Trails, Tunnels and Tornadoes: Bikepacking the 400 State Trail and Beyond

This week, Mappy Hour Chicago athlete Dietrich Hunter shares his experience exploring the 400 State Trail which extends from Reedsburg to Elroy Wisconsin.

I decided to do this trail because of the tunnels and trail infrastructure like trail depots and convenient camping options. I stumbled upon the Sparta-Elroy trail years ago while camping at the Sparta DNR Campground for a climbing trip. It took me three days and two nights to complete the 100 mile loop from Reedsburg to Sparta due to weather and trail conditions like detours and gravel. I recommend the trail for all levels of riders as long as they choose a pace that fits their experience and comfort. The 400 State Trail and other segments of this tour are great summer or fall rides with views and stops that make each mile more impressive than the last. 

3-Day Itinerary for the 400 State Trail

Day 1: 

  • Check in at Trail HQ in Reedsburg to purchase trail passes (business hours) 
  • Ride 22 miles to Elroy Commons Stop for bathroom and water
  • Detour #1: Follow road for 6 miles for a delicious meal at Hidden Inn Bar & Grill
  • Tunnel #1: Ride 3 miles to tunnel 1. Set up lights and walk your bike. 
  • Tunnel Trail Campground: Ride 1 mile to the camp to get more water, food, or stay and play (swim, volleyball, mini-golf)

Day 2: 

  • Detour #2: Ride to Logan Rd. and take the detour road 3.7 miles until Wilton, WI. 
  • Tunnel #2: Ride 2 miles to the tunnel and Set up lights and walk your bike.
  • Tunnel #3: Ride 7 miles to the tunnel. Take pictures before, during, and after on the Travel Wisconsin selfie stand. 
  • Sparta DNR Campground: Ride 8 miles to Sparta DNR Campground, Register and set up camp.
  • Food: Ride 1 mile to Sparta for a hot meal at a local restaurant or stock up on food at Walmart. 

Day 3: 

  • Wilton: Ride 17 miles back to Wilton, WI passing through Tunnels 2 and 3.
  • Detour: Ride 3.7 miles back to Logan Road and get water from Tunnel Trail Campground
  • Lunch: Bike 12 miles into Elroy Commons.Make a quick lunch and refill water. 
  • Return to Reedsburg: Ride 22 miles back to the Trail HQ parking lot. Celebrate your ride.

Where to Stay: 

Night 0: Green Valley Campground (Baraboo, WI)

This campground was the perfect stay for our approach to Reedsburg. Rather than driving in from Madison or Chicago we decided to find a campground that would allow us to get started early the next day. The hosts at Green Valley campground make you feel like family and keep a tight knit community of long-term stays and tent campers. This hidden gem is quiet and just minutes from a Walmart if you need to stock up on last minute food or supplies before your ride on to the 400 trail. (This is just a 25 minute drive to the 400 State Trail headquarters in Reedsburg; you’ll be able to park your car in at the headquarters for the duration of your tour) 

Night 1: Tunnel Trail Campground (Wilton, WI)

The literal light at the end of the tunnel on day one was the tunnel trail campground. Complete with glowing amenities and excellent service this location is the best stay we had along the trail. A variety of campsites and RV sites make it easy to return to this location if you want to explore the nearby tunnel or venture out towards Sparta for the day. Checking in at the front office is an easy way to get a lay of the land and hear about how to take advantage of the pool and putt putt course included on site.

Night 2: Sparta DNR Campground (Sparta, WI)

The DNR campground is great because it is just steps from the trail. Each campsite comes complete with a fire ring, a table, and plenty of space for your bike packing party. Overall, this location has a handful of necessities that will serve you well during your stay. The fresh water spigot, stalled bathroom, and parking lot make this location a great starting point if you want to explore Sparta and other parts of the trail.

Don’t forget (for The 400 Trail and Beyond)

  • Trail Passes: Purchase pass ($5 per day) inside the trail headquarters in Reedsburg or Elroy Commons Trail Shop.
  • Detours: Use roads along trails from Elroy to Kendall and From Logan Rd. To Wilton. 
  • Campsites: Remember to bring cash, you’ll be able to pay at self-service reservation boxes along the way. (Campsites range from $5 – $25) 
  • Walk your bike in the tunnels. Seriously, it’s slick in there. 
  • Bring a light: Either a headlamp or phone will work for guiding your through the tunnels
  • Trail Conditions: remember you’re traveling on crushed gravel trails. This means your itinerary might shift due to your speed or experience with this kind of terrain. Add extra time for hills, tunnels, and weather on your itinerary and be sure your bike is geared correctly for this type of trip.

5 ways to make to most of The 400 trail

  1. Take it slow and Take It in: Stop and look around; cliffs and rock formations break out of beautiful views of the countryside. Even the detours through this portion of Wisconsin are worth a second look. 
  1. Play or Stay at the Tunnel Trail Campground: Taking the time to swim and shower was the perfect reset and recharge on day one.
  1. Tunnels: All three tunnels are unique. Take pictures and video in the tunnels so that you can look back on how cool they are. (and show all your friends!)
  1. Read the Plaques and historical information. The extra context will make everything more fascinating and exciting. One piece of low hanging fruit is that this trail is a part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a non-profit that has converted thousands of miles of old railbeds to bike paths. The trailhead at Reedsburg, The 400 Trail” gets its name from a train that would travel the 400 miles from Chicago to Minneapolis in 400 minutes.
  1. Explore Side Trips: there are a few spurs off the main trail to extend your trip. Also, the hike and public lands outside of La Crosse Wisconsin have breathtaking views and are great for making a quick memory. 

Helpful Links

In closing:

Overall, there was much more to see on the trail than we were able to take advantage of on this trip. Luckily, I’ve explored the region west of Sparta in the past, but this time we were unable to make the full 200 mile round-trip from Reedsburg to Marshland and back. Other projected stays and places to explore include La Crosse Wisconsin, Winona Minnesota, and the Perrot State park campground. 

Dietrich Hunter
Dietrich Hunter
Dietrich joined Mappy Hour in the spring of 2020 assisting with #milesforahmaud and last summer’s giving circle donations to ‘Girl Trek’. Dietrich Hunter is a Spanish teacher in Chicago who spends his spare time outside however he can. He earned his Masters of Education from Marquette University and is also a NOLS Wilderness First Responder and EMT. Dietrich loves learning new skills and experiencing life with his family and friends. Medicine Bow National Forest is Dietrich's favorite park and El Camino De Santiago is his favorite trail. As a member of Mappy Hour, he pairs his need for adventure with his love for the outdoors and making memories.

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