Although I like to brag about the beautiful bike trails in my home state of Minnesota, I grew up in Wisconsin and am equally proud of the bike trails there. Like its neighbor to the west, America’s Dairyland knows a thing or two about biking. Most of the state’s 43 state trails are rail trails — trails that have been converted from railroad corridors into recreational trails. My husband Dean and I love to bike, and Wisconsin gives us beautiful variety and views within a day’s drive of the Twin Cities.
Pro Tip: A state trail pass is required on all Wisconsin State Trails for bikers 16 years of age and older.
Let’s look at a sampling of bike trails in Wisconsin, listed alphabetically by name. Yes, I covered 13 trails in Minnesota and this article covers only 10, but I promise I’m not playing favorites. There’s a whole lot more where this came from, and we plan to keep adding to our list!
1. Ahnapee State Trail
Sturgeon Bay To Algoma (Northeastern Wisconsin)
48 Miles Of Crushed Limestone
The Ahnapee State Trail starts in the north at Sturgeon Bay and takes you south along the Ahnapee and Kewanee Rivers. The landscape is a mix of forests, farm country, orchards, and prairies.
We had limited time when we rode this trail, so we started about 15 miles south of Sturgeon Bay, in Forestville, and rode to Algoma, a sleepy little town on a Sunday morning. Fishermen were preparing their boats for another day of catching chinooks, brown trout, and steelhead. We explored the breakwater area a bit and then biked back to Forestville.
2. East River Trail
Green Bay to Ledgeview (Northeastern Wisconsin)
8 Miles On A Paved Trail
The East River Trail follows the winding way of the East River from Green Bay in the north to the town of Ledgeview in the south. The day we rode this trail with our friends John and Mary, they knew ways to extend the ride on the K&I Corridor, so we did a 21-mile “out and back” ride. We enjoyed the bridges, wetlands, wildlife (sandhill cranes, egrets, herons, and the like), and the periodic canopy of trees on this urban ride past parks, homes, and businesses.
3. Elroy-Sparta State Trail
Elroy To Sparta (Southwestern Wisconsin)
32.5 Miles Of Crushed Limestone
The Elroy-Sparta State Trail became the country’s first “rail trail” in 1965, and Sparta claims to be the bicycling capital of America. You’ll pedal past the charming communities of Norwalk, Wilton, and Kendall with a landscape of wetlands, prairies, and farmland, but the outstanding part of this trail? The tunnels! This trail features three, hand-dug, train tunnels from the late 1800s.
Cyclists are required to walk their bikes through the tunnels, and each is unique:
- Tunnel 1 – Between Kendall and Wilton; about three-tenths of a mile long and the driest tunnel.
- Tunnel 2 – Between Wilton and Norwalk; about three-tenths of a mile. We counted eight arched doorway cut-outs that railroad workers would duck into when a train passed through.
- Tunnel 3 – Between Sparta and Norwalk; about three-quarters of a mile. This tunnel has rough footing and is quite drippy. It wouldn’t be good for anyone with sensory issues since the tunnel is long, the drips sometimes become small waterfalls, and it echoes a lot. Otherwise, it’s amazing!
Pro Tip: The tunnels are not lit, so bring a flashlight or headlamp. Depending on your tolerance level, a jacket. The tunnels can be cool, even on a hot day.
4. Fox River State Trail
Green Bay to Hilbert (Northeastern Wisconsin)
25 Miles (Asphalt And Pavers For 11 Miles, Crushed Limestone For 14 Miles)
Another “rails to trails,” the Fox River State Trail follows the Fox River in Green Bay and De Pere, then leaves the river as it continues south, following the former railroad track.
On the north end of the trail, you’ll see sculptures that are a tribute to the land and water. In De Pere, it’s fun to see a large, painted historic mural along the trail and stop at Voyager Park, a pretty place with tall trees and more great views of the river.
5. Gandy Dancer State Trail
Danbury To St. Croix Falls (Northwestern Wisconsin)
47 Miles (Southern Segment, Mostly Crushed Limestone)
This curiously named trail, the Gandy Dancer State Trail, commemorates gandy dancers, the hardworking crews who manually restored railroad tracks. They used “Gandy” brand tools, and “dancer” is a nod to the rhythmic motion as they worked together tamping down ties or adjusting rails. We started our 24-mile ride in St. Croix Falls and rode through forests and along farmland. The trail is heavily canopied with mature trees, providing great shade on a sunny day, and would be a spectacular fall ride.
6. Great River State Trail
Onalaska To Trempealeau (Southwestern Wisconsin)
24 Miles Of Crushed Limestone
This former Chicago-Northwestern railroad converted trail, the Great River State Trail, takes you through the prairies and backwaters of the upper Mississippi River valley. It crosses through two wildlife refuges and includes a 287-foot trestle bridge. We saw an eagle’s nest, lots of birds, and butterflies on this trail in late July.
Pro-Tip: Want more? Add the connecting 22-mile La Crosse River State Trail to your plans.
7. Red Cedar State Trail
Menominee To Downsville (Western Wisconsin)
14.5 miles Of Crushed Limestone
We love the Red Cedar State Trail. Round trip, it’s a great 29-mile ride and especially beautiful in the fall. Variety is the name of the game here, as you pedal past steep rock walls, forests, farmland, over bridges, and through the usual charm of Wisconsin small towns. This trail ends at the beautiful bridge at the Dunnville Wildlife Area, a great place to pull up a sandbar for swimming, fishing, or exploring.
Pro Tip: Want more biking? Just past this bridge, the trail connects to the 30-mile Chippewa River State Trail.
8. Sugar River State Trail
New Glarus To Brodhead (South-Central Wisconsin)
25 Miles (Paved For 1 Mile, Crushed Limestone For 24 Miles)
If decorative cows and a world-class brewery aren’t enough to attract you to New Glarus, perhaps the lovely Sugar River State Trail is. It beckons bikers who love these converted railroad track trails (like us). The trail features 14 trestle bridges (and a historic covered bridge replica) as you cross over the Sugar River and its tributaries in the setting of woods, farm fields, rolling hills, and prairies.
Pro Tip: From this trail, connect to the 40-mile Badger State Trail between Madison and the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
9. Sunset Trail, Door County
Within Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek (Northeastern Wisconsin)
9.6 Miles, Paved And Fine Gravel
Fish Creek’s Peninsula State Park is what I call the crown jewel of Door County. The park’s Sunset Trail winds through marsh and forest along the bay of Green Bay for plenty of scenic views. Check out Eagle Bluff Lighthouse along the route and enjoy easy access to the shoreline if you want a closer look at the clear waters or dip your toes in the bay.
10. Washington Island, Door County
Detroit Harbor Loop Route (Northeastern Wisconsin)
15 Plus Miles, Road Cycling On Paved Shoulders And Secondary Roads
Part of the fun of biking on Washington Island is taking a ferry to get there. We had a gorgeous September day to ride half an hour on the Island Clipper passenger ferry from Gills Rock, at the northern tip of the Door County Peninsula, to Detroit Harbor on Washington Island. The beauty of biking on an island is that you are never far from water views.
Schoolhouse Beach And Other Sights
From the ferry dock, we mostly followed the Northern Door ND#5 biking route (plus a few intentional detours) and saw Schoolhouse Beach, Jackson Harbor, the road to the Mountain Tower lookout (the tower was closed the day we were there), and Fragrant Isles lavender fields.
Pro Tip: Stop for lunch at the delightful Jackson Harbor Soup for great soups, salads, and sandwiches. Sit outside at picnic tables and enjoy the water views.
Maps for all state bike trails can be found on the official website of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Additional trail maps:
There’s something peaceful and wonderful about the perspective you get from the seat of a bike. Charles Schultz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, is credited with saying, “Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”
So, if life is moving a little too fast, hop on your bike, downshift, breathe deeply, and enjoy the ride. These 10 beautiful Wisconsin bike rides in America’s Dairyland are a great place to start.
For more information on traveling to Wisconsin, check out these articles: