride. But it has been in rough shape lately with a few to many ruts and divots. Needs a little maintenance. Hopefully the snow mobile clubs and the summertime users can get a plan together to restore this awesome trail in the heart of wisconsin.
I read through the reviews before my wife and I biked the trail in spring 2018. Some of them noted the rough surface of the trail, but the fact is, it's not that bad at all! Would it be a comfortable ride on a road bike? No, probably not, but any kind of hybrid or mountain bike would be just fine. It's actually pretty smooth in many sections. Very scenic, interesting countryside, and the trestles and tunnel are great. And it's (apparently) hardly used! We were there on a sunny Sunday afternoon and biked the whole thing round-trip and only saw 5 other people the entire time (I walking and two groups of two cyclists). Decent restrooms, water, and picnic tables at both ends and in the middle on the north side of the tunnel. The tunnel is relatively straight and smooth and you can see from one end to the other, but it's surprisingly dark in the middle, so you might want to take a small flashlight/bike light with you (or do as my wife and I did, and use the "flashlight" on your phone...). Overall a great trail and one we will happily do again.
We biked from Elroy to the restrooms on the north side of the tunnel yesterday afternoon. The tunnel, with a very smooth, wide surface, is about 7 miles from The Common in Elroy . The first mile is on town roads, then on to the trail. Lots of leaves and walnuts on the trail at this point in the year. The trail itself is one of the better trails we have biked on. Bridges are well maintained. The scenery was beautiful on the trail. Can't wait to start in Camp Douglas, and head south.
Give it a try, I think you'll enjoy it !
Nice for a short bike ride. Trails getting a little rough in Worn areas
Rode this train August 2016 from Elroy to Ft Douglas. Realize that I have been spoiled by the amazing MN trail surfaces. This trail is "sealed" it is certainly OK with a road bike. Some lose, rough and sandy areas. Mostly shaded trail. There is 1 tunnel halfway through--perfect for a cool breeze and walk mid-ride.
Ate at the Bender Family restaurant--Good food!
Not sure how anyone could complain about the surface of this"trail". It is a trail, not a city street. The entire trail with a few very short exceptions, is older asphalt. Yes it has a couple bumps in it and yes there are a few potholes, but honestly, it is one of the nicest surfaces we have rode on in Wisconsin and we have rode quite a few trails. It is probably not a good path for thin tire race bike, but then, very few trails are. Scenery is stunning and tunnel is fun. (About 300 ft. Long). A really cool tall trestle to ride under. Lots of shade on the 27 mile round trip from Elroy to Camp Douglas and back. Slight grade both ways up to tunnel.
I rode this on June 7, 2016. I started in Camp Douglas and rode south to Elroy and then back. In Camp Douglas the elevation is 925, at the tunnel midway the elevation is 1100 and at Elroy the elevation is 950. The trail surface is very rough, worn and beat up. There are potholes, sticks, leaves, ruts, and mud. I rode my 26 by 1.5 trail bike. I would not ride anything more narrow. You should bring a light for the straight tunnel. I will not ride it again because of the roughness.
We rode this trail in June of 2016. We had read online that this trail was "paved" so we figured it would be fine for our road bikes. Little did I know that I would get tossed around like a rag doll for 20 miles. I'm surprised it didn't destroy my tires! There were so many potholes and sticks all over the trail that we were constantly swerving to miss them. The bridges were a whole other problem. All of them had a huge lip that you had to get over to get your bike onto the bridge (and there are tons of bridges along the trail!)I think with some resurfacing and some more frequent maintenance to pick up debris, this would be a great trail!
Overall, the scenery was really beautiful, but if you plan on riding this trail have your chiropractor on standby when you're finished!
Don't be scared off by the exaggerations of this trail's surface in previous reviews. It as good as most rail trails and better than many.
We rode the trail two days after the storm that closed some of the WI trails for the weekend. We encountered 3 trees down across the trail. We went over and around each of them without issue.
This trail is fairly scenic. Better than average my wife and I thought. The area on each side of the tunnel is very nice. Long ascent to the tunnel from both directions, but especially from the north.
If you like solitude, this is the trail for you. We rode the trail on a Sunday starting in Elroy about 10 am and going to the north end and back. We only saw three other riders (in one group) and 7 walkers the entire time.
Other than the decent bathroom at the tunnel, this trail is void of amenities between the two ends. But is short so not much is needed.
All in all we enjoyed our ride quite a bit. Since it is such a nice trail, we look forward to returning many times in the future.
The biggest disappointment for my husband and I was the fact that there was a giant tree covering the trail and we had to turn around. The tree was in a location where it was too steep of a grade to go around it on foot let alone trying to walk a bicycle around it. The path itself was in disrepair, but tolerable. We were enjoying the scenery up until that tree. We started out in Camp Douglas and rode toward Elroy. The tree was a little bit past HWY H (Between H and S). Our goal was to get to the tunnel, but didn't get there.
The trail was in better condition than I expected from the previous reviews. For a path which runs through the country and is used by snowmobiles we found it to be in great shape with one or two minor exceptions. This is a seal coated path and not a city sidewalk. Still in better shape than most of the roads through the cities where I travel. The full service rest area on the west side of the tunnel. The bathrooms were a welcome site. This was our first time on the trail and will not be our last now that we have made the discovery.
My ride here was combined with part of the 400 trail and the Hillsboro trail for a 46 mile ride to and from my motel. What I did not know is that the Omaha was paved at one time. This should give you the impression of a nice road bike path -not! The path was littered with debris from a recent (?) storm. And while the path is paved, it was not the smoothest. In fact is was the bumpiest ride of the Hillsboro, 400, Elroy Sparta and LaCrosse trails. I hit some nasty potholes / bumps that would have probably flattened a cyclocross tire. I rode a 29er but kept thinking how nice this path would have been with a fat tire bike. A couple of downed trees branches slowed the ride but did not take away from it. I was not riding for speed so the debris was nothing more than noisy. I did not remember the tunnel so when I came across it, it was a nice surprise. Would I do the trail again - definitely. When I got to Elroy the 400 path was under construction so finding the path was not easy. I asked a woman who said she had lived in the town her whole life ( I am guessing 55 years) but she had never been on the path to even knew where it started. It turned out to only be a few blocks away. As you may have guessed I rode the path to and from and only saw two dog walkers on it. These paths are definitely under utilized. Again like the 400, someone decided to put sand instead of a hard pack path at roadway crossings. Not a good or safe idea. Other than that, I liked the path and would ride it again. But due to the condition of it compared to the 400 and Elroy-Sparta, I had to rate it lower.
Along with the listed activities another one not listed is Geocaching, the trail is covered with them from Elroy all the way to Camp Douglas placed by myself. All caches are maintained regularly and are of low difficulty and terrain rating.
We rode this trail in July 2013, starting from the Ft. McCoy trail head. There is a small parking area and a covered patio here with some picnic tables.
Riding the trail on our Gekko trikes, we noticed right away that this was a very rough trail. The asphalt surface is very old and seems to see infrequent maintenance. The center of the trail had a grass 'mohawk', which on standard two wheel bikes is of little concern, however on our trikes we found it difficult to avoid the rough areas.
Overall we found it much rougher than the crushed limestone Elroy-Sparta or 400 Trail because the age of the trail has caused it to develop many bumps, likely from winter frost heaves. Also, because it is used by snowmobiles during winter, much of the softer asphalt was worn away and it resembled a packed pebble trail in many spots.
We rode only from Ft. McCoy to a couple miles past Hustler and back. (About 6 miles in give or take) Its a very scenic trail, closed in by trees and the eroded limestone walls this area is famous for. Would have loved to ride all the way to Elroy and back, but as our trikes don't have shock absorbers the jostling got to be very uncomfortable. If they were to repave this trail, it would be the kind of delight one would ride over and over.
I was on the Omaha Trail from Elroy to Hustler. The trail is paved, but it's not a smooth surface; nevertheless, the surface was solid and not too bumpy. Comments from a few years ago suggest that the road bed is in bad condition, but I didn't find it that way. Between Elroy and Hustler you climb through a series of sandstone ridges that are heavily forested and absolutely beautiful. At the top of one ridge, you travel through a long, dark railroad tunnel (be sure to bring bike lights!). If you are traveling north, once you exit the tunnel, it's all downhill to Hustler. You'll be tempted to go fast on this section of the trail, but if you do, you won't have time to take in the incredible beauty of the forests that line the trail.
The Omaha Trail is a county trail, and if you are over 18, you need a pass to ride it ($1.00 daily pass and $5.00 annual). You need to buy this pass at one of several business along the trail (there are no self-service boxes). I bought mine at the Elroy Commons Trailshop, 303 Railroad St.
easy to find from elroy....nice ride....fairly smooth, sealed surface....farms, pretty palnts, rock formations, a small tunnel, small towns, etc. ..... a great afternoon ride for us
We ride this trail numerous times every year. A season pass is only $5.00! Yes the surface has to put up with snow machines, but I have always been very impressed with the way the county takes care of this trail. Every time I go there, there's more work being done and limbs cleared etc. Always lots of critters around, too. The Hustle Inn in Hustler always seems to have a hot batch of brats in a slow cooker and lots of ice cream. At Camp Douglas, you can grab a sub and take it up to the cave park (about 7 miles one way) and eat lunch. I love this trail.
I rode this trail on a beautiful warm sunny day on August 29, 2008 with my Scorpion Fx trike. The trails surface is composed of compressed gravel making the surface as hard as cement. However, it seems like very little maintenance is done on this trail because of it's ruts and pot holes throughout the length of this 14 mile trail, a biker has to be careful when navigating this trail. I began my ride from the restored railroad depot at the commons' in Elroy where the Sparta-Elroy and 400' trails intersect as well. To get to the Omaha Trail, you'll need to follow the 400' trail for a short distance, and then follow the brown signs along the city streets until you arrive at the start of the trail. The scenery is beautiful along this trail consisting of woods, unique sandstone bluffs, serene meadows, farm land and the quaint town of Hustler. Before Hustler you'll approach the tunnel by way of a 120 foot gradual climb, when compared to the Sparta-Elroy tunnels, it's somewhat anticlimactic considering it's length is only about 1/8 of a mile long, but still a pleasure to ride through on a hot day. A ways down, after you leave the tunnel, you'll come to the only rest area along the trail with full facilities. At one point on the trail you'll cross what is known as the shelf where the trail is sandwhiched between bluffs on one side, and a 75' drop off to the road below on the opposite side. The day I rode the trail, this portion was broken up because of the heavy rains we had here in wisconsin in spring, But I was still able to get around the broken portions of the trail safely.
I found this trail to be very peacefull and pleasant to ride, but it should be better maintained.
"The scenery on this trail is great and it is a quiet peaceful ride. On the way up to the tunnel from Camp Douglas the rock cuts are covered with flowers and ferns, and a nice picnic area with restrooms is just before the tunnel.
But, the only problem with the trail is that the surface continues to deterioriate. Snowmobiles have torn up the hard surface in many places and animals have dug some large holes. So, rather than being able to enjoy the scenery riders have to continually watch where they are riding. If the trail surface were repaired this would be the greatest trail in this area."
This is a beautiful trail from Hustler to the tunnel. It was a good second ride for our 4 year old. I imagine in the fall it would be even more beautiful.
"This is a seal coated trail that can be ridden most any time snow isn't on the ground. There is a 900-foot tunnel about halfway along the trail with a restroom and picnic tables nearby.
This is a county trail that requires a county trail pass. The surface is a bit rough in some places due to the surface failing a bit. Also, the trail has been damaged by mud slides due to recent heavy rains. The county has usually repaired the trail, but not in a timely manner.
The trail ends abruptly on the north side of Elroy and you need to ride on some side streets to reach the two state trails that connect here.
This is a generally quiet trail with a gentle grade. There is plenty of shade and the tunnel remains cool on the hottest of days.
All in all a nice day's ride."
I rode the Omaha Trail in the summer of 2001. The trail was gently sloping and at times the scenery was nice. I would recommend this trail for families that want to build up to ride longer trails.
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